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20th Jan 2020

Nato reassures Poland, Baltic states on Russia threat

Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen has shown sympathy for Polish and Baltic states’ fears of Russia’s aggressive posture in Ukraine and beyond.

“These developments [Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula] present serious implications for the security and stability of the Euro‑Atlantic area,” he told press in Brussels on Tuesday (4 March).

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  • Putin (c) at the Western District drill: 'a vindictive man who will want revenge' (Photo: kremlin.ru)

“Allies stand together in the spirit of strong solidarity in this grave crisis. We undertake to pursue and intensify our rigorous and ongoing assessment of the implications of this crisis for alliance security.”

He spoke after Poland, in concert with Lithuania, called a meeting of Nato ambassadors citing article 4 of the Nato treaty on emergency “consultations” if a Nato member feels threatened.

It is just the fourth time in the alliance’s 55-year history that an article 4 meeting has taken place: Turkey called one on Iraq in 2003 and two on Syria in 2012.

“If you look at the map, Ukraine borders four Nato allies, so the situation in Ukraine is of direct importance: What we are seeing is increasing instability in our neighbourhood, so this meeting is important and timely,” a Nato official said.

Poland and Lithuania invoked article 4 after Russia, over the past 10 days, poured thousands of troops into Crimea and authorised deployment in the rest of Ukraine.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin earlier on Tuesday said he reserves the right to use "all means" to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine, while pro-Russian paramilitaries fired shots over the heads of unarmed Ukrainian soldiers in an incident in Crimea's Belbek air base.

Nato’s easterly members are also worried about Russia’s recent live-fire drill in its Western District, which covers the Baltic Sea, involving 3,500 servicemen and 450 tanks, planes, and ships.

“We have exercises going on our border about which we were not informed beforehand, according to all international norms. At the same time, we have Russian military units moving inside Russia toward Ukraine, which means toward Nato borders,” a government aide in one former Iron Curtain Nato country told EUobserver.

“This meeting was a show of solidarity by Nato,” the contact said.

For his part, Eerik Kross, Estonia’s former intelligence chief, told this website: “If you look at the broader picture, we are seeing the biggest military pile up behind our borders in 20 years.”

He noted that Baltic states have Russian minorities which could be used as a pretext for intervention as in Georgia in 2008 and now Ukraine.

“In my analysis, Putin is sending the message to Nato: ‘If you bother us on Ukraine, you might have a problem with these little Nato allies in the north, so think hard if you really want to use article 5’,” he added, referring to the Nato treaty’s mutual defence clause.

With the value of Russian shares and the Russian ruble tumbling on fear of conflict, Kross said financial markets will not give Putin pause for thought.

“The maths is easy. If getting Crimea wipes €100 billion off the Russian stock exchange, Crimea is still cheap at the price,” the Estonian politician noted.

Nato ambassadors will on Wednesday also brief EU states’ ambassadors on the Political and Security Committee and hold a separate meetings with Russia's Nato envoy.

Strategic issues aside, Putin in his press conference on Tuesday gave an insight into another reason for his actions.

He noted that former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych had on 21 February effectively abdicated by agreeing to hold early elections, but anti-government protesters forced him out the next day.

“What was the purpose of all those illegal, unconstitutional actions? … Did they wish to humiliate someone and show their power? I think these actions are absolutely foolish. The result is the absolute opposite of what they expected, because their actions have significantly destabilised the east and southeast of Ukraine,” the Russian leader said.

Writing in the British daily, The Independent, earlier this week, Rodric Braithwaite, the UK’s ambassador to Russia from 1988 to 1992, noted that the fall of Yanukovych, Putin's creature, first and foremost “humiliated” Putin.

“His [Yanukovych’s] forceful ejection at the height of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, intended to showcase a modern and powerful Russia, was a humiliation for Putin and an unintended consequence of his intrigues. He is a vindictive man who will want revenge,” Braithwaite said.

Correction: The original text said Nato will also meet with Ukraine's envoy to the alliance on Wednesday. But this is not the case. Apologies

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