This past weekend, President Obama arrived in Warsaw for the final NATO Summit of his presidency. Timed to coincide with his arrival in Warsaw on July 8, an op-ed by the president in the Financial Times claimed the NATO heads of state are meeting at perhaps “the most important moment for our transatlantic alliance since the end of the cold war,” because, among other things, “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens our vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.”
Unsurprisingly, Obama’s stated concerns over what is said to be Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture in Eastern Europe was echoed nearly verbatim in the summit communiqué:
Russia’s aggressive actions, including provocative military activities in the periphery of NATO territory and its demonstrated willingness to attain political goals by the threat and use of force, are a source of regional instability, fundamentally challenge the Alliance, have damaged Euro-Atlantic security, and threaten our long-standing goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
Yet clearly not all aggression is equal in the eyes of the NATO alliance. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was front and center on the summit’s opening day posing for the cameras alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, has repeatedly fired indiscriminate Grad rockets on heavily populated civilian areas, a war crime under the Geneva Convention and International Criminal Court protocols.
Nevertheless, the principal summit “deliverable” was aimed at placating Poroshenko and his vocal band of alliance supporters (particularly the United States, United Kingdom, Poland and the Baltics). The alliance pledged to station four battalions (or nearly 4,000 troops) on Russia’s western frontier, ostensibly to prevent further “Russian aggression” in the region. The Poles are pushing for the troops to be placed in the Suwalki Gap, on the border of Poland and Kaliningrad, a non-contiguous swath of Russian territory on the Baltic coast tucked in between Poland and Lithuania.
Yet the troop buildup is based upon the faulty, though widely believed, premise that Russia’s assistance to the rebel forces in the breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk is a prelude to even grander designs by the Kremlin.
As the neo-Nazi Speaker of the Ukrainian Rada, Andriy Parubiy, told The Washington Post in February, Putin “will proceed, until he is stopped by force.” This idea, repeated ad nauseam by Ukrainian officials, is one without any basis in reality. Yet NATO member states, particularly those along Russia’s borders, have embraced Kiev’s rationale, the better to squeeze the alliance for as much money as possible.