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Russo-Ukrainian War, day 31: Russia not running out of rockets; Poland, Czechia, Slovenia propose 10 steps of sanctions

Ukrainian soldier and destroyed Russian tiger vehicle. Source: unian
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun
[editorial] Rumors that Russia is running out of personnel and rockets do not correspond to reality, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian Land Forces said. Russian forces have changed their tactics and are currently tracking Ukrainian air defence systems, air force, and artillery. Russia is carrying out a mobilisation campaign in Dagestan. Russian forces are reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralize defending forces. Almost 102,000 hectares of all types of landscapes in Ukraine have been damaged, including Emerald Network. Meanwhile, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have put forward a plan to save Ukraine that includes 10 more steps of sanctions.

Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki stressed that “If we cannot introduce effective sanctions, we have no choice: We must protect the people of Ukraine with our own shields. If we want to restore peace, Putin needs to know where the red line is – the line he cannot cross. The fact that Russia has a nuclear arsenal cannot be an excuse for passivity. We must be cognizant of this threat, but it cannot hold us back. Otherwise, Putin will only go further.” [/editorial]

The report is based on media reports, expert analyses and official information posted online.

Situation

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 26.03.2022, supplemented by its [midnight assessment]:

The enemy continues to conduct full-scale armed aggression against Ukraine.

The enemy continues to regroup and build up forces to resume offensive operations. In some areas, he does not abandon attempts to carry out assault operations, makes air raids and tries to inflict fire damage on certain units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He is not successful.

The occupiers continue to take measures to restore the combat capability of their units, replenish ammunition and fuel in order to resume offensive actions. Due to the lack of qualified personnel, the enemy recruits personnel with low moral and personal qualities and persons prone to drug and alcohol abuse when recruiting units that have suffered significant losses during hostilities with units of the defence forces.

[During Today there have been no significant changes in the tactics of the enemy. The enemy focused its efforts on replenishing current losses, regrouping and strengthening existing units, and striking with artillery and airstrikes on both military and civilian infrastructure.]

[As a feature, it should be noted the movement of additional artillery units to the border with Ukraine (data to be clarified).]

[Regarding the actions of the enemy in certain areas, the enemy did not conduct offensive operations in the Volyn direction. Involvement of certain units of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus in the aggression against Ukraine remains probable.]

[In the Polissya direction, the enemy continued to fire on units of our troops in some areas.]

[In the Northern direction, the enemy concentrated its main efforts on maintaining the previously occupied frontiers. He continued to strengthen his positions and fire on certain units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.]

[In the Slobozhansky direction, near the city of Sumy, the main efforts were focused on consolidating and retaining the previously occupied borders. In the area of ​​the city of Kharkiv continues attempts to block our units and tries to carry out demonstration actions, damaging the infrastructure and defence facilities of the city. It is trying to increase efforts in the direction of Izium by moving additional units and equipment.]

[In the Donetsk direction, the enemy continues to regroup to resume offensive operations to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.]

[In the Pivdennyi Buh directions, it is taking measures to restore combat capability, replenish supplies, in order to prepare for the resumption of offensive operations.]

[In addition to conducting ground and air campaigns, the enemy is trying to continue preparations for the introduction of Russian rubles in the temporarily occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhya oblast instead of the hryvnia. In the Kharkiv oblast, the enemy is restricting the movement of civilians by setting up a network of checkpoints.]

[The occupiers continue trying to suppress the resistance of the inhabitants of the Ukrainian cities of Kherson, Henichesk, Melitopol, where about 90% of whose population are against the Russian invaders, with the involvement of the Russian National Guard units.]

The enemy deployed almost all Russian National Guard units stationed in the TOT of the Crimea and some districts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, in order to suppress resistance from residents of Kherson, Henichesk, Berdiansk and some districts of Mariupol.

The occupiers are trying to intensify the activities of sabotage and reconnaissance groups in Kyiv in order to destabilize the socio-political situation, disrupt the system of public and military administration. This is due to the inability to quickly replenish losses, to carry out rapid build-up (regrouping) and the use of groups of troops to maintain the required pace of hostilities and achieve the ultimate goal of war.

