By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Calling the Crimean crisis a wake-up call, Secretary of State John Kerry says Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine underscore that the NATO alliance takes seriously any country’s attempt to change the borders of Europe by the use of military force.
NATO is facing one of its toughest challenges from Russia since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.
Russia’s actions were denounced by the U.N. General Assembly, the European Union, the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe, the Group of Seven advanced economies and the United States. Russia carried out a military intervention into the Crimean region of Ukraine in late February and then attempted to annex the region in March following a disputed referendum and without the consent of the Ukrainian government.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on April 1 announced that the alliance will “suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.” Any talks within the NATO-Russia Council, created to lessen tensions between the two former Cold War foes, would be made at the ambassadorial level.
The foreign ministers also agreed to review NATO’s relations with Russia at their next meeting in June. NATO is holding a summit, hosted by the United Kingdom, in South Wales in September.
At a press briefing following the ministers’ meeting, Kerry told journalists that as Europe and the United States stand together in defense of Ukraine’s right to choose its future and in defense of international law, they reject any notion that Russia’s actions are legal.
In recent weeks, the United States augmented NATO’s Baltic air policing mission with six additional F-16 fighter jets and deployed 12 F-16s to Poland, Kerry said. The guided missile destroyer USS Truxtun was in the Black Sea for a naval exercise with NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria, but has rotated out. Kerry added that “more support is on the way,” and another U.S. naval ship is expected in the Black Sea.
While meeting at The Hague, Netherlands, in late March, the G7 major economies — the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — canceled plans to attend the G8 summit set for Sochi, Russia, on the Black Sea and will meet instead in Brussels. The G8 is the G7 countries plus Russia.
Before a speech in Brussels March 26, President Obama met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and pledged extensive new measures to bolster NATO forces in Europe, as well as NATO allies and partners. Obama also reaffirmed that the American commitment to come to the defense of NATO allies under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is absolute and unwavering.
On April 2 at the EU-U.S. Energy Council meeting in Brussels, Kerry denounced efforts by Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom natural gas conglomerate to increase the cost of natural gas to Ukrainians by May 1.
“It really boils down to this: No nation should use energy to stymie a people’s aspirations,” Kerry said. “It should not be used as a weapon. It’s in the interest of all of us to be able to have adequate energy supplies critical to our economies, critical to our security, critical to the prosperity of our people. And we can’t allow it to be used as a political weapon or as an instrument for aggression.”