Almost nobody connected with NATO believes that the crisis created by Russia’s appropriation of Crimea will quickly fade. “We have learned to read Putin’s speeches,” says François Heisbourg, the chairman of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “He says what he does and he does what he says. His proposed Eurasian Union of post-Soviet states is a new empire. East Ukraine cannot be allowed to be part of the West because there is no Eurasian space without it. We have entered a long-lasting, deeply antagonistic relationship with Russia.”
The challenge for NATO is now to get all 28 members to agree on the nature of the threat posed by Russia to Europe’s security, and to decide how to respond. It must first live up to its commitment under Article 4 to reassure members who feel immediately threatened. Already, America has sent 12 F-16 fighters to Poland and ten F-15s to the Baltic states for air-patrols. They will be joined by four British Typhoons in April. NATO has also dispatched Boeing E-3As to monitor Eastern European airspace. . . .
On March 23rd NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said the alliance would have to rethink how to respond to aggressive Russian troop movements carried out under cover of legitimate military exercises. NATO could reposition military forces and carry out exercises that would reassure allies, he suggested. A bigger question is whether America will emphasise its strategic commitment to the newly insecure Europe by permanently basing some of its ground forces in a front-line state, perhaps Poland. . . .
As for deterrence, it is clear what Mr Putin wants. He is out to restore Russia’s great-power status by forging a Eurasian union based on conservative values and dependent on Russia for its economy and security, by coercion if necessary. He is pumping up Russia’s military budget by 40% over the three years from 2013, according to SIPRI, a research institute. The aim is not offensive operations against NATO, but to be able to make swift, focused interventions in Russia’s “near-abroad”, backed up by the threat of nuclear escalation.