NATO gets serious about Eastern Europe, but has it given up on Ukraine?

It would appear that NATO and the West are finally getting serious about the threat posed by Russia’s apparent designs on its neighbors.

As Russia conducts military drills, orders snap tests of its nuclear forces, sends its bombers to penetrate Western airspace, and continues to send its armed forces into Ukraine, the West is fighting back by increasing the tempo of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

“The US military’s plans to send troops into Romania and Bulgaria as a deterrence to Russian aggression could expand to include Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia’s southern neighbor, Georgia, according to a US Army official spearheading the effort,” Defense News reported.

Exercises between US troops with Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, which began last April, will expand through the summer, said Col. Michael Foster, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vincenza, Italy. The exercises are part of the US Army Europe-led land force assurance training mission, known as Operation Atlantic Resolve — now expanded into “north” and “south” components.

“So by the end of the summer, you could very well see an operation that stretches from the Baltics all the way down to the Black Sea,” Foster said, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here on Monday. “As you connect countries, there is almost a line of US troops.”

The mission to secure those NATO member states that were former Soviet Republics or members of the Warsaw Pact is a pressing one, but what about non-NATO allied states like Ukraine? There, three U.S. Army companies were to be grouped with Ukrainian units and tasked with training them to better combat pro-Russian separatist elements (and Russian regulars). On Thursday, those companies arrived in Ukraine, which prompted a spate of denunciations from the Kremlin.

But that mission is now in a state of limbo. American officials are reportedly waiting to see if the ceasefire arrangement reached in February in Minsk, which never really took effect and has been summarily dismissed by both Moscow and Kiev, might be resurrected.

According to the Polish-language site Defence24, the U.S. mission to Ukraine has been suspended (translation via Google):

Suspension of a training program for Ukrainians told the commander of US ground forces in Europe, Gen. Ben Hodges, in a speech to the Turkish state agency Anadolu. Similar information shall also British The Telegraph.

Earlier it was planned that the US military would have to train Ukrainians in the centers, located near the Polish border. To the mission were to be separated unit 173. Airborne Brigade, stationed permanently in Italy.

Declarations on the conduct of training for Ukrainian forces also made a recent inter alia, the United Kingdom and Poland.

If this proves accurate, it was not an unforeseen development. Reporting from earlier this week indicated that American forces might decide to temporarily suspend that training mission.

“On Tuesday, U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges told reporters in Berlin that Washington has placed the training mission on hold as it looks for signs that the agreement, reached in Minsk February, is being honored,” read a report via Stars and Stripes. “A decision on whether to proceed with the training would be needed within days to continue with the original plan to start by mid-March, Hodges said.”

If the mission gets pushed back, soldiers will be able to quickly regroup to execute the training under a different time line, he said. “That’s one of the benefits of already being over here in Europe. We’re here, we’re airborne and we can go when needed,” Weisman said.

If delayed, this would not be the first time circumstances in Ukraine have pushed back a training mission. Last summer, turmoil in Ukraine forced the Army to postpone its Rapid Trident exercise. The mission, which included troops from the 173rd, was eventually carried out in September.

If this training mission has been put on hold, it was surely not as a result of a determination made by American military planners. If Washington’s design is to give diplomacy a chance to work, that should have been abandoned when pro-Russian forces maintained their assault on Debaltseve and eventually forced the Ukrainian forces defending that city to surrender en masse.

Moreover, by projecting that NATO forces will augment the defensive preparations of NATO-allied countries but will shy away from providing for Ukraine’s defense, they are sending a clear signal to Moscow that they have a green light to continue to carve off portions of eastern Ukraine.