NATO has been thumping its chest at Moscow to counter fears in Kyiv that Russia’s appetite for fresh territory might be bigger than Crimea. Guards at Ukraine’s border with Russia report military massing on the other side.
US President Barack Obama at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday said the 28-member alliance stood firm.
Obama said: “What we will do, always, is uphold our solemn obligation: our Article Five duty to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies. And in that promise we will never waver. NATO nations never stand alone. Today NATO planes patrol the skies over the Baltics, and we’ve reinforced our presence in Poland. And we are prepared to do more.”
US officials have said the Pentagon will more than double the number of American fighter jets on a NATO air patrol mission in the Baltic and do more training with Poland’s air force. Washington expects Moscow to take notice.
Hard feelings in the Kremlin go back to the Cold War. Russia was promised that, in return for its acceptance of a reunified Germany into NATO, the alliance would never expand eastwards. Then, three years after Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush Sr. shook on that,
NATO welcomed former Warsaw Pact brethren the Poles, the Czechs and the Hungarians. Ten years ago, the alliance lapped at Russia’s doorstep in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and also made members of Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. In 2009, in came Albania and Croatia. Ukraine was not considered, but a close eye is being kept on other Russian-speaking regions.
US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, said: “To the point of Odessa and Transdniestria, let me just say: we are very concerned about that. We know the capability absolutely exists to do that and cause that problem. We don’t know about the intent. What we do see is some of the same rhetoric that was used when they went into Crimea.”
President Vladimir Putin points to Kosovo’s independence claim, telling the West that, if it condoned that, it should accept his absorption of Crimea — ignoring the ethnic violence involving Serb and opposing forces, controversial NATO bombing, UN administration and years of talks between Pristina and Belgrade.
NATO is adamant now that it won’t intervene unless one of its member states is threatened. It’s thought President Putin won’t want to bring the alliance down on his neck. Yet the Baltic States, once annexed by the USSR, remain anxious.