NATO strengthens defenses against Russia

Yesterday, 1 April, NATO members ordered military commanders to draw up plans for reinforcing NATO’s defenses to shore up confidence among the Eastern European members, including the Baltic States and Poland. Also, all civilian and military cooperation with Russia is suspended. Foreign Ministers of the 28 NATO members gathered in Brussels for the first time since the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The Russian annexation of Crimea triggered the worst stand-off between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Russian troops were still en masse present at the Ukrainian border. He said “I cannot confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops. This is not what we have seen”. He added "We are now considering all options to enhance our collective defense, including further development of our defense plans, enhanced exercises and also appropriate deployments". Today, 2 April, NATO’s top military chief, general Breedlove, said Russian troops could overrun Ukraine in ‘three to five days’.

NATO has already responded to the crisis by increasing regular patrol flights over the Baltic Sates and the US will beef up its training exercise with the Polish air force. By suspending military cooperation a planned NATO-Russia exercise on rescuing a stranded submarine will be halted. Rasmussen said Russian cooperation in Afghanistan will not be affected and contacts at ambassadorial level will also continue.

Foreign Ministers at NATO

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said NATO’s future relationship with Russia would depend on whether Russia would start withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border. US Foreign Secretary John Kerry also prefers de-escalations, he said "The question now is: Is there a way to build on that in order to be able to find a way to move the masses of troops back and truly de-escalate?”

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk favors a tougher stand against Russia and wants two NATO brigades to be stationed in Poland. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said “The pace of NATO increasing its military presence for sure could be faster […] this is an unsatisfactory result for us.” Romanian President Traian Basescu stated the US asked if it could station additional forces in Romania.

In a separate response, Brittain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said: "We should do everything we can to reassure our friends and colleagues in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and in Poland that we really believe in their NATO membership and the guarantees that we have given them". Sources at NATO talked about security projects in Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia’s southern flank.

Ukraine and NATO

NATO members met with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andij Deshchitsya and agreed to help modernize Ukraine’s armed forces. Rasmussen said the alliance would offer Ukraine more chances to take part in NATO exercises. Deschchitsya gave NATO members a wish-list of technical equipment needed for the armed forces, but excluded weaponry. Experts will be sent to Ukraine next week to see what is needed.

Russia warned Ukraine against integration into NATO, saying the last attempt had unwelcome consequences. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high. On 1 April Russian energy giant Gazprom increased gas prices for Ukraine by 40 percent.

US President Barack Obama declared that NATO should respond to Russian force with ‘strength and conviction’. For many NATO officials the Russian annexation of Crimea has reinforced the relevance of NATO for the West. They say NATO is no longer a relic from the Cold War.

Sources: Al Jazeera, EU observer, The Guardian, Reuters.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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