NATO-Russia: Dreams lost

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It is time for the western alliance, NATO, to pay the price of many years of conducting bloody and chaotic operations in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, drifting away from its chief responsibilities and its core mission in Europe.

Now it is forced to focus on what may be the biggest challenge to European security and defence in 20 years: the Russian armed aggression in Crimea and the Kremlin’s continuing military pressure in Ukraine. This is driving the US and its European allies almost mad. They have returned to their obsession with Russia, calling it a rogue state, just like North Korea.

Their thoughts are going wild, suggesting that NATO remains mindful of modern security challenges, such as cyber terrorism, threats to energy supplies and armed Islamic extremism, without saying which side may use such tools of terrorism. Besides, America is forced to think of reversing its drastic military drawdown in Europe that began in the early 1990s. Its presence in Europe dropped to around 68,000 from 420,000 during the cold war.

Moscow’s intentions in Ukraine and the Russian leader’s unpredictability are forcing NATO to rethink its capacity to respond and counter President Putin’s military ambitions, especially as he is going to be in power for many years. NATO cannot tolerate the fact that Russia has grabbed part of European land, the Crimea, considering it illegal and illegitimate, whereas Putin praises its takeover and considers it as a return to the motherland and historical justice.

Although Putin withdrew 40,000 of his troops to the border he is still depending on pro-Russian militant separatists who occupy administrative buildings in several towns, controlling some highways, conducting a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and tightening their power every day.

But why did Putin spoil the good relations with the west by grabbing the Crimean land? His excuse was to protect the Russian speakers living in independent countries since the Soviet Union’s 1991 breakup. Yet Kremlin officials describe the interim government in Kiev as illegitimate, having come to power in February after the pro-Russian president fled in a three months long pro-western rebellion. So will Russia be the number one priority again for NATO? Ironically the last time leaders of the western alliance met in May 2012 they expressed the hope of forging a true strategic partnership with Moscow.

But Putin is now acting more like an adversary than a partner, and poses the greatest threat to European security since the Soviet Union collapse.

Moscow’s unilateral annexation of Crimea dispelled the rosy dreams.