US Considers Sending “Defensive” Weapons to Ukraine while NATO Prepares to Station 5,000 Troops in Six Countries Along Russia’s Border

February 5th, 2015 - by admin

Naftali Bendavid / The Wall Street Journal & The Russia Insider – 2015-02-05 00:38:40

NATO to Set Up Command Centers on Eastern Flank
Move Is Part of Plan to Respond to ‘Aggressive Russian Actions’

Naftali Bendavid / The Wall Street Journal

BRUSSELS — NATO will establish command centers in six of its eastern countries in coming months, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday, in part of a beefed-up response to Russian aggressiveness.

The outposts will form a chain of potential command centers for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s already announced new rapid-response force, which will consist of roughly 5,000 troops. Details are to be finalized at a meeting next week of NATO defense ministers.

The centers also will provide a link between NATO and the armed forces of the six countries where they will be located — Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Mr. Stoltenberg announced the new centers at a news conference in Brussels, where he also urged NATO allies to spend more on defense to counter Russia’s military budget. Mr. Stoltenberg also said he would meet with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the sidelines of a security conference in Munich in two weeks.

“Especially when times are difficult, as they are now, it is important to meet and discuss also difficult issues,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

The command centers are intended partly as a warning to Russia and a reassurance to NATO allies who have become increasingly jittery following Moscow’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The creation of the spearhead rapid-response force, designed to mobilize within two days in case of a belligerent move by an adversary, is the highest-profile move by NATO to bolster its defenses in the aftermath of Russia’s takeover of Crimea and its incursions into eastern Ukraine, which Moscow denies.

“This will be the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Each command center will likely be staffed by about 50 military personnel from various NATO countries. The outposts are in a sense a compromise between NATO’s eastern countries, some of whom want full-scale NATO bases on their territory, and other members wary of building expensive new installations that could provoke Moscow.

The six centers will also help manage the greatly increased NATO exercises being conducted in these countries near Russia. And they’ll ensure that NATO forces are deeply familiar with their military landscape should they have to deploy there in a crisis.

The command centers will open by 2016, when the spearhead force is scheduled to be in full operation. In the meantime, an interim rapid-response force is being headed by Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.

At next week’s meeting of NATO defense ministers, individual countries are expected to announce they will take responsibility for coordinating one of the spearhead force’s units. When the force is full operation, one unit will be on full alert status an any given time, while another will be gearing up and a third will be standing down.

Mr. Stoltenberg discussed the new outposts, to be called “NATO Force Integration Units,” at a wide-ranging press discussion with reporters. He called 2014 a “black year” for European security, marked by Russia’s assertiveness, the threat of terrorism and turmoil in the Middle East.

Mr. Stoltenberg said it is critical that NATO’s European members spend more on defense. In 2014 NATO countries spent about $852 billion on defense, he said, $7 billion less than the year before.

NATO is working to become more efficient, the secretary-general said. “But in the long run it is not possible to get more out of less indefinitely,” he added. “That is why we have to stop the cuts and gradually start to increase defense spending as our economies grow.”

US Considers Supplying Arms to Ukraine Forces, Officials Say
Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt / The New York Times

WASHINGTON (February 1, 2015) — With Russian-backed separatists pressing their attacks in Ukraine, NATO’s military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, now supports providing defensive weapons and equipment to Kiev’s beleaguered forces, and an array of administration and military officials appear to be edging toward that position, American officials said Sunday.

President Obama has made no decisions on providing such lethal assistance. But after a series of striking reversals that Ukraine’s forces have suffered in recent weeks, the Obama administration is taking a fresh look at the question of military aid.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who plans to visit Kiev on Thursday, is open to new discussions about providing lethal assistance, as is Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officials said. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is leaving his post soon, backs sending defensive weapons to the Ukrainian forces.

In recent months, Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, has resisted proposals to provide lethal assistance, several officials said. But one official who is familiar with her views insisted that Ms. Rice was now prepared to reconsider the issue.

Fearing that the provision of defensive weapons might tempt President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to raise the stakes, the White House has limited American aid to “non-lethal” items, including body armor, night-vision goggles, first aid kits and engineering equipment.

But the failure of economic sanctions to dissuade Russia from sending heavy weapons and military personnel to eastern Ukraine is pushing the issue of defensive weapons back into discussion.

