By Mick Krever, CNN
Referendums by separatists in Ukraine, such as Sunday’s in Donyetsk, “don’t count,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“These referendums are illegal, they are organized in a chaotic manner with dubious and ambiguous questions.”
Pro-Russian separatists claimed victory in a vote in the eastern Ukrainian region; they say that 90% of voters wanted independence from Ukraine.
The acting Ukrainian president called the referendum a “propagandist farce.”
“The only thing that counts is the presidential election on the twenty-fifth of May. And I urge all actors to make sure that those general elections can be conducted in an orderly manner,” Rasmussen told Amanpour.
NATO has tried, through limited troop deployments, military exercises, and air flights to present an enhanced deterrent to Russia, its erstwhile Cold War foe.
Amanpour challenged Rasmussen on whether that was enough.
“The allies say they’d like to see a little bit more – if not reassurance, heft,” Amanpour said. “I don’t know what you think, but a hundred and fifty U.S. soldiers to Poland? I mean, is that really enough to tell Mister Putin – who’s got forty-thousand troops massed on the borders there – to step back?”
“We are right now in the process of considering further steps,” Rasmussen said. “Those further steps might include an update of existing defense plans, development of new defense plans, enhanced exercises, and also appropriate deployment.”
“However, it’s a bit too early to tell exactly how to do it and where to it, but we will not hesitate to take further steps if needed.”
Russia, he told Amanpour, “obviously” has a “strong influence on the separatists.”
“So no doubt that if Moscow took the decision to encourage separatists to lay down their weapons and let the presidential elections go forward in an orderly manner, that would also happen.”
Amanpour asked if Russia could move against the Ukrainian port of Odessa or the surrounding area in an effort to land-lock the country.
“Well at least they have the capacity to do so. They have massed armed forces along the Ukrainian borders – around 40,000 troops. And in addition to that 25,000 troops in Crimea.”
“We have seen that Russia is able to – or the Russian armed forces are able to act within a few hours if the political decision is taken. What I don't know is whether the political decision has been taken or will be taken. But at least they have the capacity to do that.”
NATO has seen no evidence of Russian withdrawal from the Ukrainian border, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed, he told Amanpour.
Rasmussen also, of course, has much responsibility in Afghanistan, which just held the first round of presidential elections.
President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security agreement, which he negotiated, to keep foreign security forces in the country past 2014. All of the major Afghan candidates, including the front-runner Abdullah Abdullah, have pledged to sign an agreement in interviews with Amanpour.
“We will establish a training mission to continue to train, advise, assist the Afghan security forces after 2014,” Rasmussen said. “I am confident that we will get a signature on the necessary security agreement.”
He praised the Afghan security forces’ performance securing the country for the presidential elections.
“We have seen them address that in a very professional manner.”
“Of course we are alert, but the fact is that the Afghan security forces took the lead in ensuring a secure environment for the conduct of presidential elections, and they will continue to be in the lead.”