BRUSSELS – A new front line of conflict is forming in Europe, with heightened risks, raising questions about whether NATO will or can even respond effectively.
After invading Ukraine and deploying its troops in Belarus, Russia has unexpectedly extended its military might to the borders of several NATO countries, including the Baltic states.
If Russia succeeds in taking over Ukraine and keeping its bases in Belarus, as many experts predict now, its force would stretch from the Baltics and Polish borders to Slovakia, Hungary and northern Romania, leaving NATO finds it difficult to defend its eastern flank. .
And only a thin corridor about 60 miles long between Lithuania and Poland separates Russian forces in Belarus from Kaliningrad, Russia’s territory on the Baltic Sea, which is armed with missiles easily capable of launching nuclear warheads. or normally into central Europe.
“The level of risk to NATO simply and dramatically increases dramatically,” said Ian Lesser, a former US official who heads the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund. “The possibility of conflict with Russian forces in Europe or elsewhere, like the Black Sea, Sahel, Libya or Syria, could be dangerous and will be an issue for many years to come. ”
“This changes everything for NATO,” said Ian Bond, a former British diplomat who heads foreign policy at the Center for European Reform. “Russia’s aim is to destroy Ukraine as a sovereign state in Europe. Now we need to worry about everything and we need to get serious again. ”
NATO has responded sparingly to the Russian reinforcement, sending some more troops and planes to the member states closest to Russia. On Thursday, NATO decided on additional, unspecified deployments, and there were serious discussions about eventually repealing the 1997 NATO-Russia Creation Act, which places limits on NATO’s deployment in eastern members that Russia violated eight years ago, when it invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Russia’s actions pose a serious threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic region and they will have geostrategic consequences. “We are deploying additional ground and air defenses to the eastern part of the alliance, as well as additional maritime assets. ”
Any discussion with Moscow about redrawing Europe’s security architecture takes place under a different framework than Russia’s military is deployed on NATO’s eastern flank.
Even as military spending increases dramatically in response to a new Russian invasion, as it did modestly after Russia’s occupation of Crimea, the deployment of forces, equipment, aircraft and even The new missile would be a blow to the past 30 years of relative peace. , prosperous and complacent in alliances.
“NATO has focused on all these important and trendy things without regard to its core responsibilities, like climate and cyberspace,” Mr. Lesser said. “But we forget that there are ruthless people out there and for them foreign policy is a blood sport. ”
NATO has rewritten its 12-year-old strategic concept and is debating replacing Mr. Stoltenberg, who leaves office on October 1. Those tasks are now more urgent than ever. “NATO was in a mode to think more broadly about its purpose,” Mr. Lesser said.
But a serious attempt to prevent an aggressive new Russia will not be so simple, said Benjamin Hodges, a former commander of US forces in Europe and now at the Center for European Policy Analysis. . Just moving troops and equipment around in post-Cold War Europe has become much more cumbersome, with some bridges and railways no longer capable of transporting heavy armor.
Mr Hodges said: “Political leaders will be surprised how long it takes to move things under EU road regulations and no special preference”.
NATO also lacks significant air defense and missile defense systems for a modern air war that, as in Ukraine, begins with hitting critical infrastructure such as airports, roads and railways. , he said. Just to defend the major US airbase at Ramstein, southwest Germany, he said, he would use an entire battalion of Patriot missiles, “and we have only one Patriot battalion in Europe that belongs to us,” he said. we. ”
Once the Fulda Gap in Germany was the fear of Cold War strategists, heavily defended by US troops to prevent the Warsaw Pact from plunging tanks from East Germany into the Rhine. Now the concern is the Suwalki Corridor, a narrow slit connecting Poland with Lithuania that, if taken, would separate the three Baltic states from the rest of NATO.
The corridor separates Belarus from Kaliningrad, the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, and is isolated from Russia when the Soviet Union broke out. Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution suggests that Putin is most likely to request direct access from Belarus to Kaliningrad. in a column for the Washington Post.
But even that is only part of a new Russian strategy to separate the Baltic states from NATO by demonstrating that the alliance no longer hopes to protect them.
“The current threat to Poland is becoming more serious,” said Mr. Bond, “and recommends that the United States quickly dispatch two heavy battalions to Poland” to begin with. The deployment in the three Baltic states also needs to be strengthened, he said.
In 2014, NATO also established a “joint task force of very high readiness”, now commanded by Turkey, which is expected to be deployed shortly in the face of threats to NATO’s sovereignty. . It consists of a land brigade of about 5,000 troops, supported by air, sea and special forces, with more reinforcements able to be deployed within 30 days.
But the smaller force is essentially untested, and Greater feedback force in which the spearhead is only 1/4 of the Russian force invading Ukraine. The larger force was formed in 2002 and is meant to be deployed quickly, but its 40,000 members are based in the host country and assembling them can be a slow exercise.
Understanding Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is the root cause of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine to be inside its natural sphere of influence, and it became irritated by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of it joining NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is not included in this category, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
There are also questions about oaths by NATO members to send weapons to Ukraine as it battles the Russians or to help fuel an insurgency. Hodges said that attempts to supply Ukraine with weapons by air, rail or land could be prevented or hindered by the Russian military, even if the shipments are delivered by contractors and not by contractors. not NATO soldiers.
And which country would dare to support an uprising knowing that Russian troops are on the other side of the border?
In general, the possibility of random confrontations leading to escalation in such a tense situation cannot be ruled out. atmosphere. Analysts point to how Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syria-Turkey border in 2015. “It didn’t escalate then, but today it is very likely, ” Mr. Lesser said.
At the same time, the arms control agreements that tried to keep the Cold War near-miss, raised new threats to the deployment of conventional forces and medium-range missiles. Russia has also been extremely active in cyberwarfare, attacking the German Parliament, meddling in the last French election, and spreading misinformation about local languages on social media.
Overall, the new threats will reinforce the European Union and NATO’s logic of stronger cooperation on defense, Mr. Lesser said, “and should take a lot of politics and theology out of that relationship. ” Coordinate with the EU in its areas. Strength, like economic sanctions, cyber resilience, energy security, and information warfare can only help both organizations, he said, as 21 of them The EU’s 27 members are already in NATO and others, such as Sweden and Finland, are close allies.
“We need Americans,” Mr. Bond said. “But we should not abandon the idea of European autonomy and further self-reliance. ” with his isolationist, America’s first confidence will come to power.
“Europe is going to face a lot of risks, so they have to increase their military spending and efficiency, to meet the real capacity needs,” said Mr. “All of this becomes important now, and not just a bunch of good ideas. ”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/24/world/europe/ukraine-russia-nato-europe.html With the invasion of Ukraine, NATO suddenly became vulnerable