The Kremlin’s persistent and growing presence of combat troops and equipment to the north and east of Ukraine is an intensifying concern. The specter of an expanding armed conflict that could spread to NATO was described as a possibility in Liberty Nation’s report, “Biden Admin, NATO Tested By Tension Between Russia And Ukraine.” That test is turning into a practical exam.
Dan Sabbagh, defense and security editor of The Guardian, points out:
“Russia’s purpose in the military buildup is unclear, but many western analysts are concerned about the scale of the posturing at a time of increased tensions between Moscow and Washington, after Joe Biden told reporters that he thought his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was ‘a killer.’”
As LN reported, perhaps presciently, the troubling and inartful rhetoric of President Biden doesn’t go away.
In an act of what some would call desperation, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has “called on NATO and key member states to hasten his country’s membership in the western military alliance.” Zelenskiy reached out to NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenburg, on April 6 to discuss the possibility for NATO to initiate Ukraine obtaining a “NATO membership action plan.” The action plan would indicate that there was “a pathway to future membership.” Ukraine’s president called the request a “most urgent issue.”
Sabbagh described the urgency of Zelenskiy’s outreach as “a frantic round of diplomatic activity in the past few days as Russia has markedly increased the number of troops deployed to the north and east of Ukraine and in occupied Crimea.” In conversations with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, Zelenskiy made the case that establishing a clear path to NATO membership for Ukraine would be “a real signal for Russia.”
There is a sticking point, though, for Ukraine being part of NATO. For some time, bringing Ukraine into NATO met resistance from NATO members who took a very narrow view of Article 5 of the NATO charter that talks about the collective defense where an attack on one member requires assistance “individually or collectively from NATO members.” Those members believe that bringing countries that are in conflict would automatically draw in other NATO members.
In the case of Ukraine, the more accepted position is, “even if the military conflict in the East of Ukraine is preserved, the accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will not automatically lead to drawing other Allies into this war.”
When Russia suited up paramilitary forces and invaded Eastern Ukraine in 2014 ostensibly to support ethnic Russians living there, hostilities began between Ukrainian armed forces and rebels backed by the Russians. Reuters describes the situation this way: “Russian-backed separatists have fought since 2014 against Ukrainian forces in the Donbass, a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.” Reuters explains further:
“Ukraine and Western countries say Donbass separatists have been armed, led, funded, and aided by Russians, including active Russian troops. Moscow has denied interfering. While a ceasefire halted full-scale warfare in 2015, sporadic fighting never ceased.”
A line of separation between Ukrainian armed forces and the Russian-supported separatist rebels runs near the rebel-held town of Donetsk, Ukraine.
Even though western nations “have called for restraint after Ukraine raised the alarm over a buildup of Russian forces near its border and violence rose along the line between Kyiv’s troops and separatists in Ukraine’s east,” there is cause for serious concern. Again, from The Guardian, Dr. Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “We are seeing more and more commentators and analysts saying this is more serious than just a show of strength. I don’t think we can rule out anything at this point.”
In a recent BBC interview, Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, said “you see a beefed up very aggressive diplomacy” as well as information warfare by the Russians against the Ukrainians. Bildt concluded that all of the Russian activities combined “leads to a warring situation. I mean, ah, this could well lead to an open conflict of the one sort or the other, again.”
For the Biden administration in its NATO leadership position, the other alliance members will look to the U.S. for a way forward that is thoughtful but resolute. Russia must realize that NATO and the E.U. will not leave Ukraine out in the cold. Hopefully, the Biden national security team is up to the task.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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