The US Secretary of Defense’s route in Eastern Europe could only anger Moscow, which announced it was ending its NATO mission and expelling NATO diplomats from Moscow.
“We do not have adequate conditions for basic diplomatic activities,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. Moscow criticizes NATO for not being interested in “an equal dialogue or joint efforts to defuse military-political tensions”. The move comes after NATO expelled eight diplomats from the Russian mission earlier this month, saying they were working as undeclared intelligence officers.
En route to NATO this week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Georgia and Ukraine, two NATO aspirants for the Black Sea that the Russian military has invaded and continues to occupy in part.
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“The United States condemns Russia’s continued occupation of Georgia and its attempts to expand its influence in the Black Sea region through military coercion and malicious activity,” Austin said in Tbilisi , before signing a defense and security pact with Georgia. Then the secretary assured the Ukrainians that they could count on continued support from the United States “including Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO” if it implements certain reforms.
Former NATO Deputy Secretary General – Alexander Vershbow, who served as US Ambassador to NATO and Russia, said Ukraine remains the biggest flashpoint.
“The Russians under Putin like to be unpredictable. They don’t seem to care at all about stability if it prevents them from trying to dominate their neighbors,” Vershbow said, adding that Moscow’s decision to suspend its mission from the NATO could have been influenced by Austin’s visit. Georgia and Ukraine are “the targets of Russian aggression and Russia wants them brought back into Russia’s sphere of influence,” he said.
The former deputy secretary-general also said Austin’s visit to the region was important because: “If Russia succeeds in subduing Ukraine and Georgia, we will have a much more dangerous situation in Europe in the future than the one we already have. “
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NATO is now trying to regain the upper hand with new, more aggressive tactics to deter further Russian expansion and the return of another cold war, which is getting hotter and hotter. Former US Army Commander-in-Chief in Europe, Retired Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, accuses years of naivety:
“My biggest concern is that we in the West still find it hard to believe that Russia has bad intentions. We continue to be surprised that they are doing certain things and being allowed to get away with it. this fairytale tale that somehow is the ones surrounded. “
For Hodges, Russia’s actions are not isolated events in a vacuum, but part of larger plans. He says that Russia invaded Crimea because “Crimea is the platform for all the malicious influence it exports around the Black Sea region, but especially to Syria.”
Hodges hopes that the 2030 Strategic Concept NATO is working on will be different from the one “where we thought Russia was going to be a partner”.
Austin’s last stop before NATO is Romania, one of the few NATO countries to devote more than 2% of its GDP to defense, of which 20% is spent on modernization, key objectives of NATO.
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In Brussels, Secretary Austin will attend the NATO Defense Ministerial LA, the first face-to-face ministerial meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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