Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Georgia and Ukraine this week, two NATO aspiring Black Sea neighbors
The US Defense Secretary’s itinerary to Eastern Europe was bound to anger Moscow, which announced it was closing its NATO mission and pulling NATO diplomats out of Moscow.
“We don’t have the proper conditions for basic diplomatic activities,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Moscow blamed NATO for not being interested in “equitable talks or joint efforts to defuse military-political tensions”. The decision comes after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia’s mission earlier this month, saying they were acting as undisclosed intelligence officers.
En route to NATO this week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Georgia and Ukraine, two NATO aspiring Black Sea neighbors that Russian forces continue to invade and partially occupy.
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Prior to the signing of the Defense Security Agreement with Georgia, Austin in Tbilisi said, “The United States condemns Russia’s ongoing occupation of Georgia and attempts to expand influence through military force and malicious activities in the Black Sea region.” does.” The secretary then assured Ukrainians that they could count on the continued support of the United States “including Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO” if it made some improvements.
Former NATO deputy secretary general – Alexander Vershbow, who served as US ambassador to both NATO and Russia, says Ukraine remains the biggest flashpoint.
“The Russians under Putin like to be unpredictable. They don’t care the slightest about stability if they get in the way of trying to dominate their neighbors,” Vershbow says, adding that the NATO mission was suspended. Moscow’s decision to do so could have affected Georgia and Ukraine “are targets of Russian aggression and Russia wants them to be brought back to Russia’s sphere of influence,” he said.
The former deputy secretary-general also says Austin’s visit to the region is significant because: “If Russia succeeds in subjugating Ukraine and Georgia, we will face a more dangerous situation in Europe than ever before.”
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NATO is now trying to gain the upper hand with new, more aggressive tactics to stave off Russian expansion and the return of another Cold War, which is increasingly heating up. Former top US military commander in Europe, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, blames years of naivety:
“My biggest concern is that we, the West, still find it hard to believe that Russia has bad intentions. We wonder if they actually do certain things and are allowed to get away with this fairy tale.” That somehow they are the ones who are being cornered.”
For Hodges, Russia’s actions are not isolated events in a vacuum, but part of larger plans. He says Russia invaded Crimea because, “Crimea is the stage for all the deadly influences they export around the Black Sea region, but especially in Syria.”
Hodges hopes that the 2030 strategic concept that NATO is working on will be different from “where we thought Russia was going to be a partner”.
Austin’s final stop before NATO is Romania, one of the few NATO countries that spends more than 2 percent of its GDP on defense and 20 percent goes toward modernization, NATO’s key goals.
In Brussels, Secretary Austin will participate in the NATO Defense Ministerial, the first individual ministerial since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.