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After weeks of warnings from President Biden, Russia invades Ukraine

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are joined now by Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Mullen, thanks for being with us.

MIKE MULLEN: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: The White House has been warning of a Russian invasion into Ukraine for weeks. There were cyberattacks last night on Ukrainian government agencies, then missile attacks on military targets today. Is all this happening as the U.S. expected it to?

MULLEN: I think it was, even up until the end, very difficult to predict exactly what Putin would do. But certainly, now that this has started, I think it's unfolding in a way that the White House had predicted all along just because of the scale of the force, the mix of the force, now the sequencing - missiles initially, then aircraft. And undoubtedly, what will follow will be large troop movements.

MARTIN: Are the Ukrainians equipped to fight back?

MULLEN: I think that's - certainly to some degree, Rachel. But they're not equipped to significantly oppose this force in a way that would stop them in their tracks. I think where Putin appears to be going now - and I would call this a - we're now in sort of an all-out invasion. And I think that the port area that you just described in Odessa, the land in the east and then Kyiv - my guess, it would be Kyiv is really the main target and looking to change out the regime.

MARTIN: Do you believe any more U.S. or European sanctions are going to compel Putin to retreat?

MULLEN: My expectation is that the sanctions will actually bite over a longer period than immediately. I think he's pretty well-prepared for immediate sanction. So I don't think that - obviously, the threat of sanctions hasn't deterred him. And I don't think the implementation of sanctions will stop him at this particular point. However, I do think he will pay a large price for that - for this in the long run with respect to sanctions. And it's underpinned by great unity in Europe and, actually, almost complete unity around the world that what Putin has done is illegal. It's - he started a war. And he is destabilizing one of the largest and most critical continents in the world.

MARTIN: But there's nothing in his past behavior to suggest that he is malleable by economic sanctions, by the threat of them or the actual execution of them. The attack is now underway. So what happens? I mean, NATO has said it's not going to send in troops. The U.S. has said it's not going to send in troops. What happens to Ukraine?

MULLEN: Well, I think - I mean, it's hard to say. If Putin wants to go in and take it, I think that he will. I think there is a strong possibility there will be an insurgency. And I believe we should support that. And our allies should support that insurgency. This is a country of 41 million people, most of whom are not supportive of Putin in this regard. So it's hard to know how significant that would be. But that then gets into a much longer-term war, if you will, for Putin, which is dangerous for Putin, particularly when you start seeing Russian body bags sent back home to Russia. So it's hard to know. But given the level of force and seeming - his determination and lack of response, if you will, to the West, there's a good chance that he'll get what he wants, at least in the short term.

MARTIN: When Putin gave an address earlier this week - right before the attack, actually - people who've been watching him for a while said, this is a different Vladimir Putin. This is an angrier Russian leader. You have watched him for years. Is this a different man, a leader - a different leader in this moment?

MULLEN: No. I don't think he's a different guy at all. I think what you see is the same guy now executing what he has felt for decades. You know, I've believed forever that when he said this is the - that the fall of the wall was the worst thing that ever happened to Russia, he believes that - that losing the faith that he did and that his desire and his hatred of NATO and what it stands for, those are now all, you know, out in the open in terms of his execution. And I don't think he's changed at all. He's just decided to act on what he believes in.

MARTIN: Should Europeans be concerned in this moment that this could expand, that this could end up escalating into a broader ground war?

MULLEN: Yeah. I would expect, and it's been very clear, that we're not going to - the U.S. is not going to invade Ukraine. But I would expect us to move forces pretty rapidly to the East to reassure our NATO allies there - particularly Poland, the Baltics, Romania, Bulgaria - that we will be there for them and that that is a line across which if Putin moves, there would be a significant military response.

MARTIN: This morning, Russia has invaded an ally of the U.S., of NATO. In your view, has the world order shifted?

MULLEN: Yeah. I think it has. Certainly, the security architecture in Europe has shifted dramatically. And there will be a lot of work to lay out what the details of that would be. But I think it has globally with this actor. And the world needs to respond that we cannot tolerate that a democratically elected government in a country and an ally could be taken over by Putin or anybody else anywhere else in the world. And we need to work together to make sure that does not hold and that, certainly - that he doesn't extend himself beyond what he's doing right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOISART'S "LIKE GLASS")

MARTIN: Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thank you.

MULLEN: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOISART'S "LIKE GLASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.