President Barack Obama will make a welcome trip to the Baltic nation of Estonia on Tuesday. The move is a long-desired one; it is meant to convey to Russia that the United States will not allow a process like the one which has dismembered Georgia and which is dismembering Ukraine to occur in a NATO member state.
The president will arrive in Eastern Europe amid a deluge of worsening news relating to the increasingly dangerous conflict in Ukraine. There, Russian forces have openly begun crossing the border, relieving the besieged pro-Russian rebels, and engaging soldiers loyal to Kiev.
On Monday, Ukraine revealed that it is changing its tactics, and will no longer engage in offensive operations aimed at dislodging pro-Russian rebels from the positions they occupy in Ukraine’s east. Warning of broader conflict with Russia on the horizon, Ukrainian troops are digging in.
“Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said Monday that the army would stop trying to remove separatists from the east, moving instead to a defensive strategy against what he called a ‘full-scale invasion’ of Russian regular troops,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
His announcement of a drastic change in tactics came as another round of talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk among Kiev, Moscow and the separatists ended without apparent results beyond agreeing to meet again Friday.
“A great war has arrived at our doorstep,” Heletey wrote in a Facebook post, “the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II.”
At this week’s NATO summit in Wales, Western leaders will approve the formation of a rapid-reaction force designed to address security threats in that region. The 4,000-strong force will be on permanent high alert status and can deploy to the area within 48 hours of a crisis.
The announcement of this new force is aimed at creating a military deterrent to ensure Russia knows any incursion into NATO-protected territory will be resisted with force by the alliance. The move prompted Moscow to announce that it, too, would respond by revising its approach to the Atlantic alliance.
“NATO’s planned action,” Mikhail Popov, Russia’s National Security Council deputy secretary, said, “is evidence of the desire of US and NATO leaders to continue their policy of aggravating tensions with Russia” He declined to elaborate on what specific changes to Russian security policy would be made.
The West’s new preventative strategy for the defense of Eastern Europe is not enough for some of President Barack Obama’s critics who demand that the president craft a strategy aimed at rolling back Russia from its positions in Ukraine.
Over the weekend, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) went out of his way to use a word the administration has been conspicuously avoiding – “invasion” – to describe what Russia is doing in Ukraine. He added that the White House should commit to providing lethal defensive aid to Kiev in order to prevent Russia from taking any more territory in Ukraine than they already have.
Despite the fact that the United States was signatory to a memorandum which guaranteed that it would oppose threats to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, do not expect Barack Obama to reveal any new commitments to Ukraine’s defense during his trip to Eastern Europe. Like the crises in Iraq and Syria (though most certainly not like the crisis in Libya), Obama seems intent on “internationalizing” the crisis in Europe – a strategy which has thus far yielded underwhelming results.