After days of blustering, NATO moderated its tone and maintained a conventional prescription at its meeting held on Thursday (24) to discuss the first month of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that the conflict does not escalate,” said the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, without using the term World War III. Thus, there were repeated announcements made over the last two weeks. There will be an increase in the delivery of lighter weapons, such as anti-tank missiles, to Ukraine, as well as more financial aid to Kiev to carry out its war effort.
The expected protocol of action in case Putin uses weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical or biological) against Ukrainians was not disclosed. The Norwegian just repeated that such use would pose a risk of contamination to NATO countries neighboring Ukraine, which “would have great consequences”.
It came closest to a threat to Moscow in his speech, despite earlier harsher statements. US President Joe Biden was in the same vein: he stated that we will “respond” in the event of such a thing, but say how.
Furthermore, NATO will send detection and decontamination equipment to Kiev against the possible use of these weapons, following the activation of specialized regiments that use them throughout Eastern Europe.
The reason for the caution is the fear among the most western members of NATO that the crisis will escalate into a world conflict. Ukraine does not belong to the alliance, but an attack on a club country or its direct involvement in the fighting could lead, as Biden said earlier, to World War III.
“It would be more devastating than now,” Stoltenberg said, something obvious, not even including the fact that Russia and the US own 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons — NATO, France and the UK do too.
Still, he cited something that will be heard in Moscow: a pledge to collaborate on defense planning in countries like Georgia, where Putin successfully fought a war to prevent the nation from joining the alliance in 2008, and Bosnia, which sees it threatened by the Russian allies in Serbia.
Two subsequent meetings of the G7 (a group of rich countries) and the European Union discussed further sanctions on Russian government officials, the other instrument used by the West and allies thus far to pressure Putin. Asked if that would stop the Kremlin, Biden said: “Sanctions are not to stop, they are to increase the pain:”
The American landed with a promise to welcome 100,000 refugees to the US and to donate $1 billion in humanitarian aid to Kiev, which has seen more than 3.5 million citizens flee the country.
Before the meeting began, the alliance listened to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by video in his umpteenth speech to ask for more Western help and to warn of the risks that NATO is running.
He had brought as a calling card an unprecedented attack on Russian ships in an occupied port in the south of his country, while a Putin ally, North Korean Kim Jong-un, caused surprise by carrying out his biggest test of a nuclear missile capable of reach from the US so far.
“I’m sure you know that Russia does not intend to stop in Ukraine. Eastern NATO members [serão os próximos]. Baltic States and Poland, for sure,” he said, stoking nations in the military club that most fear Moscow. Russia — and the fear, expressed by Biden but not widely shared, for example by the Poles, of a world conflict.
Zelensky recalled, however, the US rejection of Warsaw’s offer to deliver MiG-29 fighter jets to Kiev. “You can give us 1% of your planes, One percent of your tanks. One percent!” he said, remembering the need for more powerful anti-aircraft systems.
The alliance has 3,890 fighter and attack aircraft and 9,460 main battle tanks. Before the war, Ukraine had 116 fighter jets and 858 tanks, and Russia had 1,021 and 3,300 respectively, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Obviously, the numbers of the two belligerents have already changed.
The Ukrainian did not speak about the issue of his country’s entry into NATO, a possibility that is a central reason declared by Putin for his war. He has already admitted that this should not happen, although Stoltenberg has mentioned that the alliance’s “open-door” policy remains in effect.
So far, NATO has maintained a flow of weapons for the guerrillas waged by Kiev: portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, easy to handle and effective. Stoltenberg followed what Biden had done last week and warned China not to support, either militarily or economically, its ally Russia in the war.
It did not elaborate, however, what sanctions Beijing would face in this case. In his interview, Biden repeated the reasoning.
Both reaffirmed that NATO must double military capacity on its eastern flank, which now has about 40,000 troops under the alliance’s command, and spoke of increasing the number of multinational units with new bases in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania.
Stoltenberg also cited the presence of two groups of aircraft carriers, one British and one American, in the waters around the continent and promised to mobilize more fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems.
He, who would leave the position he has held since 2014 this year and had his term extended until September next year, did not give exact numbers or deadlines for these moves, which will fuel Putin’s speech that the West has been trying to encircle Russia since that expanded over the former space of the Soviet Union after the end of the Cold War 30 years ago.
The Kremlin has not yet commented. On Wednesday (23), a meeting of its Security Council was filled with harsh speeches, with former president Dmitri Medvedev threatening the West with an escalation, perhaps nuclear. The theme is in the square courtesy of Putin.
Five days before the war, he commanded a major exercise in strategic forces, and his speech announcing the invasion suggested that anyone who meddled in the conflict could face an atomic attack. Three days after the start of hostilities, he put his nuclear forces on readiness.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov repeated Russian nuclear doctrine to CNN on Tuesday: if there is an existential risk, and a confrontation with NATO qualifies for it, the atomic button can be flipped.