Given the high level of irreversible and sanitary losses of the Russian armed forces and the involvement of conscripts in the hostilities, the 2022 spring conscription campaign, which begins on April 1st this year, may be problematic.

In addition, there is a tendency to sharply reduce the number of contractors to conscription. Thus, the deterioration of the social component due to international sanctions and the losses during the war in the coming weeks are likely to exacerbate the problem of staffing the Russian army with quality personnel.

In addition, equipment coming from storages and arsenals to occupation units trying to restore combat capability is in poor technical condition due to careless pre-operation and prolonged storage.

The Defence Forces Group continues to conduct a defence operation in certain areas, conducts a stabilization operation, and performs territorial defence tasks.

Thus, the grouping of forces and means of defence of the city of Kyiv continues to repel the enemy’s offensive, inflict fire damage on it and maintain the previously defined defensive lines.

In the Donetsk and Luhansk directions, the Ukrainian Joint forces group repulsed all enemy attacks and inflicted significant losses on the Russian invaders. Ukrainian soldiers destroyed 8 tanks, 17 units of armoured vehicles and 11 units of enemy vehicles. The losses of the invaders in manpower amounted to about 170 people. Air defence units shot down 3 planes and 3 UAVs of the enemy.

The Air Force grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has destroyed 12 enemy air targets (3 planes, 3 UAVs, a helicopter and 5 cruise missiles) during the previous day. Combat aircraft of the Air Force under cover of fighters inflicted devastating missile and bomb strikes on columns of equipment and clusters of occupying troops.”

Russia has again changed the “aims of the special operation”, Ukrainska Pravda claims. The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, which allows us to focus our main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbas. This was claimed by Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation on Friday.

Initially, we did not plan to storm [Ukrainian cities] to prevent destruction and minimise losses among personnel and civilians. Although we do not exclude such a possibility, as individual groups are carrying out the tasks assigned to them, and solving them successfully, our forces and resources will be concentrated on the main thing – the complete liberation of Donbas“, TASS reports.

The statement is, however, not reflected in their actions in the field or the assessment by the Ukrainian General Staff, indicating that the statement is aimed at the Russian audience only.

Rumors that Russia is running out of personnel and rockets do not correspond to reality, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian Land Forces Command, Brigadier General Oleksandr Hruzevych, said during a press briefing on 25 March, cited in Interfax-Ukraine. He said that the Russian forces have changed their tactics and are currently tracking Ukrainian air defence systems, air force, and artillery. Russia is carrying out a mobilisation campaign in Dagestan in order to inject fresh forces into its army.

The enemy continues to suffer losses among the command, the General Staff reported yesterday. On March 25, the armed forces eliminated the commander of the 49th All-Military Army of the Southern Military District, Lieutenant-General Yakov Rezantsev.

The Russian Armed Forces might have problems funding the war in Ukraine, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine claims. The payment of these costs is not provided in the budgets and due to the state of the financial system of the Russian Federation due to the imposed sanctions, it is allegedly impossible to find additional funds in the budget. Available funds have been exhausted and they lack funding for any payments for March.

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 24 hours):

  • Russia continues to besiege a number of major Ukrainian cities including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol.
  • Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralise defending forces.
  • It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties.rel
  • The UK has sanctioned a further 65 individuals and entities with supporting links to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Among those sanctioned include Kronshtadt, Russian defence company and main producer of Russia’s Orion drone and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
  • These systems have been widely deployed in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Robust Ukrainian air defences has almost certainly limited manned flights beyond their front lines, hence Russia has highly likely been forced to use more UAVs instead.
  • This is probably leading to greater demand for, and attrition of, these assets. These sanctions will damage Russia’s defence industrial complex and limit their ability to replace their UAV losses.

