Why NATO Did not Agree to Respond to Putin’s Nuclear and Chemical Threats
On Friday night, President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared on the screens of the Europa Building in Brussels, where the EU summit had just begun. The president delivered a speech focused on Ukraine’s right to join the EU.
But once he turned to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, everything has changed. Zelensky changed a tone to severe criticism and switched a topic from EU affairs to hard security.
It happened because a few hours before, another summit ended – a meeting of NATO leaders. Hungary was vocal against Ukraine there.
However, NATO problems are not only about Hungary. The Summit showed that the Alliance has neither a solid strategy nor tactics in the new reality, while United States and President Biden, whose authority has grown in Europe over the past month, are still firmly committed to the “do not provoke Russia” principle.
However, there were positive results, too.
One of them is that the United States has given up any pressure on Kyiv in the negotiations and is counting on our victory. This is of strategic importance and gives hope that the tactics of the United States (and NATO along with them) will also change over time.
The second positive has a name: The United Kingdom.
Secretary-General from the past
You don’t change horses midstream.
This principle must have been the guiding the allies’ decision on Thursday, when at the suggestion of the United States, they approved the extension of the mandate of the current Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, for an additional year. As an exception, Stoltenberg, who headed the organization’s secretariat for two full terms, will remain in office until September 2023.
This decision is generally understandable. With a war in Europe, which may spill over into Allied territory, there is a general lack of resources and desire to campaign for a new Secretary-General.
However, it reflects other processes taking place in the organization.
First, NATO members try to “maintain stability” without realizing that this is impossible. Second, the Alliance does not expect a quick end to the war in Ukraine and has chosen a strategy designed for a protracted armed conflict without the rapid liberation of Russian-occupied territories. Third, NATO members still do not understand how much the current Secretary-General is damaging the organization’s image.
EuroPravda is well aware that the “power of the Secretary-General” in NATO is rather limited – he does not define policy but implements it. However, his authority should not be underestimated; the secretariat prepares NATO’s first draft decisions, and they, according to pro-Ukrainian allies, are completely toothless and guarantee the toothlessness of joint decisions in advance.
Also, at public appearances, Stoltenberg unknowingly but systematically damages the Alliance’s image by focusing on what the Alliance cannot do to stop Russian aggression in Europe. This fueling sceptics and opponents of NATO, not just in Ukraine.
At the latest Summit, both statements of the Secretary-General and joint Allies’ decision showed that the Alliance could not even agree on a strategy for action.
The meeting of Alliance leaders took place on a background of Russian threats of a chemical or biological attack. But the decision left no answer as to what the Alliance would do if that happened. It only mentions “serious consequences” in the event of a chemical attack and leaves nuclear weapons unnoticed at all.
Let’s discover the reason.
Hungary will hold parliamentary elections on April 3. Orban is likely to win there again but will almost certainly lose his constitutional majority. Polls predict a slight advantage for the incumbent prime minister over the united opposition. Even the most cynical arguments are used when the numbers are so close.
However, it is difficult to be sure that after election day, the Hungarian leader’s policy will change. He has gone too deep in his attempts to not offend Russia. Also, it fuelled anti-Ukrainian thoughts among Orban’s supporters.
But NATO summit took place just one week before the Hungarian election, and it left no choice at all.
Orban became a key actor trying to soften the Alliance stance on Russia.
For example, the NATO Summit statement does not mention a word that Allies can Ukraine with weapons to defend itself, despite they already do that. Instead, the statement only refers to the Allies’ “practical support” of Ukraine.
According to EuroPravda, it was Hungary that blocked stricter formulas. Budapest warned that if military action or military support was mentioned anywhere in the documents, Orban would veto the decision.
It is important to emphasize that Orban’s shameful position, fortunately, did not block the supply of weapons to Ukraine. The Hungarian veto can’t influence the position and actions of other Allies. On the contrary, according to numerous sources, some of which became public, during the Summit much was said by Allies about their intention to supply weapons to Ukraine (later, it was revealed that Biden intends to provide Ukraine with access to air defense). There was a real debate on how to help Ukraine not with words but with weapons, and this did not infuriate the Hungarian prime minister. His interest was only about public statements.
As part of the election campaign, he is selling his voters that he defends Hungary’s right not to give weapons to Ukraine and maintains a ban on Western aid moving to Ukraine through Hungarian territory.
Appeasing the aggressor
European Pravda has heard that two other important Allies also called to limit pressure on Russia, leaving space for dialogue with Putin.
One of them is France, whose president Emmanuel Macron spoke with Putin more than a dozen times in recent weeks. One can argue about what motivates Macron’s actions – the belief that it is possible to make a deal with this liar and war criminal or simple electoral rhetoric: on April 10, France will hold presidential elections.
The second country insisting on the need to talk to Putin is Italy.
It’s a bit of a surprise that Germany is not on this list.
EP has heard this from multiple sources that after talks with Putin, Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not believe in the effectiveness of negotiations with him. He reasonably believes that the Russian leader is not looking for an end to the war and does not seek compromises. Therefore, Berlin is preparing for serious consequences. For example, Germany wants to abandon Russia’s energy resources ahead of schedule.
