April 25, 2016

Is NATO in Ukraine Myth or Reality?

Yuriy Radkovets

Despite all the agreements and arrangements regarding a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the East of Ukraine, the recent situation in the Donbas has once again got escalated. At this, the armed confrontation has stepped up to a new level of tension, almost like it did on the eve of the invasion of Russian troops in the Donbas in the second half of 2015 following the hysterical scream of the separatist-terrorist forces of the “DPR” / “LPR”.

To begin with, there is intensive firing of the ATO forces' positions by Russian-terrorist forces from heavy weapons prohibited by the Minsk Agreements (including tube artillery and mortars of a caliber larger than 100 mm, and multiple launch rocket systems). Besides, local offensive actions of the Russian side are getting more and more active in certain areas of Donetsk and lately- in Luhansk region.

The aim of such provocations by Russia and separatists remains unchanged and is well known, as it has been repeatedly mentioned and discussed in the materials of the independent analytical center “Borysfen Intel” and other Ukrainian and foreign mass media. Among other things, they are forcing Ukraine, first of all, to fulfill Russian terms of “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas, in particular, to adopt the “election law” and to hold “elections” in the so-called “DPR” and “LPR”.

Moscow is trying to expand the territory of the breakaway republics and to establish control over the important for them objects of economic, energy and transport infrastructure located on the territories of these regions controlled by the Ukrainian side. At the same time, in this way Russia is trying to significantly weaken Ukrainian positions in the Donbas, since all these objects are very important also for the economy of the controlled by Ukraine areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

But Russia's real strategic goal is continuation of the war of attrition in Ukraine in order to create conditions for changing the Ukrainian government as a result of socio-economic and political crises. V. Putin's regime believes that there will be favorable to it situation due to the current problems in the ruling coalition in the Parliament and the new composition of the Government of Ukraine.

In such circumstances, it is quite possible that Russia will intensify the fighting in the Donbas, scale it, inclusive with carrying out a large offensive to capture the entire territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, creating a bridgehead from which it will launch an offensive towards the Crimea and Trans-Dniester. At this, as shown by the past experience (in particular, the seizure of the city of Debaltsevo by Russian troops), neither political decisions within the framework of the “Normandy Four” nor the USA and EU's warnings about new sanctions against the Russian Federation will bring V. Putin's regime to reason.

The only instrument of guaranteed deterring Russia's further aggression is using armed force in response. Right now, the United States and NATO resort to it on the Baltic and Black Sea directions in order to prevent Russia's aggression against the countries of these regions. In particular, new military Commands (Staffs) and units of the USA and NATO Armed Forces are being deployed in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria. At the same time, a base is being created for the deployment of the NATO Response Force at the level of battalion tactical groups, and of larger units (formations) - divisions and corps.

In general, it is an objective evidence of correct and timely measures of the leadership of Ukraine, speaking for the deployment of international peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone in the Donbas, while not excluding military contingents from EU and NATO member countries being part of them. It is believed that a positive solution to this problem will prevent Russia's further military incursion into the territory of Ukraine, as it necessarily would result in an armed conflict between the Russian Federation and the Alliance which is not acceptable to Moscow, despite the best efforts of Putin's regime to strengthen the Russian Army. As acknowledged by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in May 2015, the military potential of the Russian Federation cannot be compared with that of NATO, since Moscow cannot meet the Alliance.

So, the world leading countries' clear, active and consistent support for the idea of ​​bringing an international peacekeeping mission into the East of Ukraine would become real and the most effective support to our state in its confrontation with Russia. This is what Ukraine expects from its allies and partners, first of all from the United States - the leading state of the world, and from Germany – the leader of the EU and participant of the “Normandy Four ” in the Minsk negotiation process.

Of course, Russia will be categorically against the deployment of international peacekeeping forces in the Donbas, as this will mark the final failure of the Kremlin's plans to establish its political control over Ukraine. At the same time, a constant and active promotion of this initiative, as well as discussing it at all levels (including the UN, OSCE, EU, NATO, the G-20, G-7 and so on), even with a negative reaction from Moscow, may be a powerful enough additional factor to discredit Russia as a country that deliberately prevents peace in the Donbas and supports (exports) terrorism. At the same time it will draw the international community's attention to Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine. This aggression as "the key international event” is already being somehow overshadowed by the increased threats of Islamic extremism and terrorism in Europe.

At the same time, the international community's discussing the above-mentioned problems (as it, for the most part, can be observed today) does not guarantee the security of Ukraine, upon which Russia encroaches. In fact, the impossibility of bringing an international peacekeeping mission into the Donbas under the auspices of the UN, the EU or the OSCE because of Russia's position makes us look for other effective measures of force (military) deterrence of V. Putin's regime.

