In March, Russian troops took control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Its inhabitants subsequently voted in a referendum to secede and join Russia. NATO member states have accused the Russians of massing troops on Ukraine's border to maintain the pressure on the government in Kiev, and possibly for military use. The number of 100,000 troops has been bandied about in the press, though this ongoing crisis is under reported in the US. The NATO Commander recently said that the Russian armed presence near Ukraine's frontier continues unabated.
In a previous article I postulated that one of Putin’s goals might be to undermine the credibility of NATO. The alliance may have finally awakened to this possibility as the NATO supreme allied commander (US Air Force General Philip Breedlove) has been told to present options to the North Atlantic Council on 15 April on ways that the alliance can reassure eastern European members that NATO’s commitment to their defense is unwavering.
NATO is reportedly considering several options, to include:
• Additional exercises of member nation troops in Eastern Europe—Poland and the Baltic member states
• Adding to the naval presence in the Black Sea
• Deploying additional troops to augment the 175 Marines who were sent there as a symbol
• Deploying additional fighter aircraft to augment those already sent to Poland
• Reversing the NATO decision to not provide armaments to the Ukraine
• Permanently forward stationing of alliance military units to make the trip wire that are the eastern European nation’s borders just that much more credible.
Reportedly US forces could contribute to any such measures that NATO might decide to execute.
Any decision about increasing the number of US troops in Europe would be made by the Defense Department and National Security Council. This administration is not known for its forcefulness in foreign policy so the US NATO commander could suggest that US troops be forward deployed only to have that recommendation vetoed in the White House. President Obama has asserted publicly that he will not allow a US ‘military excursion’ into Ukraine against Russia.
The strongest of all of the options noted above would be a reversal of the decision not to provide armaments to the Ukraine because it would undo the perception that the red line in Europe is along NATO’s eastern frontier, a red line that has left Ukraine militarily isolated, fending for itself. This is in effect a military carte blanche for further Russian military action against Ukraine and possibly also Moldova.
In conclusion it may take all of these actions to cause the Russians to rethink their options.