All in all, conciliatory sentiments in NATO have remained in the absolute minority. Apart from France and Italy, they came only from Luxembourg, which is not a strong player in foreign policy. Even Orban was not in favor of negotiations, but rather was in favor of doing nothing.
Most importantly, the US president does not believe in making an agreement with Putin.
Moreover, Joe Biden is now doing his best to make any Western agreement with Russia impossible. For the US leader, the Kremlin dictator (who broke all the promises he personally made to Biden) became completely unruly.
Also, in Brussels Biden commented on the Ukrainian-Russian talks, in which the Kremlin is known to demand territorial concessions from Kyiv. Biden said that while this decision remains a decision of Ukraine, he does not believe that Ukraine will agree to Russian demands.
This is an extraordinary statement, because it confirms that the United States is now convinced that a Ukrainian military defeat (in which a surrender agreement and loss of territories becomes obligatory) is no longer considered a real threat in Washington.
This assessment of the United States affects the position of all other Allies.
Cautious States of America
Despite the existence of Orban or Macron as the leaders of one of the Allies, NATO is very much united today. And the core of this unity is the United States.
Until February 24, there was a split in the Alliance; it passed along the English Channel.
While the United States, Canada and Britain insisted that Russia was about to attack Ukraine, European NATO members were more reasonable – and all reasonable calculations have shown that the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine is profoundly unprofitable to Russia. But history has shown that reasonable calculations do not apply to Putin.
This development has made Biden the sole and undisputed leader of NATO.
The intelligence and assessments of Russia’s actions by the United States are now being viewed with the utmost confidence in much of Europe. Even when it contradicts their own national assessments.
And while we are accustomed to criticizing the Alliance for its indecision and unwillingness to act, it is in fact the indecision of the US.
The White House and Biden himself are now insisting that Russia “cannot be irritated.” The United States believes that such a policy will keep the war within Ukraine and prevent military confrontation between the armies of the Allies and Russia, which has a chance to turn into a nuclear war.
Russia is skillfully using this to limit the level of assistance that the United States and other Allies provide to Ukraine.
Adhering to this line, even the most pro-Ukrainian members of the Alliance, such as Poland or Britain, now emphasize that they provide Ukraine with only “defensive weapons”.
“What we are doing is steadily accelerating the movement of lethal but defensive weapons to Ukraine. Supplies are growing all the time,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after the NATO summit.
This is the policy that has prevented Kyiv from obtaining Soviet fighters from Poland: this decision comes personally from Biden and his inner circle. Even though Congress and the Pentagon support providing the aircraft to Ukraine, even after the Secretary of State Blinken personally stated that there is a “green light” for such a supply – nothing happenned.
In short, Biden’s policy can be described as: no offensive weapons and no NATO troops in Ukraine.
Because of this position, Zelensky’s request for the transfer of European tanks, aircraft, long-range artillery, and surface-to-surface missiles remains unsatisfied.
Nuclear threat and more
One can only speculate about the reason for this U.S. policy.
There is a version that the United States fears that Ukraine, having received offensive weapons, will try to recapture Crimea, which Russia will perceive as an attack with NATO weapons on “its territory.”
The Americans themselves explain their policy differently: they say that Russia will perceive the transfer of such weapons as a direct confrontation and as an excuse to start a war with NATO. For Ukrainians, this sounds illogical – we know very well that Russia does not need any excuse for war.
But here we need to return to what was said above. US intelligence and findings are now being received with the utmost confidence.
The US tactic is to crush Russia economically, waiting until it fails.
However, now this position has run into a problem: a chemical and nuclear threat by Kremlin.
Russia does realize that sanctions are hitting it with furious force. Therefore, the Kremlin will probably not want to prolong the war for many months and will try to radically change its course soon.
Turning to chemical, a bacteriological or nuclear weapon is an option on the table.
But the White House does not know what to do if Russia uses this weapon in Ukraine. NATO summit statements simply ignored this pressing threat, as if there is no such problem.
Joe Biden told a news conference after the Summit that the reaction on chemical weapon deployment would depend on the circumstances of the attack.
Sources of The Guardian say that even in the event of a chemical attack, NATO’s military intervention is “very unlikely”. The US will try to persuade others “not to notice” this in order to “keep the war within Ukraine’s borders.” But if a whole city is attacked, and even more if there is a nuclear strike, pretending nothing happened will not work.
In this situation, Britain’s position adds some positives. Boris Johnson is the only NATO leader who allows himself to pursue politics without being guided by the US position.
However, too much remains unknown.
Putin’s tactics remain unclear. Is there a chance he would attack Poland or Lithuania? What would NATO’s response to this attack be? And so on.
It is unclear what the US Congress is going to do; although seems it understands better than the White House that Russia should be stopped in Ukraine before it goes further.
In short, much is still unclear. Everyone understands that the situation will probably change soon. But even NATO does not know whether the Alliance will be ready for this. Or whether it will have to act later, regretting that the chance to stop Putin with moderate losses is completely lost.
SERGIY SYDORENKO, EUROPEAN PRAVDA