As of Saturday 26.03.2022, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

  • personnel – more than 16,400 people (+300),
  • tanks – 575 units (+14),
  • armoured combat vehicles – 1640 units (+15),
  • artillery systems – 293 (+2),
  • multiple rocket launchers – 91 (+1)
  • air defence means – 51 (+2),
  • aircraft – 117 (+2),
  • helicopters – 127 (+2),
  • automotive technology – 1131 (+42),
  • light speedboats – 7 units (+2),
  • fuel and lubricant tanks – 73 (+1),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 56 (+3)
  • Special equipment – 19 (+1)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 2

I have previously referred to Oryx, which calculates and verifies losses based on open-source reports. The last time they were included in the report was 7 days ago. This update provides you both with their new assessment as well as changes since 18 March:

  • Russia has lost at least 1847 (+341) vehicles and equipment so far, of which 910 (+212) have been destroyed, 35 (+11) damaged, 228 (+8) abandoned, and 674 (+111) captured.
  • Ukraine has lost at least 540 (+167) vehicles and equipment until now, of which 206 (+63) have been destroyed, 16 (+11) damaged, 37 (-11) abandoned, and 281 (+104) captured.

The list only includes destroyed vehicles and equipment of which photo or video evidence is available. Therefore, the amount of equipment destroyed is significantly higher.”

Humanitarian

According to UNHCR 3,725,806 refugees has been registered as of 24 March. The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 2,206,119 refugees, Romania 572,754, Moldova 376,748, Hungary 336,701, Russia 271,254, Slovakia 263,959 and Belarus 6,341.

By the midnight of March 24, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 2,788 civilian casualties in the country: 1,081 killed (219 men, 165 women, 15 girls, and 30 boys, as well as 48 children and 604 adults whose sex is yet unknown) and 1,707 injured (189 men, 146 women, 28 girls, and 23 boys, as well as 69 children and 1,252 adults whose sex is yet unknown).

On March 25, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer conducted a high-level meeting with Russia MFA Lavrov discussing several issues around the war in Ukraine. Among final agreed steps, the parties decided to launch an ICRC site in Rostov-on-Don to support refugees deported from Ukraine to Russia. This has caused criticism in Ukraine as this is seen by some as a legitimizing of the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories and the illegal deportation of Ukrainians to Russia.

Evacuation effort: On March 25 the two agreed humanitarian corridors (Mariupol – Zaporizhzhia and Melitopol – Zaporizhzhia) worked and allowed the evacuation of 7331 civilians, according to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine.

Ukraine has officially appealed to the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer to obtain from Russia lists of all Ukrainian citizens who were forcibly deported by the occupiers from Mariupol and to provide them with the opportunity to return safely to Ukraine.

Environmental

Missile strikes and bombing have caused significant damage to Ukrainian environmental sites. Most of them are experiencing forest and other landscape fires. Biodiversity, nature reserves and the Emerald Network are being destroyed.

Almost 102,000 hectares of all types of landscapes in Ukraine have been damaged as a result of Russian aggression. This was reported by the Ministry of Environmental  Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine concerning the data of the European Forest Fire Information System EFFIS.

Due to active hostilities and the temporary occupation of areas, forest and other landscape protection services are not always able to monitor and extinguish fires on time. Therefore, the only means of monitoring fires throughout Ukraine today is remote sensing of the Earth.

Since February 24 and as of 8 a.m. on March 25, 2022, 135 children have been killed and more than 184 children have been injured. Kyiv and Kharkiv regions suffered the most. As the Government of Ukraine reports, it is impossible to establish the actual number of dead and wounded due to the ongoing active battle fighting in Ukrainian cities.

As of March 25, 566 educational institutions have been damaged, 73 of which have been completely destroyed. More than 230 schools and 155 kindergartens were damaged and destroyed.

Support

Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have put forward a plan to save Ukraine, the Evropeyska Pravda reports March 25.

A month has passed since Russia launched a full offensive against Ukraine. Since then, the West has imposed four packages of sanctions against Russia, but the war continues. There are clearly not enough measures. Much more needs to be done, and quickly,” said Mateusz Morawiecki.” The details are found in the last part of this report.

