NATO chief warns of Russian violence against Ukraine, Poland wants more troops along the border

Exercise of the Russian armed forces in Crimea, de facto under Russian command since 2014.Image AP

If Russia uses violence against Ukraine, there will be “costs and consequences” according to the NATO chief. According to Stoltenberg, the Russian reinforcements include “heavy assets such as tanks, artillery, mechanized units, drones and electronic warfare systems.” He called the troop build-up “unprovoked (by Ukraine, red.) and not explained’, but emphasized that NATO countries are open to dialogue and call on Russia for transparency and ‘de-escalation’.

It was previously announced that Washington and Kiev are very concerned about a possible winter offensive against Ukraine. Not only because of the troop build-up and the unusual fact that tens of thousands of reservists have also been silently called up, but also because this is accompanied by sharp recent statements by both former President Medvedev and President Putin about Ukraine.

Polish President Andrzej Duda took it a step further on Thursday by calling for NATO aircraft to strengthen “strategic perception” of the region and strengthen NATO units along its eastern flank. Stoltenberg did not respond to that call on Friday.

On Tuesday, the NATO countries will meet in the Latvian capital Riga. They will welcome Ukraine and Georgia as guests there — countries NATO “supports politically and practically,” Stoltenberg said. But they are not NATO members and therefore do not fall under NATO’s automatic assistance obligation in the event of an armed attack (the so-called Article 5 of the NATO Treaty).

November 1 satellite image of tanks and other equipment in Yelnya, Russia.  Image AFP

November 1 satellite image of tanks and other equipment in Yelnya, Russia.Image AFP

Anti-Ukrainian Rhetoric

A lively debate has broken out about the significance of the Russian troop build-up and the strongly anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. One camp calls the concerns about Russia’s intentions grossly exaggerated – pointing, among other things, to the importance President Putin attaches to the opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the coming months.

The other camp points to developments and statements in Russia itself, which feed the concerns. These include not only the sharp attacks on Ukrainian President Zelensky, and the Russian warnings of an “imminent Ukrainian offensive” (which Kiev denies), but also the overt hints about the possible repetition of the “Georgia scenario”. ‘. This refers to the short but fierce Georgia War of 2008, which began when President Saakashvili – after months of building tensions with obscure incidents along the border – attacked the renegade province of South Ossetia, and Russia subsequently destroyed a substantial part of the country temporarily overrun.

The authoritative Russian foreign expert Fyodor Lukyanov also talks about this. He sees a ‘grey zone’ in Ukraine consisting of the absence of formal NATO guarantees, but the constant presence of Western ‘warm words, ideological reassurances and even military support’. Any further step in this direction could lead to ‘serious consequences’. Russia does not like the status quo in Europe, says Lukyanov, it is time for ‘new red lines’ and a positive reappraisal of ‘Finlandization’ – the Cold War concept where a country remains formally sovereign, but comes under great influence of a powerful neighboring country.

Calmer analyses

On the other hand, calmer analyses. One is that pressure on Ukraine and creating crisis situations with the West has become standard part of Putin’s raison d’être, which has less and less to offer the ordinary Russian socially and economically.

“There is no certainty about Russian intentions,” Stoltenberg said Friday, “but we see their track record.” He said NATO remains open to dialogue and still hopes for Russia’s return to the NATO-Russia Council. “But instead, Russia has suspended its diplomatic mission to NATO.”