• Laila Whynott

NATO Summit in Brussels Addresses Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

On April 6 and 7, meetings of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) at the level of Foreign Ministers took place at NATO Headquarters. World leaders gathered in Brussels for a round of emergency NATO, European Council, and G7 summits to coordinate their responses to Russia's invasion, with the US announcing further sanctions and refugee aid. NATO Foreign Ministers agreed to further strengthen support for Ukraine, and increase cooperation with global partners, given the significant geopolitical implications of Putin’s war on Ukraine.


As these meetings took place, heavy fighting and Russian airstrikes have continued on the ground in the besieged port city of Mariupol, where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. According to the UK Defense Ministry, civilians are trapped with “no light, communication, medicine, heat, or water,” The conflict, which began over a month ago, has killed thousands of people and is estimated to have displaced over 10 million Ukrainians, including almost 4 million who have fled the country.


The summit was held in person and chaired by the NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg. According to the announcement, some of the Ministers attended through video connection. This is the second time that the Foreign Ministers of 30 NATO nations have convened in a NATO summit since Russia's war on Ukraine began. On March 24, the alliance had an “exceptional summit” to discuss the situation in Ukraine.


At the meetings, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Foreign Ministers that more atrocities against civilians would occur if Ukraine didn’t urgently receive more military aid. Kuleba asked for “weapons, weapons, and weapons,” but noted that Ukraine was offering NATO a “fair deal.” Russia warned that “pumping weapons into Ukraine” will have a “negative effect” on peace talks. Kuleba continued, “You provide us with everything that we need, and we will fight for our security but also for your security, so that President Putin will have no chance to test Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.” Article 5 is a crucial aspect of the NATO treaty which states that an attack on one NATO country is considered an attack on all. Although Ukraine is not a part of NATO, the nation has been receiving military aid from its members.


Stoltenberg and NATO member countries have agreed to increase support. Stoltenberg says, “we are closely coordinating and discussing these issues with Ukraine, so allies are providing and are willing to do more when it comes to military support.” Nearly thirty nations have provided military aid to Ukraine, including 1.7 billion dollars from the US. However, NATO members are fearful of the fact that supplying Ukraine with heavy offensive equipment in particular, such as tanks and fighter jets, could result in increased direct and open conflict with Russia. Therefore, most supplies have been limited to arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile systems, and ammunition.


In earlier NATO meetings on March 24, Ukrainian President Zelensky did not request a no-fly zone, but instead called for military support and improved air defenses. He lamented what he saw as the US and its allies’ failure to assist in the establishment of a “no fly zone in any form'” over his country. The Biden administration continued to reject suggestions to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as has NATO leadership as a whole. Even if Zelensky maintained his calls for a no-fly zone, Western leaders would not impose it. It would risk aggravating Putin and starting a bigger battle with Russia, according to US and NATO officials.


Western allies had also found it difficult in the past to adopt more severe measures, such as supplying Ukraine with Russian-made fighter jets or cutting off Russian energy supplies, which might destroy Russia's economy. European leaders have also stated their own constraints when it comes to sanctioning Russia. While the US has imposed a restriction on Russian energy imports, Europe remains far more reliant and has refrained from entirely cutting itself off.


In the midst of all of this, Russia's military stated that operations near Ukraine's capital and a northern city will be “fundamentally” scaled back, as discussions revealed the elements of a possible deal to end the grinding war. After numerous rounds of negotiations failed to prevent what has developed into a violent attrition campaign, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin claimed the action was meant to improve trust in the talks. However, the announcement was regarded with skepticism in the US and other countries. While Russia characterized it as a goodwill gesture, it comes as the Kremlin's troops have grown stymied in the face of staunch Ukrainian opposition, defying President Vladimir Putin's aspirations for a rapid military victory.


Russia appeared to backtrack on its war goals recently, claiming that the main goal now is regaining control of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he hadn't seen anything indicating that discussions were moving forward in a “productive” fashion, and that Russian signs of a retreat could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and redirect attention.