New developments

  1. A total war has been declared against Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday, TASS reports. “Today, a genuine hybrid war, a ‘total war’ has been declared against us. This term, which was exploited by Hitler’s Germany, is now pronounced by many European politicians when talking about what they want to do with Russia. The goals are not concealed, they are publicly announced, that is to destroy, devastate, ruin, and suffocate the Russian economy and Russia as a whole,” Lavrov stressed.
  2. Putin lashes out at West ‘cancelling’ Russian culture, TASS reports. President Putin has drawn a parallel between the current campaign against Russian culture in the West and what was going on in Nazi Germany under Hitler. “The notorious cancel culture has turned into the cancellation of culture. The names of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov are being removed from playbills, Russian writers and their books are being banned,” he said on Friday.
  3. Russia insists on demands which are unacceptable for Ukraine. Ukrainska Pravda reports. “We insist on a comprehensive agreement, which, in addition to Ukraine’s neutral status and security guarantees, provides a number of points vital to our country – demilitarisation, denazification, recognition of Crimea and Donbas, as well as a number of other points of agreement. I think that signing the agreement is not possible without considering these points and taking them into account.” Russia’s presidential aide and chief negotiator at the peace talks, Vladimir Medinsky, said according to Interfax. “There has been no progress towards the principled positions that the Russian side insists on” Medinsky stressed. The negotiation process is extremely difficult. Ukraine insists, first of all, on a ceasefire, security guarantees and Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainska Pravda reports.
  4. The US and EU announced Friday a partnership to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy that will increase shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe by 15 billion cubic metres this year, euronews reports. “This will replace the LNG supply we currently receive from Russia, and looking ahead, the United States and Europe will ensure stable demand and supply for an additional at least 50 billion cubic metres of US LNG until 2030,” European Commission President von der Leyen added, saying that amount would replace one-third of Russian gas imports., until 30 September 2023.

Assessment On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Friday 25 March:

“The Russian General Staff issued a fictitious report on the first month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 25 claiming Russia’s primary objective is to capture the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Sergei Rudskoi, first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, gave a briefing to the Russian press summing up the first month of the Russian invasion on March 25. Rudskoi inaccurately claimed Russian forces have completed “the main tasks of the first stage of the operation,” falsely asserting that Russia has heavily degraded the Ukrainian military, enabling Russia to focus on the “main goal” of capturing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Rudskoi’s comments were likely aimed mainly at a domestic Russian audience and do not accurately or completely capture current Russian war aims and planned operations. Russia’s justification for the invasion of Ukraine from the outset was the fictitious threat Moscow claimed Ukrainian forces posed to the people in Russian-occupied Donbas. The Kremlin has reiterated this justification for the war frequently as part of efforts to explain the invasion to its people and build or sustain public support for Putin and the war. Rudskoi’s framing of the capture of the rest of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as the “main goal” of the operation is in line with this ongoing information operation.

Rudskoi’s assertion that securing the unoccupied portions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts was always the main objective of Russia’s invasion is false. The Kremlin’s initial campaign aimed to conduct airborne and mechanized operations to seize Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and other major Ukrainian cities to force a change of government in Ukraine. Rudskoi’s comments could indicate that Russia has scaled back its aims and would now be satisfied with controlling the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, but that reading is likely inaccurate. Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine have not stopped fighting and have not entirely stopped attempting to advance and seize more territory. They are also attacking and destroying Ukrainian towns and cities, conducting operations and committing war crimes that do not accord with the objectives Rudskoi claims Russia is pursuing.

Russia continues efforts to rebuild combat power and commit it to the fight to encircle and/or assault Kyiv and take Mariupol and other targets, despite repeated failures and setbacks and continuing Ukrainian counter-attacks. The Ukrainian General Staff reports that the Russian military is building “consolidated units,” likely comprised of individuals or small units drawn from a number of different battalions, brigades, and regiments, to replace combat losses and deploying them on the west bank of the Dnipro near the Chernobyl exclusion zone, among other locations. Russian forces continue their grinding and likely costly advance in Mariupol as well.

The absence of significant Russian offensive operations throughout most of Ukraine likely reflects the inability of the Russian military to generate sufficient combat power to attack rather than any decision in Moscow to change Russia’s war aims or concentrate on the east. Rudskoi’s comments are likely an attempt to gloss the Russian military’s failures for a domestic audience and focus attention on the only part of the theater in which Russian troops are making any progress at this point. The West should not over-read this obvious messaging embedded in a piece of propaganda that continued very few true statements.