One of such measures can and should be Ukraine's full integration into the Euro-Atlantic Coalition Security System, both in the military - political, and in military spheres. This should include not only the implementation of all sorts of programs of military and military-technical cooperation between Ukraine and NATO, but also NATO's staffs and troops' (forces') permanent military presence on the Ukrainian territory.

Of course, this will not put an end to Russia's provocations in the conflict zone in the Donbas, including attacks against the ATO forces and shelling of peaceful settlements. Nevertheless, the presence of NATO units (in one form or another) in the rear of the Ukrainian troops in the East of Ukraine will be as deterring a factor to Russia, as the deployment of international peacekeeping forces on the line of dividing the parties to the armed conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Today, some elements of this approach are already being implemented within the framework of Ukraine -NATO training centers and groups, which include military trainers from the Armed Forces of the USA, UK, Canada, Poland, Lithuania and other countries of the Alliance. Besides, joint military exercises and trainings with the participation of units of the Armed Forces and the National Guard of Ukraine, as well as NATO members are regularly conducted on the Ukrainian territory.

This allows to wider use the experience. We also may use the experience of NATO's military cooperation with Georgia – the first (on the former Soviet territories) subject to Russia's armed aggression.

Based on this, it is advisable at the first stage to increase the number of centers for training Ukrainian soldiers with the assistance of trainers – representatives of Armed Forces of NATO member countries, and to place them in some northern, eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, first of all in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk (or Zaporizhzhya) , Kherson, Odesa and Chernihiv (or Sumy) regions. At the same time it is possible to increase significantly the number of the instructional staff. With a view to fully ensure an effective learning process, the centers should be equipped with full sets of weapons and military equipment (including heavy), and have proper training fields for a variety of military exercises and trainings.

Such exercises will improve the level of combat training of the Ukrainian troops, demonstrate NATO countries' support to Ukraine and the readiness of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, together with allies and partners, to repulse the Russian Federation. These trainings, planned (systematic) in nature, will include forces and means of aviation, air defense, artillery and armored vehicles carrying out live firing. Mandatory and most important condition is joint Ukrainian-NATO exercises, “symmetric” to Russia's military activity near the Ukrainian border.

At the second stage, the training centers of the Armed Forces and the National Guard of Ukraine on the Ukrainian territory, with the participation of NATO member countries may be supplemented by other objects and institutions of the Alliance. In particular, in this regard, we could use the precedent of creation of the following things: Center for Improving NATO's Counter-Intelligence in Poland; Center for Improving Skills of  Mine Clearance and Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Slovakia; Center for Cyber Protection in Estonia,  as well as the Centers (bases) of the US / NATO Air Transit  in Romania, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Based on Ukrainian realities, the main specifications of such structures in Ukraine may be creation, for example, of a Center for the exchange of experience of conducting combat actions in a “hybrid” war. By the way, Ukraine's western partners are especially interested in this experience.

Besides, Ukraine has a well developed network of airfields, which can serve as a good base for both tactical and strategic aviation of the USA and NATO. The possibility of such use of the Ukrainian airfield infrastructure, including by strategic aviation, was demonstrated back in  1994 within the framework of celebration of the 50th anniversary of Operation “Frantic" - joint actions of the United States, the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union to support “shuttle” flights / flights of heavy American bombers B-17, “Flying Fortress” between the Ukrainian Poltava (airbase “Poltava-4”) and British airfields during world war II.

Thus, back  in September 1994,  on Poltava airfield there landed three aircrafts of  the US Air Force: two strategic bombers B-1B and B-52H and tanker aircraft KC-10. Later, in July 2011, during the international exercises “Safe Skies-2011”,  American fighters F-16D from the Fighter Wing Air of the  National Guard of Alabama landed and took off on Myrhorod airfield near Poltava. For the first time American and Ukrainian pilots practiced together the task of protection of Ukraine's air space.

At the  same (second) stage,  NATO training centers in Ukraine could become a base for deployment of Staffs and support units for receiving NATO Rapid Reaction Forces – if the occasion warrants it. Following the example of the European countries of the Alliance, heavy weapons for them can also be stored ( “preserved”) on the Ukrainian territory.

At the third stage,  all the above-mentioned could be used for accommodation in Ukraine of full NATO bases on a permanent basis. Although Ukraine is not a member of the Alliance, this issue can be resolved on the basis of the relevant bilateral agreements, in the presence of political decisions and the will of both the parties. Precedents for this are the creation  of NATO bases in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq as part of NATO's  peacekeeping and stabilization operations in remote areas.

