NATO warns of the Ukrainian crisis: what next? | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW

Romania has long wanted a NATO battlegroup on its territory, similar to those assembled for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.

Thanks in large part to Moscow’s renewed rally on the Ukrainian border, the Black Sea nation is likely to see such a presence approved at the alliance’s defense ministers’ meeting in mid-February.

France has expressed interest in leading the new deployment, and this week French Defense Minister Florence Parly, visiting Bucharest, announced that a group of experts was already arriving in Romania to begin mapping it.

And Romania may not be the only eastern NATO ally to have a new battlegroup. The heightened urgency comes as the United States, NATO and other Western officials have stressed that Russia continues to rapidly add forces and capabilities to its border buildup.

Russia is ready for anything

An intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Kremlin had continued to deploy battalion tactical groups (BTGs), which are highly equipped battalions, “at a steady pace” even during the last weeks of intensive diplomacy.

“It’s not just the numbers [of BTGs] are absolutely very high,” the official said, “but it’s now more than double what they were at the start of the year. We’re seeing more and more now a lot of things that we’re looking for to indicate that a military option on their side is more feasible.”

“Occupation, taking over half the country, creating a land corridor from Crimea to Moldova and Romania are all things that I think are totally viable,” the source said, “and which are probably actively considered”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced earlier this week that allies were putting forces on standby and sending ships and aircraft to reinforce existing deterrence and defense measures, pending the outcome of diplomatic efforts. and new Russian measures.

After more than two years, NATO and Russia held talks again in January

Former NATO commander: the “police” of the air is no longer enough

Speaking to the Atlantic Council think tank, NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Philip Breedlove, welcomed the decision and encouraged the alliance to consider ‘other’ options which would indicate [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that he will get the opposite of what he asked for.”

One of those options, Breedlove says, is something he would have liked to see when he was NATO’s top military commander from 2013 to 2016, when Russia invaded Ukraine. . Noting that the United States and other countries are now sending additional fighter jets for air policing missions that cover the Baltics and much of other NATO territory, Breedlove argued that the time is right. to improve this function and give it some bite.

“Air policing is a peacetime function for renegade aircraft,” he said. “We should now transform NATO into an ‘air defense’ posture. Give our airmen the rules of engagement and special instructions that would allow them to respond to belligerent action.”

In addition to heightened troop alert, Breedlove suggested “possibly moving elements of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and other things to improve our positioning in the area.” advanced”. The VJTF is the spearhead of the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force, made up of around 20,000 troops. The response time of the VJTF has already been shortened this year from seven to five days.

Make Moscow think

Those forces would deploy even more quickly if needed, says former US Army Europe commander General Ben Hodges. “If you’re here to tell me I have five days notice to move out, then I’ll be ready to move out in a day or two,” he explained.

 US Army General Ben Hodges in Ukraine

Former US Army Europe Commander General Ben Hodges visits Ukraine in 2015.

He also recommends looking at other ways to convince Moscow that it does not want to provoke a conflict with NATO. “Where can we create problems for [Russia] somewhere else?” he suggested. “How do we get the advantage? How are we threatening the port of Sevastopol?” referring to the key Black Sea port seized by Russia during the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

One idea that Hodges would not support is the concept of sending US troops to Ukraine to act as a kind of “trigger” deterrent against a Russian invasion. This, he believes, “would create a real problem for all our European allies, [and] in my opinion, would undermine the unity of the alliance because most of them would consider that the United States is unnecessarily doing something more provocative.

“Normally I don’t care to provoke the Russians,” Hodges told DW. “This time, I wouldn’t advise doing that.” According to the general, it might be better for the US Air Force and Air Force to train Ukrainians to improve their air and missile defense capabilities.

Unfortunately, he thinks the chances of Kyiv needing those defenses are growing every day. “[Russia] showed no indication that they’re seriously thinking about de-escalation,” he said. “They’re trying to apply maximum pressure in hopes that we’ll crack and someone will finally say ‘for the love of god, please just tell them, we are not going to let ukraine in [to NATO]’ And then they can declare victory and walk away.”

This, he said, would be a “catastrophe for this administration, for the alliance and for the security and stability of Eastern Europe”.

But things are not going that way, neither for NATO nor for the Kremlin. The new Romanian battlegroup is probably only a few months away. “It’s been a long time,” Hodges concludes.

Christi C. Elwood