Key Takeaways:

  • The Russian General Staff is attempting to adjust the war’s narrative so make it appear that Russia is achieving its aims and choosing to restrict operations when in fact it is not achieving its objectives and is being forced to abandon large-scale offensive operations because of its own failures and losses as well as continuing skillful Ukrainian resistance.
  • Ukrainian forces claimed to kill the commander of Russia’s 49th Combined Arms Army, operating around Kherson.
  • Ukrainian counterattacks northwest of Kyiv made further minor progress in the past 24 hours.
  • Ukrainian forces additionally conducted a successful counterattack east of Kyiv in the past 24 hours, pushing Russian forces east from Brovary.
  • Russian attempts to encircle Chernihiv remain unsuccessful.
  • The military situation in northeastern Ukraine did not change in the past 24 hours.
  • Russian forces continue to take Mariupol street-by-street and have entered the city center.
  • Russian forces did not conduct any offensive operations around Kherson in the past 24 hours.”

Assessment of consequences and what to do?

Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have put forward a plan to save Ukraine, the European Truth reports March 25.

A month has passed since Russia launched a full offensive against Ukraine. Since then, the West has imposed four packages of sanctions against Russia, but the war continues. There are clearly not enough measures. Much more needs to be done, and quickly,” said Mateusz Morawiecki.

(1) Disconnect all Russian banks from SWIFT, (2) Introduce a unified asylum policy for Russian soldiers who refuse to serve the regime in Moscow, (3) Completely stop Russian propaganda in Europe, (4) Block Russian ships in European ports, (5) Block road transport to and from Russia, (6) Impose sanctions on their entire business environment, (7) Suspend the issuance of visas to all Russian citizens, (8) Impose sanctions on all members of the United Russia party, (9) Introduce a total ban on the export to Russia of dual-purpose technologies and (10) Exclude Russia from all international organizations.

Morawiecki stressed that if this does not stop the war, then we must go further and protect the people of Ukraine with our own shields, Interfax reports.

In Kyiv, we proposed a peacekeeping mission under the aegis of NATO and other international organizations. If we cannot introduce effective sanctions, we have no choice: We must protect the people of Ukraine with our own shields. If we want to restore peace, Putin needs to know where the red line is – the line he cannot cross. The fact that Russia has a nuclear arsenal cannot be an excuse for passivity. We must be cognizant of this threat, but it cannot hold us back. Otherwise, Putin will only go further,” he said. Morawiecki said that the proposed plan was not only possible but necessary.

Their proposal should be read alongside the brilliant op-ed “America Thinks the War Is About Ukraine. Russia’s Neighbors Disagree” by Karolina Wigura and Jaroslaw Kuisz, posted in The New York Times on Friday 25 March. In my opinion, the headline depicts most countries that were NATO members before 1997. The following is an extract only:

“For Western countries, not least the United States, the conflict is a disaster for the people of Ukraine — but one whose biggest danger is that it might spill over the Ukrainian border, setting off a global conflict.

For Central and Eastern European countries, it’s rather different. These neighbours of Russia tend to see the war not as a singular event but as a process. To these post-Soviet states, the invasion of Ukraine appears as a next step in a whole series of Russia’s nightmarish assaults on other countries, dating back to the ruthless attacks on Chechnya and the war with Georgia. To them, it seems foolhardy to assume Mr. Putin will stop at Ukraine. The danger is pressing and immediate.

While the West believes it must prevent World War III, the East thinks that, whatever the name given to the conflict, the war against liberal democratic values, institutions and lifestyles has already started. Both positions have merit. […]

At the root of the divide is history. Across centuries, Central and Eastern Europe have experienced the chilling effects of Russian imperialism. From czarist Russia to the Soviet Union, many countries through the region had their independence stamped out, their societies oppressed, and their cultures marginalized. The trauma caused by the cyclical loss of territory and statehood is one of the most important elements of collective identity across the region.

Many Central and Eastern Europeans share an anxious sense of themselves, a nervous sovereignty. Their independence, restored with such great effort after 1989, could easily be lost again, as the 20th century proved all too painfully. In the tragic fate of Ukraine, and earlier of Chechnya and Georgia, they see not only their own traumatic past but also their possible future. “We will be next” is the phrase on many lips.

