WASHINGTON – The foreign ministers of the 29 NATO nations flexed on Thursday the alliance’s muscles vis-a-vis Russia by approving a package of measures designed to increase NATO’s military presence in the Black Sea, which has become a new point of friction between the West and Moscow.
NATO made the decision at a meeting in Washington coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the alliance and, as if the Cold War was still under way, the Kremlin once again was deemed to be the main threat to the North Atlantic region, although terrorism and China also figure in those calculations.
NATO approved the measures to improve the alliance’s monitoring of the situation and increase its aid to Georgia and Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference.
Stoltenberg said that the aim of the measures, which were pushed by the United States, is to improve the training of maritime and coast guard forces for Georgia and Ukraine, up the number of port visits, carry out military exercises and ensure a greater exchange of information.
Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Moscow has strengthened its military dominance in the Black Sea, a situation that has raised anxieties in Ukraine and Georgia, which also border on that body of water.
Stoltenberg, who was Norway’s prime minister from 2005-2017, said that approving the Black Sea measures does not constitute a “provocation” of Russia, adding that Georgia and Ukraine – who have requested entry into NATO – are “sovereign” nations and have the right to choose their own path and the allies with whom they bond.
Tensions in the Black Sea rose significantly last November when Moscow seized three Ukrainian vessels and 24 sailors, who remain in Russia’s custody, to deny them passage through the Kerch Strait as they were trying to sail into the Azov Sea.
Stoltenberg called upon Russia to release those ships and sailors.
Also regarding Russia, the NATO foreign ministers discussed the situation surrounding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed in 1987 by the US and Russia, from which Washington will withdraw on Aug. 2 amid its claims that Russia has not complied with the pact.
Stoltenberg said that NATO is prepared to live in a world with no INF treaty, but he reiterated that the alliance will not deploy ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe.
During the summit, participants discussed the presence of Russian troops in Venezuela, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed at a press conference.
“Vladimir Putin harbors dark dreams of imperialism. This is evident from his invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, his meddling in Syria and now in Venezuela. He wants to split our alliance and weaken our democratic resolve,” Pompeo said.
In its final communique, NATO acknowledged that it is facing an unprecedented security situation that is full of challenges, including a more “aggressive” Russia, the ongoing threat of terrorism and cyberattacks, as well as rapid and deep technological change that requires a new focus.
At this meeting, NATO for the first time dealt with China’s technological growth, given that it has tried to position itself in the forefront of 5G technology, something that Washington views with concern because it fears Beijing will use it to beef up its espionage capabilities.
The foreign ministers also dealt with the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, training Iraqi forces, the fight against terrorism and the acquisition by alliance member Turkey of Russian-made S-400 missiles.
The next NATO summit is scheduled to be held in London in December.