The implementation of this approach will make it possible not only to avoid Russia's further military intervention in Ukraine, but also to close the NATO “security ring” from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In particular, the conditions will be guaranteed for conducting   on the territory of Ukraine  the same set of activities which are now being conducted  in the Baltic and the Black Sea countries of the Alliance. In fact, the foundation will be laid for Ukraine's  full integration into NATO. Unlike 2007-2008, when Ukraine was not able to obtain the status of party to the Action Plan for NATO membership, the current situation is quite suitable for this purpose.

Making appropriate decisions on the issues mentioned above will require a strong (clear) and uncompromising political determination and will from the leaderships of Ukraine and of the leading NATO countries, first of all, the United States, and especially Germany.

Ukraine does hope that Germany's  active participation in the “Normandy Format” and its current chairmanship of the OSCE will contribute to the solution of the  conflict in Donbas. At this, Ukraine will be a “litmus test” of success of the OSCE and the German presidency of the Organization.

At the beginning of 2016, Germany announced its priorities in  Chairmanship of the OSCE in six key spheres: managing crises and conflicts; strengthening capabilities of the OSCE in the entire conflict cycle; the use of the OSCE as a platform for dialogue; promoting the continued association and appropriate management in the OSCE area; focusing on the human dimension; strengthening the cooperation between the public and the state. The first three points of this list are the most interesting for us, because they are directly related to the conflict in the Donbas.

At first glance, Ukraine is the main priority of the German Presidency of the OSCE. But in reality, due to the principle of consensus in decision-making, the OSCE is not able to take decisions against the will of one of the member countries, and is  forced to seek a compromise. The vast majority of leading western and Ukrainian experts believe that in order to overcome this problem, the Organization would have to transform itself from a “platform for dialogue” into a more efficient mechanism, namely -a full-fledged international security organization.

Who can start resolving this extremely important task if not Germany- a recognized leader of the EU, especially during its chairmanship in the OSCE? The answer is clear – none but Germany! Or maybe there are other candidates? Unfortunately there aren't!

Russia's cynical aggression against Ukraine has not just crippled the principles of the OSCE, but also tossed a triple challenge to Germany - first as to a leader of the European Union, and then – as to a member of the “Normandy Format” of the Minsk negotiation process, and now also as to the presiding country of the OSCE.

Therefore, according to independent experts, Berlin has yet to make a great effort to find new- and most importantly - effective levers of influence on the aggressor, to cope with this challenge.

It is in this context, that Berlin's support to the idea of creation and strengthening  of  the Alliance's military presence on the Ukrainian territory, as well as Germany's direct role and involvement in its implementation  in this country, will lead the  FRG to a fundamentally new leading position in the European Union, NATO and among European countries.

That is, realization of the above-mentioned is believed to be able to become one of the most important steps of the Federal Chancellor of Germany A.Merkel and the led by her CSU / CDU party alliance for all the time of her staying  in power and  can really influence the European history. In turn, this will significantly increase the rating of the CSU / CDU alliance in the eyes of the German, European and international constituency, and, accordingly, will help this party alliance win in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Germany in 2017.

As for Putin's regime's negative reaction, today, especially with regard to the leading NATO and EU countries, it is only able to voice its loud (ambitious) statements and threats, to make provocations near the borders of NATO and the European Union member countries, and also to show the remains of the military power of the former Soviet Union, supplemented by some potential of the modern Russian Armed Forces.

For example: the real power and capability of the  strategic aviation component of the Russian Army were clearly demonstrated in Syria. Thus, the strategic (long-range bomber) aircrafts  of the Russian Air Force were able to really operate for no more than three or four days - once every two or three months. At this, the  majority of the missiles did almost no harm to Islamic terrorists, getting to civilian objects or falling in the desert, including in the territory of neighboring countries (e.g., in Iran).

Even more bizarre would be the results of  Russia's economic actions against the Western countries. Moscow has almost completely used all the means of its “potential” of  counter-sanctions, has ascertained the impossibility of re-orientation of its ties to China and other “third world” countries, as well as has realized the futility of energy pressure on the European Union.

Moreover, as a result of the increasing negative effects of Western sanctions, V. Putin and his whole environment, almost not hiding, demonstrate “being interested” in lifting of Western sanctions off Russia and the resumption of trade and economic cooperation with the USA and the EU and, according to independent experts,  he will hardly dare to further aggravate the  relations with them. One has  to be a suicide bomber to venture on this. V. Putin is not that similar to a suicide bomber, because he dreams of a more or less safe and, no doubt, warm existence in his old age.

So, all this almost completely lets the Western countries (Germany included) "off the leash” on the issue of the needed humane and real assistance to Ukraine.

That is,  now “... the ball is on the field of the leading countries of the West and, first of  all, on Germany's  field”.

Will  Germany use its chance and right of Ukraine's  reliable historical friend?

But then again - time will tell...