In this febrile atmosphere, NATO’s cautious steps look to many Central and Eastern Europeans like an echo of the phony war of 1939, when France and Britain undertook only limited military actions and did not save their eastern ally, Poland. At that time, too, horrible stories from bombed Warsaw and other cities filled the media. Yet the allies were determined not to be drawn in too deeply. Their military inaction temporarily delayed the spread of the war across the globe but did not stop it.

Whether the analogy is apt matters less than the fact that it expresses a deeply felt intuition about what might come next. That’s been visible in the way East and West have approached the war. Throughout, those geographically closer to Russia have urged a tough response. Now that Russia’s full brutality has been revealed, Western countries are weighing whether to impose more sanctions on Russia, send more weapons to Ukraine and intensify diplomatic efforts to end the war.

But Eastern countries would prefer to go further still. Suggested measures in the region include imposing a no-fly zone — as President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly urged — or sending NATO troops across the Ukrainian border, even if only as a peace mission. The Polish government recently offered its MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, something Western allies considered a move too far.

Yet Central and Eastern Europeans are convinced that they are right and have the moral high ground. They believe that they were correct all along with their warnings about the Nord Stream pipelines and Russia’s other geostrategic designs on Ukraine and former Soviet states. For a long time, such opinions were dismissed as Russophobic, irrelevant in comparison with the fruits of economic cooperation with Russia. Today these warnings seem horribly prescient.

[…] The aim instead should be to communicate better with Western partners, something Mr. Zelensky, in his addresses across the world, has shown how to do. This is of utmost importance. One thing Mr. Putin wants is for NATO partners to be divided and at cross purposes, as the alliance was in its response to the Kremlin’s aggressive military actions in 2008 and 2014. […] The invasion of Ukraine, as Eastern countries see it, is just the next attempt by Russia to upend the geopolitical order through territorial acquisition. Leaders in the region are in a unique position to spell out the stakes of Mr. Putin’s aggression and so help the West to better understand the level of risk.

Hans Petter Midttun assessment: In my report yesterday, while summing up to NATO summit I ascertained that two of the key messages in the statements by President Biden and Secretary General Stoltenberg indicated a discord within the Alliance and that the outcome of the summit was the upper limit of what the “weakest links” are willing to accept, in the fear that a greater engagement will result in unacceptable costs to individual member states.

The proposals put forward by Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia highlight the inner divide. It is further highlighted by the work of the Multinational Joint Commission in Ukraine – and the only party providing any practical defence support to Ukraine during 2014-22 – a “coalition of the willing” established outside the framework of NATO by some of its members and partners. It is not at least underscored by the efforts by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia (all Central and Eastern Europe) to stop the Nord Stream 2 project as they saw this as a geopolitical tool to enable future Russian aggression.

In my article “NATO’s defining moment is now or never” I pointed out that:

“In 2007 President Vladimir Putin held the famous Munich speech where he expressed Russia’s deep dissatisfaction with the world order and NATO eastward expansion, arguing for the need to rethink the international security architecture. He argued that “we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, a force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result, we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible.” We didn’t believe him.

In 2008, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania argued that Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia was a dress rehearsal for further operations against democracies bordering Russia. We didn’t believe them.

Since 2014, Ukraine has argued that it is defending Europe against Russian aggression. So far, we have chosen not to believe them either.

NATO’s defining moment is now or never

The brilliant op-ed by Karolina Wigura and Jaroslaw Kuisz captures the essence of it all. It also reflects my own experience from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in 2010-14. There was no point in addressing the need for contingency planning with the countries that were NATO members before 1997. The requirement was only understood and supported by the nations from Central and Eastern Europe.

We are still not listening to those who know Russia the best. Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Ukraine and Georgia. And we keep coming up short.

Despite being proven wrong time after time, the arrogance, ignorance, cynicism, or wishful thinking of “the old NATO members” are blocking the Alliance from doing what is needed. It is time for NATO to start listening to the nations that knows Russia.

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