NATO meets to discuss Russia
Last week, Latvia hosted for the first time a meeting of all NATO Foreign Ministers. The location of the two-day event (November 30th and December 1st), which was held in the Latvian capital, Riga, was meant to underscore the cherished importance and solidarity that the Alliance shares with its Baltic Allies.
Latvia, a NATO ally since 2004, is one of only three Baltic states in the Alliance. With this decision to host the Alliance’s Foreign Ministers in Latvia, the NATO leadership is trying to appease some of the concerns surrounding its more restrained approach when it comes to tensions and troubles on the central and Eastern European front.
Indeed, the Eastern European front has definitely been the centre of discussion over the course of the two-day event. As tensions are rising west of the Russian border with Ukraine, the Western alliance had gathered to voice its concerns on the troubling developments amassing in the region.
As discussed in a recent TSP analysis, the tensions that have been growing at the border of the two countries are not only a cause of concern for the Western alliance, but the scope of the Russian government is also meant to provoke the Alliance.
Tensions between Russia and NATO allies have reached an all-time high and Russia’s military activities on its border with Ukraine have raised alarms within the Alliance to take a stand. This has resulted in the Riga meeting.
The top leadership of the Alliance, such as NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have described Russia’s military activity on Ukraine’s border as ‘unusual’, stating that if Moscow’s amassing of troops will continue, this would be of ‘great concern’ to Washington.
The US top diplomat continued with his statement, stating that a further escalation would have ‘serious consequences’. Ukraine is an ally of the security alliance, but not a NATO member.
On Monday, while visiting NATO troops rehearsing battle skills north of Riga, Stoltenberg said that “we see heavy capabilities, we see armoured units, drones, electronic warfare systems and we see tens of thousands combat-ready Russian troops”, setting a concerned, but not yet hostile tone to the reality of the situation.
Stoltenberg also called Russia’s military build-up near the border with Ukraine “unprovoked and unexplained”, reiterating his calls on Moscow to be transparent and reduce tensions in the region, hinting at sanctions against Moscow. “There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation, Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
In the meantime, as the top NATO meeting was taking place in Riga, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine would be considered a red line, that he hopes would not be crossed. He also voiced concerns of military drills that have been taking place near Russia’s border.
Moscow has dismissed Ukraine’s suggestions that it is preparing for an attack as inflammatory, stating said it does not threaten anyone and defends its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.
During a press conference after the talks, Antony Blinked said that “the United States and our allies and partners are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine, including efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within and large-scale military operations”.
The US Secretary of State has also had a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in order to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis, while still reaffirming Washington’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity, its sovereignty, its independence”.
Blinken’s talks with Lavrov came a day after the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga, where Blinken said Russia’s military operations appeared to be an effort to destabilize Ukraine from within, reports Radio Free Europe.
As a rebuttal, Lavrov accused NATO of deploying a significant amount of military hardware near Russia’s borders, saying that Moscow would respond to security threats from Western countries and Ukraine if necessary. “If NATO still refuses to discuss this theme or the guarantees or ideas put forward by the president of Russia Vladimir Putin, of course we will take measures to ensure that our security, our sovereignty and our territorial integrity does not depend on anyone else”, he said.
On December 1st, President Putin demanded legal guarantees that NATO would not expand further east and deploy weapons near Russia’s borders, a reference to Western arms supplies to Ukraine and joint military drills.
In addition, on the same day, Russia declared that it was expelling a number of US Embassy staff from their posts, a further indication that diplomatic relations between the governments of Kremlin and Washington are not only deteriorating, but are reaching Cold War era – like tensions.
Blinken also referred to the alleged coup attempt in Kyiv, which Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyi had recently warned about. The Ukrainian president had labelled it as an example of something that would fit into typical Russian “script in Moscow’s playbook of “creating a provocation and using it as a pretext for interference”, according to Euractiv.
In the context of an ever more complex dynamic of US – Russia relations, Ukrainian Defence Minister said that Russia’s recent military build-up is likely to have the intention of strengthening Moscow’s bargaining power and position, as the leader of the two countries had another online encounter just this week – arguably, the most high-stakes interaction between the two since President Biden took office.
In a tense two-hour video conference on Tuesday, December 7th, President Biden warned Vladimir Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would result in heavy economic penalties for Russia and might lead NATO to reposition its troops in Europe. It could also end Russia’s hopes of completing the Nord Stream II gas pipeline to Europe.
It is unclear whether this conversation will alleviate the crisis in Ukraine immediately. At the moment, there are around 70,000 Russian troops gathered at the border, with more personnel and equipment arriving every day.
For other True Story Project analyses on Russia, please click here.
Photo source: Twitter