NATO secretary general says if there is an urgent need for diplomacy to resolve the crisis in Eastern Europe, it’s up to Russia – not Ukraine – to show flexibility .
In an interview with CBC News broadcast today, Jens Stoltenberg was asked if the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could – or should – do more within the framework of the existing Minsk agreements to pull Europe out of the brink of a new war.
Moscow precipitated the current crisis, he said.
“The aggressor is Russia,” Stoltenberg told CBC’s chief political correspondent, Rosemary Barton. “To expect the victim of an assault to defuse is really putting it all in a bit of [a] strange way, upside down.”
Stoltenberg said that while it is up to Russia to “defuse,” NATO is still willing to sit back and listen to Moscow’s concerns.
A Kremlin spokesman called the round of security negotiations that took place this week between the United States, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) “unsuccessful”. ).
Russia’s ambassador to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich, has warned of possible “catastrophic consequences” if the two sides fail to agree on Russia’s security red lines. He said Moscow has not given up on diplomacy even though no new talks are scheduled.
Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister who brokered border disputes with the Russians in the Far North, said he was confident a deal with Moscow was possible.
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that there’s no contradiction between… defense, strength and dialogue. As long as we’re strong, as long as we’re strong, that we are united, we can dialogue and discuss many issues with Russia,” he said. “Dialogue, talks, negotiation is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.”
With the help of the United States, France and Germany, two peace agreements were negotiated to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. They are known as the Minsk agreements and they have created an atmosphere of political stalemate.
“Russia’s strategy has been to re-escalate”
Dominique Arel, a professor at the University of Ottawa and holder of the school’s chair of Ukrainian studies, said the Kiev government had no political leeway to give in to a Russian demand written into the agreements. of Minsk: the political autonomy of the breakaway region of Eastern Donbass where Russian proxy forces have been fighting Ukrainian soldiers since 2014.
An attempt to change Ukraine’s constitution under former President Petro Poroshenko has ended in street violence, while the current Zelensky administration’s suggestions for accommodation have been called a “treason”, Arel said.
“Ukraine is incapable of moving, politically,” he said. “Since there was no movement, Russia’s strategy was to re-escalate.”
It will be very difficult to find a path to peace without going through the Donbass. Arel says he wonders if it’s too late. Russia has “increased the demands so much that this is no longer about the Minsk agreement”, he said.
The crisis now concerns “the legitimacy of any form of NATO presence east of Berlin” and Moscow “essentially questions the post-Cold War order”, he added.
Russia may be planning ‘false flags’, White House says
The White House said Friday that US intelligence reports Russia had prepositioned teams in occupied areas of eastern Ukraine to launch so-called false flag operations to create a pretext for war.
Stoltenberg insisted that another invasion of Ukrainian territory would be “a big strategic mistake by Russia” with a high blood cost.
“The Ukrainian Armed Forces are much better trained, well equipped, well prepared today than they were in 2014 when Russia first intervened,” he said. “And then, of course, we will always be ready to do what it takes to protect and defend all NATO allies.”
For NATO, defending allies in Eastern Europe could mean bolstering the defenses of countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. As part of its response to Moscow’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, the Western military alliance placed four battle groups of soldiers and artillery in the three Baltic states and eastern Poland.
In December, US General Tod Wolters – NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe – reportedly considered expanding deployments of Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) battalions to Bulgaria and Romania.
“That’s one of the things we’ll have to look at” if the Russians invade Ukraine, General Rob Bauer, head of NATO’s military council, said Thursday after a meeting of all alliance chiefs of defense.
“I know there are a number of nations that want to host these forces. As far as I know, that hasn’t been formalized yet. I can’t say there’s a decision, but in general , we are looking at the possibilities.”
Bauer added that NATO commanders are “strength sensing” among member nations to know which countries would be willing to contribute to these additional battlegroups if needed.
On Friday, dozens of Ukrainian government websites were hit by a cyberattack warning Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst” and alleging their personal information had been hacked.
Canada has 200 soldiers on a military training mission in Ukraine. Their task force commander, Lt. Col. Luc-Frederic Gilbert, told CBC News that the contingent had not been targeted by a cyberattack or Russian disinformation campaign so far.
He said he had full confidence in the Ukrainian troops.
“What I can tell you is that the soldiers we are training are highly motivated and highly skilled and there is a clear will in them to defend their country,” Gilbert said.