“Although our focus remains on pursuing a solution through diplomatic means, we are always evaluating other options that will help create space for a negotiated solution to the crisis,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

Fueling the broader debate over policy is an independent report to be issued Monday by eight former senior American officials, who urge the United States to send $3 billion in defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine, including anti-armor missiles, reconnaissance drones, armored Humvees and radars that can determine the location of enemy rocket and artillery fire.

Michèle A. Flournoy, a former senior Pentagon official who is a leading candidate to serve as defense secretary if Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected president, joined in preparing the report. Others include James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral who served as the top NATO military commander, and Ivo Daalder, the ambassador to NATO during Mr. Obama’s first term.

“The West needs to bolster deterrence in Ukraine by raising the risks and costs to Russia of any renewed major offensive,” the report says. “That requires providing direct military assistance — in far larger amounts than provided to date and including lethal defensive arms.”

In his State of the Union address last month, Mr. Obama noted that the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies had hurt the Russian economy.

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But American officials acknowledge that Russia has repeatedly violated an agreement, reached in Minsk in September. The agreement called for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine, the removal of foreign forces and the establishment of monitoring arrangements to ensure that the border between Ukraine and Russia would be respected.

In recent weeks, Russia has shipped a large number of heavy weapons to support the separatists’ offensive in eastern Ukraine, including T-80 and T-72 tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, artillery and armored personnel carriers, Western officials say.

Some of the weapons are too sophisticated to be used by hastily trained separatists, a Western official said. NATO officials estimate that about 1,000 Russian military and intelligence personnel are supporting the separatist offensive while Ukrainian officials insist that the number is much higher.

Supported by the Russians, the separatists have captured the airport at Donetsk and are pressing to take Debaltseve, a town that sits aside a critical rail junction.

All told, the separatists have captured 500 square kilometers — about 193 square miles — of additional territory in the past four months, NATO says. The assessment of some senior Western officials is that the Kremlin’s goal is to replace the Minsk agreement with an accord that would be more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests and would leave the separatists with a more economically viable enclave.

The administration’s deliberations were described by a range of senior Pentagon, administration and Western officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were talking about internal discussions.

A spokesman for General Breedlove declined to comment on his view on providing defensive weapons, which was disclosed by United States officials privy to confidential discussions.

“General Breedlove has repeatedly stated he supports the pursuit of a diplomatic solution as well as considering practical means of support to the government of Ukraine in its struggle against Russian-backed separatists,” the spokesman, Capt. Gregory L. Hicks of the Navy, said. But a Pentagon official familiar with the views of General Dempsey and Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they believed the issue of defensive weapons should be reconsidered.

“A comprehensive approach is warranted, and we agree that defensive equipment and weapons should be part of that discussion.” the Pentagon official said.

Russian casualties remain an unusually delicate political issue for Mr. Putin, who has denied that Russian troops have been ordered to fight in Ukraine.

The report by Ms. Flournoy and the other former officials argues that the United States and its allies should capitalize on this fact to dissuade the Russians and the separatists from expanding their offensive.

“One of the best ways to deter Russia from supporting the rebels in taking more territory and stepping up the conflict is to increase the cost that the Russians or their surrogates would incur,” Ms. Flournoy said in an interview.

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The current stock of Ukrainian anti-armor missiles, the report notes, is at least two decades old, and most of them are out of commission. So the report recommends that the United States provide the Ukrainian military with light anti-armor missiles, which might include Javelin antitank missiles.

“Providing the Ukrainians with something that can stop an armored assault and that puts at risk Russian or Russian-backed forces that are in armored vehicles, I think, is the most important aspect of this,” she added.

The Obama administration has provided radars that can locate the source of mortars. But the report urges the United States to also provide radars that can pinpoint the location of longer-range rocket and artillery fire. Enemy rocket and artillery attacks account for 70 percent of the Ukrainian military’s casualties, the report says.

Ukraine, the report notes, also needs reconnaissance drones, especially since the Ukrainian military has stopped all flights over eastern Ukraine because of the separatists’ use of antiaircraft missiles supplied by Russia.

The report also urged the United States to provide military communications equipment that cannot be intercepted by Russian intelligence.

Poland, the Baltic States, Canada and Britain, the report says, might also provide defensive weapons if the United States takes the lead.

The report was issued jointly by the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The other officials who prepared it are Strobe Talbott, who served as deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration; Charles F. Wald, a retired Air Force general who served as deputy commander of the United States European Command; Jan M. Lodal, a former Pentagon official; and two former ambassadors to Ukraine, John Herbst and Steven Pifer.

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