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Summit Message: Beware Russia, NATO is Determined

Summit Message: Beware Russia, NATO is Determined

Sunday, 27 March, 2022 - 13:00

“Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security,” NATO leaders stated in their Summit communique in Brussels on 14 June 2021.

And the same Heads of State and Government declared in their statement after NATO’s extraordinary Summit in Brussels on 24 March 2022: “We met today to address Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Putin may be on his way to “Grozny-fy” Kyiv. This is a reference to Russia’s leveling to the ground the town of Grozny in 1999. And this is not the first time that Russia acted in this way; Caucasus in the 19th century, Syria in 2010 and now in Ukraine.

At the outset of the NATO meeting, President Zelensky addressed the leaders, expressed his country’s appreciation and stressed the vital importance of even more military assistance. So allies said that they were already providing support to Ukraine with significant military supplies including anti-tank, air defense systems and drones. “This support will go on,” they stated.

On the other hand, Secretary General Stoltenberg reiterated at the press conference later that Allies will not deploy troops on the ground in Ukraine, “so that this conflict does not become a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.”

Allies took several measures to strengthen deterrence. The leaders approved four new NATO battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. These are in addition to the four already existing ones in the three Baltic countries and Poland. A battlegroup is a multi-national, battalion size force, with 600 to 1,000 fully equipped troops and their war machines.

The decision to provide assistance and material to Ukraine against biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear threats is noteworthy.

Now, WMD dimension of crisis is also in play. The US and others have recently been drawing attention to possibility of Russia using chemical weapons. On the other hand, Russians themselves have been making statements which imply resorting to nuclear weapons if need arises.

President Biden, on his way to the Summit and in response to a question, said that it is a real threat that Putin may use chemical weapons in Ukraine. The US President said, "We would respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of use."

The possibility of Russia using chemicals is very scary. So are Biden’s words. The whole concept is scary and it is a dilemma. One also immediately recalls Syria when red lines were declared and red lines crossed dozens of times when the regime of Bashar Assad used toxic gases against its people.

China was also on the agenda in Brussels. NATO leaders called on China to refrain from rendering military or economic support to Russia’s war effort.

As it will be recalled, China has come under NATO radar recently. At the NATO Summit meeting in Brussels in 2021, China was referred to as a potential challenge. The exact wording was: China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.

In response to NATO, Chinese officials are quoted as saying that China has not taken sides, has abided by the UN Charter and principles, and understands the security concerns of all countries. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, “to resolve the crisis, rationality and a cooling-down attitude rather than fanning the flames is needed”.

China has also shown its teeth. Anonymous official sources are quoted as saying that if the US takes measures that harm China's interests, including those of Chinese enterprises and individuals, it will not sit idly by and will make a strong response.

NATO leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to NATO’s Open Door policy. At the 2021 communique, the decision made at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance was reiterated.

This time, Ukraine was not named and what came out is no more than declaration of a principle; one that no one, including President Zelensky, expects to be applied to Ukraine, probably ever. In any case, this should be regarded as a positive message by Russia, which claims that among its reasons to invade Ukraine were its fears the Alliance would expand to reach its borders.

The principle of collective defense is the core of NATO and it commits members to protect each other in case of need. NATO once again reminded Russia that if any part of the Alliance is touched, NATO will not hesitate to act. “Our commitment to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is iron-clad” reiterated the leaders.

The leaders agreed that President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the security environment for the long term, and that there is a new security reality now. There is a “new cold war,” which requires that their military commanders provide options for a long-term reset of NATO’s presence and its military posture in the eastern part of the Alliance and across the whole Alliance. “Long term” is the key here. Even if cease-fire in Ukraine is achieved, NATO has concluded that it is necessary to be on its toes with so many potential threats and an unpredictable, unsafe security environment.

NATO members had pledged in 2014 to increase their defense spending to two percent of their gross domestic product by 2024. That was not an easy objective. Many states had serious hesitations and even objections. Only around 10 members had achieved the target and 15 or so more were thought to be able to achieve the target by the deadline.

Now, almost all NATO countries are announcing plans for significant increases in defense spending. Those member states, which feel most threatened by Russia, mainly from the former eastern bloc, are at the forefront.

This Summit demonstrated a general sense of unity. Sweden, Finland and the European Union were represented at the first part of the Summit. After the Summit concluded, Germany hosted the meeting of G-7 leaders at the NATO headquarters.

G-7 was G-8 until Russia was suspended indefinitely following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Biden recently said that Russia should also be removed from G-20. But this will probably prove much more difficult, as the decision will depend on the entirety of the G-20 countries, some of which would likely not go along with such a proposal.

The leaders extended the mandate of Secretary General Stoltenberg by another year, until 30 September 2023. NATO did not have time to occupy itself with the serious issue of selecting a new secretary general. But I believe more than that, this decision was recognition of a successful leadership in times of severe crisis. This is the third time that Stoltenberg’s mandate has been extended.

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