The Ukrainian military has reported that some personnel in the area of Kyiv and Chernihiv had withdrawn. According to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, he has not “seen anything to verify” allegations of Russia evacuating major forces from the area around Kyiv.

“This sounds like more of an acknowledgement of the reality around Kyiv, where Russia's advance has been halted for weeks and Ukrainian forces have enjoyed recent gains,” Rob Lee, a military specialist at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, tweeted. “Russia lacks the forces necessary to envelop the city."


After the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk requested assistance in protecting themselves against Ukrainian provocations, Russia initiated a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24. Western countries have launched a broad sanctions campaign against Russia in reaction to the operation.


Russia and Ukraine after the fall of the USSR

A direct line can be drawn from the historic fall of the USSR to the current standoff on the Russia-Ukraine border. Near the border, Russia has an estimated 100,000 troops, including tanks and heavy artillery.


Russia and Ukraine have a 1,000-year history of shared — and often tumultuous — history. And they've never completely untangled that history and parted ways. Thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons were dispersed among four newly established states, including Russia and Ukraine, as a result of the collapse. Russia preserved its nuclear weapons. In exchange for a pledge from Russia and others that its borders would not be crossed, Ukraine gave up its weapons in 1994. Putin has often intervened when there is friction between the states. He describes the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” In 2014, the Russian military captured the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and they still occupy it. Last summer, Putin claimed that Russia and Ukraine are truly one country, which they were over the centuries prior to the fall of the USSR.


History of NATO Relations with Ukraine

NATO and Ukraine have had a relationship since the early 1990s, and it has grown into one of NATO's most important partnerships. In the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014, collaboration has been stepped up in key areas. NATO has taken a clear stance in full support of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized boundaries since the commencement of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014.


Since 1995, Biden's CIA director, William J. Burns, has warned the administration about the NATO expansion's provocative effect on Russia, among others. “Hostility to early NATO expansion is virtually universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here,” Burns, then a political officer in the US Embassy in Moscow, said to Washington at the time. NATO has gradually accepted the aspirations of European democracies to join the alliance, recognizing the sovereignty of all governments and their ability to form alliances with whoever they choose. In the 1990s, three former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – were welcomed into NATO, as were former members of the Soviet-established Warsaw Pact, which was a Soviet counterpart of NATO.

Russian leadership has long opposed such expansion, as well as the deployment of American missiles in Poland and Romania and the arming of Ukraine with Western weapons. Burns said that President Bill Clinton's decision to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in NATO was “premature at best, and excessively inflammatory at worst.” “We feel that the current US-led attempt to enlarge NATO...is a policy blunder of historic proportions” that will “unsettle European stability” said 50 notable foreign policy professionals in an open letter to Clinton in June 1997.



What’s At Stake for Europe?

Russia is likely to begin a new onslaught in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region in the upcoming weeks, according to NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg, who added that allies have time to assist the Ukrainian military in its preparations. Stoltenberg said Russia was planning a “highly concentrated” offensive a day before NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss extra financial, military, and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

Looking ahead, Europe's security apparatus, which has helped keep the continent peaceful since World War II, is at risk. Europeans were initially split on how to respond to various types of Russian aggression, and the conflict exposed the European Union's and NATO's internal divisions. However, fury over Mr. Putin's aggression has helped to forge a united front, and the EU imposed sanctions that they described as “unprecedented in scope and reach” for the bloc. According to Robert Pszczel, a former Polish diplomat and a former NATO official, NATO is doing as much as the politics of its members now allow: "These are free, democratic countries, and they must all agree on certain issues. There is currently no agreement. There is no readiness to take it a step or two further and send soldiers or engage in direct military conflict with Russia."


However, as he points out, public opinion is a tremendous force, and the moral opposition to Russia's aggression on Ukraine is widespread in NATO countries. It is possible that moving forward, a consensus could be formed to raise NATO’s involvement to the next level if Putin’s war on Ukraine continues as it is. “Time will tell,” Pszczel says.