n an agenda-setting speech ahead of the crucial summit that begins Thursday in Wales, NATO deputy secretary general Alexander Vershbow said Russia’s military moves in Ukraine had created a new solidarity and resolve to defend the alliance’s borders. That new sense of purpose, he said, was reflected in a “Readiness Action Plan” that NATO leaders would announce this week, including the creation of a small “spearhead” force of several thousand troops that will be stationed in Eastern Europe and able to deploy to a crisis within 48 hours.
But, he made clear, that solidarity didn’t extend to non-member Ukraine, where NATO says Russian troops and tanks are now directly aiding rebels in the east of the country. Asked if there was any “red line” Mr. Putin could cross that would prompt NATO involvement in the country, Mr. Vershbow left no doubt that Ukraine would have to fight alone.
“I don’t see any red line that, if crossed, would lead to military engagement” in Ukraine, he told a “NATO after the Wales Summit” seminar hosted by Cardiff University. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will attend this week’s NATO meeting as a non-member observer.
“Ukraine understands that they’re not a beneficiary of an Article 5 [NATO collective defence] guarantee,” Mr. Vershbow told The Globe and Mail afterwards. “But I think we will show solidarity with Ukraine, meeting with Poroshenko. We’ll roll out some of the assistance that we’ve been working on for Ukraine… it may not be everything that everybody wants, but again NATO is not the only responder. The broad international message from NATO, from the EU, from other actors, hopefully will make a difference.”
Mr. Poroshenko asked last week that Ukraine be considered for full membership in NATO, but the request has been met with stony silence from the alliance, which is still seeking to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia.
The EU, Canada and the United States have collectively imposed escalating sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. But while those measures are taking an economic toll – the Russian economy contracted in both June and July – they have not demonstrably affected the Kremlin’s behaviour.
So what is NATO to do?
Stephen Krasner, a former top U.S. State Department official, said the alliance should focus on providing the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, tiny former republics of the Soviet Union that joined NATO in 2004, with credible deterrent against any aggression. Mr. Putin has claimed the right to “defend” Russian-speakers abroad, and Estonia and Latvia have significant Russian-speaking populations.
“We can’t pretend we’re going to defend Ukraine, when we can’t do that,” said Prof. Krasner, who now teaches at Stanford University. But, he said, “there are real reasons for us to fight in the Baltic States.”