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NATO ‘more united and determined than ever’ after Russia’s ‘brutal act of war’ on Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Feb. 24 condemned Russia's “cold-blooded” attack on Ukraine “in the strongest possible terms.” (Reuters)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will bolster its eastern flank and host an emergency summit in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Calling Russia’s moves “a brutal act of war,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the alliance plans to send more troops east “in the coming days and weeks.” He said the alliance had activated defense plans to help ensure that there is no spillover into any NATO member country, but he did not disclose what that means.

“Russia has attacked Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told journalists from NATO headquarters in Brussels. “Peace in our continent has been shattered.”

Later Thursday, President Biden announced that he had authorized additional forces to deploy to Germany and Poland.

“Our forces are not and will not be engaged in the conflict with Russia in Ukraine. Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies,” he said in a White House address.

“The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,” he continued. “The good news is, NATO is more united and determined than ever.”

The remarks followed an extraordinary meeting of NATO members and formal requests by officials in eight Eastern European and Baltic nations, including Poland and Estonia, to hold a security consultation under Article 4 of NATO’s 1949 founding treaty. The measure lets allies register their defense concerns in a way that stops short of a formal request for assistance after an attack.

Russia launched a military assault against Ukraine early Thursday, with attacks coming “from the north, east and south,” according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who declared martial law and broke off diplomatic ties with Moscow, as Ukrainian forces tried to push back Russian forces advancing toward the capital, Kyiv.

Explosions went off across Ukraine on Feb. 24 as Russia bombarded cities, towns and villages while advancing toward the capital of Kyiv. (The Washington Post)

Ukraine is not a member of NATO but has expressed a desire to join. Russia contends that the eastward expansion of NATO — which has accepted nearly a dozen Central and Eastern European nations as members since the breakup of the Soviet Union — poses an existential threat.

The North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s main political decision-making body, said in a statement Thursday that it has decided “to take additional steps to further strengthen deterrence and defence across the Alliance,” as it warned that “Russia will pay a very heavy economic and political price” for its actions.

Details of NATO’s new plans are scarce. Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Thursday that the alliance has activated its defense plans at the request of its top military commander, Gen. Tod Wolters. The plans, Stoltenberg said, “will enable us to deploy capabilities and forces, including the NATO Response Force, to where they are needed.”

Stoltenberg leaves the podium after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 22. (Olivier Matthys/AP)

Justyna Gotkowska, a program coordinator at the Center for Eastern Studies, a Warsaw-based think tank, said next steps may involve sending troops from the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a contingent of about 20,000 rapid-response forces, to NATO’s eastern flank. She expects to see “more European allies involved in enhancing military presence on the eastern flank,” she said.

NATO does not have a legal obligation to defend Ukraine from an invasion, Gotkowska said. Yet NATO and Ukraine are partners, and since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the alliance has invested in programs to help Ukraine ensure its own security.

Earlier Thursday, NATO member states called for security consultations to be held under Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which states that countries “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”

Member countries did not invoke Article 5, which outlines a common pledge from all NATO countries that they will come to one another’s defense if one of them is attacked. It has been invoked only once — in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. However, Stoltenberg said NATO’s commitments to the security of its eastern European members shows “that our collective defence commitment” under Article 5 “is ironclad.”

The United States is the most powerful NATO member and has agreed to come to the defense of all NATO allies if they are in need. Earlier this month, Biden characterized the U.S. commitment to Article 5 as “sacrosanct.”

Gotkowska said NATO would be expected to invoke Article 5 only if Russia attacked one of its member countries directly — what Stoltenberg on Thursday referred to as a “spillover” of the conflict into nearby NATO member states, such as Hungary, Slovakia or Poland.

Biden has deployed extra military resources to Central and Eastern Europe, including sending U.S. troops to Romania and Poland, but has said that they will not fight in Ukraine. The Pentagon on Tuesday detailed a new round of deployments to Eastern Europe, sending fighter jets, attack helicopters and infantry as it bolsters security in the region.

On Thursday, Stoltenberg said that “there are no NATO combat troops inside Ukraine at all” and emphasized that NATO has no intention of deploying NATO troops to fight in Ukraine. But the head of NATO said Thursday’s attack could change the long-term balance of power in Europe and dramatically alter NATO relations with Moscow.

“We don’t have all the answers today, but there will be a new reality,” he said. “It will be a New Europe after the invasion we saw today.”


(c) 2022, Washington Post


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