Gulf Today

NATO’S Ukraine dilemma persists


NATO has been in a dilemma ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago. It wants to support Ukraine but it does not want to give it military aid as such. That would mean that NATO to be indirectly at war with Russia. The reason is that the Western military alliance, which has 32 members now, takes its decision based on consensus, and there is no unanimity among NATO members about it. In the run up to the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenber­g proposed that NATO should guarantee Ukraine weapons delivery on a long-term basis. The foreign ministers would discuss a five-year 100 billion euro (US$107B) fund. But there are hurdes on the way. While Stoltenber­g argues: “We must ensure reliable and predictabl­e security assistance to Ukraine for the long haul so that we rely less on voluntary contributi­ons and more on NATO commitment­s, less on short-term offers and more on multiyear pledges.” Hungary which is one of the main dissidents on the issue sees it in a different light. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said “Hungary will not back any @NATO proposals that might draw the alliance closer to war or shit it from a defensive to an offensive coalition,” according to Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs on X. Stoltenber­g’s counters this: “What we are discussing is not a NATO combat presence in Ukraine. We care discussing how we can coordinate and deliver support from outside Ukraine to Ukraine as NATO allies do.” Stoltenber­g wants a firmer commitment from NATO towards Ukraine. Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said, “It’s dangerous to make promises we cannot keep.” But she said that Belgium is willing to contribute to the 100 million euro fund. The fund proposal is likely to be approved by the NATO summit leaders in July with the support of US President Joe Biden.

The constant demand from Ukraine has been for arms aid more than anything else. The US which has been the most supportive than anyone else is having second thoughts about approving aid to Ukraine, which includes arms sales. The US Senate is willing to support aid, including military, to Israel, but there is no strong support for similar aid to Ukraine. US has been asking its European partners to send F-16 fighters to Ukraine, and Washington has asked South Korea to supply munitions. It is in the context of cooling of US support to Ukraine that Stoltenber­g’s proposals for long-term fund, which includes sale of arms, to Ukraine gains a sense of urgency. Stoltenber­g has struck the tocsin in a manner of speaking. He said, “The reason why we do this is the situation on the batlefield in Ukraine. It is serious…we see how Russia is pushing, and we see how they try to win this war by just waiting this out.”

Interestin­gly, NATO does not want to offer Ukraine membership of the alliance. It knows that it would indeed be crossing the proverbial Rubicon, and that would mean Europe are at war with Russia. And it could flare up into a world war, which is what Russian President Vladimir Putin has been warning against. Russia is content to fight the war with Ukraine as long as it takes. The question is what does a Russian victory mean in this war? If Russia were to make peace on its own terms, it would mean taking away the smaller republics in the east, like Donetsk. It could leave behind a truncated Ukraine, which has already lost Crimea to Russia. That will be a prickly situation for everyone. It might seem that the war of attrition gives elbow room to everyone – Ukraine, Russia, NATO – to think of options.

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