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More muscular NATO emerges, even as Russia holds upper hand in Ukraine

Seeking to demonstrate a renewed determination to stand up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO on Wednesday extended formal membership invitations to Finland and Sweden, bolstered its military posture along its eastern flank and adopted a new strategic plan that envisions Moscow as the alliance’s primary adversary.

June 29, 2022 / 08:20 PM IST
Ukrainian service members walk in the industrial area of the city of Sievierodonetsk, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 20. (Image: Reuters)

Ukrainian service members walk in the industrial area of the city of Sievierodonetsk, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 20. (Image: Reuters)

Seeking to demonstrate a renewed determination to stand up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO on Wednesday extended formal membership invitations to Finland and Sweden, bolstered its military posture along its eastern flank and adopted a new strategic plan that envisions Moscow as the alliance’s primary adversary.

The flurry of announcements, as President Joe Biden and other leaders gathered at a summit in Madrid, aimed to signal the emergence of a more muscular NATO, one designed to respond to a resurgent and bellicose Russia.

The moves came as Moscow’s forces continued to hold the upper hand in the fifth month of their slow-moving war in Ukraine, striking civilian homes and businesses in multiple cities and methodically gaining ground in the east. While President Vladimir Putin’s invasion has given NATO leaders a new adversary and newfound purpose, it was far from clear that the alliance could help Ukraine turn the tide in a war in which its forces remain badly outnumbered and outgunned.

Opening the talks Wednesday morning, Biden called the NATO summit one of the alliance’s most historic gatherings and vowed that the group — first assembled in 1949 to secure Europe against the Soviet Union — was committed to “defending every inch” of its members’ territory, and was “more needed now than it ever has been.”

Biden also said the United States would for the first time station forces permanently on NATO’s eastern flank by deploying an Army garrison headquarters and a field support battalion in Poland, positioning an undisclosed number of U.S. troops for quick action in countries along Russia’s border.

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With Turkey having dropped its objections to Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO applications Tuesday, the two formerly nonaligned nations are now expected to be able to join the alliance, which would grow from 30 members to 32. Their accession would result in NATO’s most significant enlargement in more than a decade, a strategic setback for Putin, who has described the alliance’s growing security footprint near Russian territory as one reason for his invasion of Ukraine in February.

But the Russian leader has been far from cowed as his forces in Ukraine use their superior artillery to bombard cities into submission.

In a sign of confidence in the war’s progress and his firm grip on power at home, Putin traveled outside Russia this week for the first time since the war began, visiting Tajikistan on Tuesday and Turkmenistan on Wednesday. But even as he sought to reinforce Russia’s relationships in Central Asia, Putin was also looking to the region as a critical economic partner to help offset the economic sanctions and political isolation imposed by the West.

The revamp of NATO’s so-called strategic concept — a guide for its defense posture, military focus and spending — show just how radically the war has scrambled the alliance’s geostrategic considerations. Russia has taken center stage as NATO’s primary threat after having been viewed, just over a decade ago, as a potential partner.

The new strategic document is designed to “make clear that allies consider Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before the summit.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

By Steven Erlanger, Michael D. Shear and Shashank Bengali
New York Times
first published: Jun 29, 2022 08:20 pm
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