This week NATO marks a triple anniversary: 15 years since Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined the Alliance; 10 years since the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined; and five years since Albania and Croatia acceded. This is the time NATO seems to find a reason to justify its existence. That’s where the crisis in Ukraine comes in handy…
Speaking on April 8 in Paris, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said further intervention by Russia in Ukraine would have “grave consequences” for Moscow’s relationship with NATO and “would further isolate Russia internationally”. Rasmussen called on Russia pull back what he described as “tens of thousands” of troops massed near the Ukrainian border. “We have all plans in place to ensure effective defense and protection of our allies,” he said. “It is obvious that the evolving security situation in Ukraine and along its borders make it necessary to review our defense plans and look at how we could strengthen our collective defense.”
He saidNATO was reviewing a 1997 co-operation agreement (Founding Act) with Russia and subsequent Rome declaration of 2002 that prevented NATO setting up bases in eastern and central Europe. The foreign ministers of the alliance would decide on that in June. “Those decisions will be impacted by the situation in Ukraine and Russian behavior,” Rasmussen said. (1)
On April 9, US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, Commander, US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operations, toldAssociated Press, (2) that forthcoming NATO plans envision the mobilizing of American troops.
According to the four-star Air Force General, he wouldn’t “write off involvement by any nation, to include the United States.” “Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies,” Breedlove told the AP. “I’m tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early,” he noted.
His words were echoed by US top defense chief. Speaking to CNN on April 9, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “We’re always vigilant and we’re always looking at the options that we need to take.” (3)
Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on April 8, said that the United States was to “re-examine its force posture in Europe and our requirement for future deployments, exercises, and training in the region.” (4) He did not specify what such a re-examination could entail at a time when the Pentagon faces budget cuts and is seeking to redeploy part of its resources to the Asia Pacific region as part of pivot strategy.
All the above mentioned US officials could not have made such obviously threatening statements unless it was at least an option on the table.
The day after NATO’s decision to end cooperation with Russia on April 8, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany’s largest national subscription daily newspaper, bluntly declared that “NATO now regards Russia as an enemy.” Is it intended to bring the message home or is it just a botched statement?
Beat of Drums of war heard inside USA
US House Republicans call on the Pentagon to revise its strategy. For instance, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon unveiled legislation on April 8 that aims to boost United States military’s posture and capabilities in Europe to counter “Russian aggression towards Ukraine and NATO allies,” according to the committee.
The bill, backed by Republican Reps. Mike Turner and Mike Rogers, calls for the United States to suspend military activity with Russia and provide military advice and technical assistance to the Ukraine.
Republicans have criticized the Quadrennial Defense Review, a recently released strategy document from the Defense Department, for, among other things, scarcely mentioning Russia. Derek Chollet, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for international security affairs, said “we’re not planning to rewrite the QDR” but Russia’s actions will cause the United States to reexamine troop levels in Europe. (5)
There are voices raised calling for expansion of NATO. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham advocated increasing “cooperation with, and support for, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and other non-NATO partners.” McCain and Graham urged expanding NATO to Georgia and Moldova. The Foreign Policy Initiative put together a neoconservative all-star list of 56 advocating a Membership Action Plan for Georgia and membership for Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, “and other European security partners.”
A group of 40 congressmen called for admitting Macedonia and Montenegro, eventually including Kosovo, advancing “the membership prospects of Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina,” and continuing “close partnerships … with other countries in Central and Eastern Europe which seek closer relations with the U.S. and NATO.”
NATO: Stepping up military activities
Amid rising tension in Ukraine, the Polish government has confirmed joint military exercises with the US will continue in June with the arrival of more F-16 jet fighters. According to Polish Radio (6) report on April 10, aerial refueling aircraft are also due to be dispatched to Poland from the UK over the same period.
“This is very strong evidence of Allied commitment, and the visible presence of the U.S,” Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told the TVN24 news station. “We are striving to ensure that the lessons of the [Russian-Ukrainian] crisis result in the enduring presence of NATO in the East,” the official added. Asked about NATO’s readiness to intervene in the event of an attack on a member state, Siemoniak said that “these forces are prepared for immediate action.”
The Minister noted that the 18 US F-16 jet fighters will be stationed at an airbase in Lask, central Poland, where the US and Polish armed forces have been cooperating intermittently for over a year and a half.
