U.S. Rebuilt NATO to Face Down Russia. Putin Scrambled Those Plans.

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The Kremlin tested the alliance by undermining former Soviet republics, sowing propaganda and exploiting divisions

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Instead of confronting NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasing pressure in surrounding countries, including Ukraine, Syria and Libya. Western officials say it is testing the coalition’s unity with natural-gas deals while examining its democratic defenses with cyberattacks and propaganda. The approach is testing both the coalition’s military might and Western political will.

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NATO is divided on how to respond. Allies such as Germany and France have long urged caution and dialogue with Moscow.

Germany last year halted the sale of sniper rifles to Ukraine through NATO, saying it should only be provided with a defensive system to help Kiev, a coalition ally that since 2014 has been fighting Russian-led separatists in its east. has faced a fierce battle against Hungary, led by a pro-Russian authoritarian, is blocking high-level NATO meetings with Ukraine.

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Eastern members such as Poland and the Baltic states worry that the Biden administration is leaning toward concessions to Putin instead of focusing on China. US officials have said they will not accept Moscow’s demand that NATO commit to never admit Ukraine and Georgia as members, but may consider other measures such as mutual reductions in military exercises.

“If we make concessions to Putin now, he will come back for more,” said a European diplomat in NATO. “Russia poses a long-term threat with a political intent to undermine us.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in December that NATO “has become a purely geopolitical project, aimed at absorbing territories unowned after the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

A decade ago, NATO was a problem in search of a solution. The West had won the Cold War and fought late in the former Yugoslavia. For former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland and Hungary, NATO membership came to be seen as a stepping stone to EU membership as investors felt comfortable diving into marginalized economies under Washington’s security umbrella. The prospects of a serious war appeared far and wide. Two rounds of expansion in 1999 and 2004 brought former Soviet bloc countries from Bulgaria to the Baltic states.

Russia, consumed by domestic economic and political strife, grumbled but could do little. NATO sought to pacify Moscow by agreeing to a cooperation agreement committed to not permanently base forces in former Soviet domain, allowing Moscow to open a diplomatic mission at NATO headquarters and address concerns. for the establishment of a council.

NATO cut the military budget and reduced the military in Europe. It first invoked its mutual-defense pact – not against Russia, but after the September 11 terrorist attacks – and it launched a mission in Afghanistan.

The dynamics began to change in 2004, when Mr Putin blamed the West for sponsoring a popular uprising in Ukraine that overturned the controversial election of his protege. He began to strengthen the Russian army, which had been eroded by its Soviet-era strength.

In 2008, Germany and France blocked a US-led effort to provide the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia a path toward NATO membership. The coalition came up with a solution: Ukraine and Georgia could eventually become members, but no timeline was offered.

Anders Fogg Rasmussen, the Secretary General of NATO at the time, said, “It was a big mistake.” “We sent the wrong signal, a sign of unity, weakness.”

Russia was somewhat pacified, but in August 2008, Georgia was crushed in a minor war that placed the two separate Georgian territories firmly under Russian control. After the war that ended in 1992, Russia already had troops in a separate area in Ukraine’s neighboring country of Moldova.

Mr Rasmussen said he believed Mr Putin wanted to establish himself as NATO’s gatekeeper by deploying troops to prevent conflict in countries that the coalition and the EU would not join his bloc. Would like

In 2014, Mr. Putin upheld NATO’s balancing act by annexing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and promoting an armed insurgency east of it. He then launched a covert offensive to carve out two separatist areas. Dodging by the brutality and violence at its doorstep, NATO began to rebuild forces in Europe.

To prevent a possible Russian invasion, members have deployed about 5,000 troops to the Baltic states and Poland. The US sent troops across the Atlantic to reinforce European allies and established a new Atlantic command in Norfolk, Va. to protect the sea routes.

Partly under pressure from former President Donald Trump, several European NATO members agreed to buy new weapons systems and meet previous spending commitments, adding billions of dollars to the defense budget. Belgium and Poland struck deals to buy the Pentagon’s latest warplane, the F-35, with Greece and other members also considering the refurbished aircraft.

The coalition’s plan and weapons seem to have not distracted Mr Putin in Ukraine or other countries outside NATO. And it doesn’t completely reassure the current members. Some are debating how much economic pressure to put on Moscow, with Germany equivocally on whether to cancel the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia if Moscow strikes Ukraine again .

NATO’s strong European forces do not intimidate Mr. Putin, who has more significant troops stationed in the region, but they allow him to claim that the coalition threatens Russia, one of the issues Russia has to deal with. Wants to address the NATO meeting on Wednesday. ,

Some military analysts predict Mr. Putin will attack NATO directly. The stakes are too low for him in vulnerable countries like Ukraine, which he sees as critical to Russia’s security and part of its sphere of influence.

NATO members have provided Ukraine with weapons and equipment, trained their troops and offered political support, but the coalition has said it will not send military force because there is no mutual defense agreement.

Meanwhile, Russian military build-up continues, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday, although diplomats say not at a pace that would suggest an imminent invasion.

“The challenge,” he said, “is that when you look at this gradual military build-up with dangerous rhetoric—capabilities, rhetoric, and track record—certainly it sends a message that there is a need for a new armed conflict.” The real risk is in Europe.”

Write James Marson at [email protected] and Daniel Michaels at [email protected]


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