“For several weeks now we’ve had 12 F-16 planes and transport aircraft there,” the Defence Minister said adding thatas far as NATO forces in region are concerned, attention is now focused on “long-term activities that could last years or decades,” although he acknowledged that such an arrangement cannot be finalized “in the space of a few days.”
Meanwhile The USS Donald Cook and French intelligence warship Dupuy de Lôme are in the Black Sea. The USS Donald Cook is the third US warship sent to the Black Sea recently. In February, the US dispatched the missile frigate USS Taylor into the waters of the sea to provide security for the Olympic Games in Sochi. Last month, the USS Truxtun went to through the Bosphorus to enter the Black Sea to conduct joint exercises with Bulgaria and Romania.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier said that the presence of US ships in the Black Sea has often exceeded the limit under the convention. Previous U.S. naval visits to the Black Sea were typically separated by months.
NATO and Partnership for Peace Air Forces have just wound up exercising offensive and defensive missions over the Netherlands as part of Exercise Frisian Flag. The Dutch exercise, which is based at Leeuwarden airbase, has been underway since 31 March till April 11, 2014. About 50 aircraft participated flying two missions a day.
NATO jets will take part in air patrols in the region later in a routine exercise that analysts say has taken on added significance because of the crisis. Several alliance members, including the UK, US and France, have offered additional military aircraft.
The U.S. added six F-15Cs to Lithuania and a dozen F-16s and 300 troops to Poland, made plans to involve more forces in exercises and training in Poland and the Baltic States, and increased intelligence flights over Poland and Romania.
At its March meeting NATO ordered the study of measures to bolster the alliance’s Eastern European members, including adding troops and equipment on station, holding additional military exercises, improving the rapid-deployment force, and reviewing military plans.
Alliance commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said options for this “reassurance package” included augmenting airpower, increasing ships in the Baltic Sea, establishing a naval force in the Black Sea, and deploying a 4,500 strong army brigade from Texas. ButEastern Europeans desire even more. Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak insisted:
“The U.S. must increase its presence in Central and Eastern Europe, also in Poland.” Romania’s President Traian Basescu cited “the need to reposition NATO’s military resources,” meaning into Romania. Estonia’s NATO ambassador, Lauri Lepik, said “What the Baltic States want is an allied presence in the form of boots on the ground.” An unnamed former Latvian minister told the Economist: “We would like to see a few American squadrons here, boots on the round, maybe even an aircraft carrier.” (7)
All these steps are in clear violation of the 1997 treaty on NATO-Russian cooperation by boosting its forces in Eastern Europe, in which NATO vowed to provide collective defense by using reinforcements rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces at regular bases.
Russia: a call to reason
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that both Ukraine and the US have “no reason for concern”about the heightened presence of forces in the region, and that “Russia has repeatedly stated that it does not conduct unusual or unplanned activities which are militarily significant on its territory near the border with Ukraine.” The Russian authorities view NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s accusations against Moscow as an attempt to bolster the relevance of the alliance, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a commentary posed on its website on April 10 (8).
“The Secretary General’s constant accusations against us suggest that the alliance is trying to use the crisis in Ukraine to “consolidate its ranks” in the face of some imaginary external threat allegedly facing NATO countries, as well as to reinforce the relevance of the alliance in these issues in the 21st century,” the statement said.
Recent statements by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the situation in Ukraine as well as the alliance’s double standard on Crimea have hindered a de-escalation of tensions in the country, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Russia denies denied the accusations of meddling in Ukraine. He said Russia would seek talks on the Ukrainian political crisis that could involve the United States, the European Union and “all the political forces in Ukraine.”
The April meeting of NATO foreign chiefs showed the advocates of escalation got the upper hand in the alliance. Troops and air forces get concentrated in the vicinity of Russian borders. Military presence and activities are intensified under the cover of exercises. The alliance is raising unsubstantiated accusations of an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia as a pretext to build up their forces in Eastern Europe and work out war plans against Russia. The foreign policy anti-Russian efforts are vibrant in the post-Soviet space, especially talking about Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
NATO is taking advantage of the situation in Ukraine to justify its reason d’etre, including the military expenditure equal to half of the world military spending exceeding dozens of times the amount allocated for military purposes in Russia. The plans would involve the militarization of Europe. NATO’s aggressive escalation threatens a war between NATO and Russia—a major military power with a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. The threat of disaster is in the air.
Andrei AKULOV | Strategic Culture Foundation