NEWPORT Wales (Reuters) – NATO leaders agreed on Friday that a large-scale cyber attack on a member country could be considered an attack on the entire U.S.-led alliance, potentially triggering a military response.
The decision marks an expansion of the organisation’s remit, reflecting new threats that can disable critical infrastructure, financial systems and government without firing a shot.
“Today we declare that cyber defence is part of NATO’s core task of collective defence,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference.
In 2007, a series of crippling cyber attacks paralysed much of NATO member Estonia in an apparent response to a dispute over the movement of a Soviet-era war memorial. Most Western experts suspected the Kremlin was responsible but Russia denied it.
Leaders of military alliance to meet with Ukraine president in UK, as NATO chief warns of biggest threat since Cold War.
NATO leaders are holding a summit in the UK in a bid to show unity against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, after France suspended delivery of a warship to Moscow despite a surprise peace plan put forward by the Kremlin.
Ukraine and the new threats posed by the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria and beyond are expected to dominate the two-day summit that begins on Thursday in Newport in Wales.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned that Russian intervention in Ukraine is the most serious security threat since the Cold War, one which the 28 member-states ignore at their peril.
US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to stand together in support of Ukraine against Russia in a joint statement in the Times newspaper on Thursday.
“Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state,” the two leaders wrote in an op-ed piece.
“We should support Ukraine’s right to determine its own democratic future and continue our efforts to enhance Ukrainian capabilities.”
To highlight support for Kiev, leaders will meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for a session of the NATO-Ukraine Council, set up after the country became an alliance partner in 1997, the AFP news agency reported.
The meeting will “send a clear signal of their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and that the onus is on Russia to de-escalate the situation,” a British government source said.
Al Jazeeera’s James Bays, reporting from Newport, said that the discussions will aim to develop a way to fund the enhanced support for Kiev.
“The US is certainly pushing its other NATO partners to increase their defence budgets,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday pre-empted the NATO summit, unveiling a seven-point Ukraine peace plan to produce a ceasefire on Friday, the day when the European Union is expected to announce additional tough economic sanctions against Moscow.
Putin appealed for both sides to lay down their weapons after nearly five months of fighting that has killed 2,600 people and been blamed by both Kiev and its Western allies on Putin’s attempts to seize back former Soviet and Tsarist lands.
However, Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk swiftly rejected Putin’s plan as just the latest “attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community”.
The rebels may also take some convincing to lay down their weapons after scoring a resounding string of successes with the alleged support of Russian soldiers that has seen Ukrainian forces lose effective control over most of the separatist east.
Against this troubled backdrop, the summit centre-piece will be approval of a new NATO rapid reaction force comprising “several thousand troops” that can be deployed within “very few days” to meet any new threats, Rasmussen said.
For the second time this year, President Barack Obama will travel to Russia’s backyard to assure nervous nations of his ironclad commitment to their security. But his objectives will be clouded by the West’s inability to halt the Russian aggression in Ukraine that has stoked fears in other former Soviet republics.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia rebels continued in eastern Ukraine as Obama prepared to fly to Estonia for meetings with Baltic leaders and to Wales for a NATO summit.
The Ukrainian government, NATO, and Western nations say Russia has already sent troops, artillery, and tanks across Ukraine’s southeast border to reinforce the separatists, a claim Russia has denied.
While Obama has warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin could face more economic penalties, he also continues to resist calls for the U.S. to provide military support to help Ukrainian forces push back the Russian incursion.
The U.S. president’s response to the Ukraine crisis is just one element of a broader foreign policy approach that is drawing criticism from both opponents and allies who fear the White House is being too tentative in the face of global threats.
“I think Putin has sized up the West and figured that the most difficult sanctions against Russia and the arms necessary for the Ukrainians to be able to defend themselves are not coming from the West, and we have to prove him wrong,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey).
Still, eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russia rebels softened their demand for full independence Monday, saying they would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for autonomy.
That shift appeared to reflect Putin’s desire to make a deal that would allow Russia to avoid more punitive Western sanctions while preserving a significant degree of leverage over its neighbor.
Eugene Rumer, a former U.S. intelligence officer for Russia, said the inability of the U.S. and Europe to stop Putin so far was compounding fears in the countries near Russia’s borders.
“They see Western responses as insufficient, which adds to their concerns,” said Rumer, who now runs the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The crisis between Russia and Ukraine has raised the stakes for this week’s NATO summit. Obama will press member states to increase their defense spending, and the alliance is expected to agree on plans to boost training missions and other military commitments in Central and Eastern European countries.
“We will see persistent rotation, persistent exercises to ensure that Estonia and that other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are provided the reassurance from NATO and the presence of NATO needed to meet their security needs,” said Charles Kupchan, the White House senior director for Europe.
NATO leaders this week will be asked to approve creation of a high-readiness force and the stockpiling of military equipment and supplies in Eastern Europe to help protect member nations there against potential Russian aggression, the alliance’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Monday.
Analysts said member states near Russia’s borders would be particularly concerned about the level of U.S. military involvement in the expanded efforts.
“If there’s anything that the Baltics do trust within NATO, it’s a U.S. commitment,” said Kathleen Hicks, a former Pentagon official who now chairs the international studies department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “So they will be pushing hard that that NATO contingent will have a heavy U.S. signal in it.”
While Ukraine is not a NATO member, newly elected President Petro Poroshenko was scheduled to attend the summit.
Before arriving in Wales for the NATO meetings, Obama will make a symbolic show of Western support for the Baltics by traveling to Estonia.
Officials say he will repeat the assurances he made during a trip to Poland earlier this year, where he reiterated the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter, which states that an armed attack against one member state is to be considered an attack on the entire alliance.
The president was scheduled to depart Washington on Tuesday and arrive in the Estonian capital of Tallinn early Wednesday.
In addition to his meetings with Baltic leaders, Obama will also speak to U.S. troops who were sent to Estonia earlier this year for military training exercises that were meant to serve as a deterrent to Russia.
The heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine are just one of the pressing foreign policy matters Obama will confront during his three days of talks in Europe.
The president is expected to hold talks with leaders on the sidelines of the NATO summit about the growing threat from the Islamic State group that has taken root in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. is launching strikes against the militants in Iraq, and the White House is seeking commitments from some allies to join a broader effort to defeat the group, perhaps by extending the airstrikes into Syria.
Obama and NATO leaders will also discuss their future role in Afghanistan, where the alliance’s combat mission is due to end later this year.
But a political crisis in Afghanistan has cast a shadow over the drawdown, delaying decisions over how many troops the U.S. and its partners will keep in the country for training and counterterrorism missions.
Moscow will take steps to respond if NATO begins regular troop rotations in the Baltics, Russia’s permanent mission to NATO said on Wednesday.
The warnings come after NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told The Guardian newspaper it was likely there would be regular troops rotations in the Baltics.
Baltic officials have called for a permanent NATO presence in the region amid the crisis in the Ukraine and what they see as a threat from Russia.
But Russia’s Foreign Ministry say the NATO military drills would harm security in the region.
“More visible NATO military presence in the east will be detrimental to the Euro-Atlantic stability. Russia will react to NATO moves eastwards with a view to ensure its security,” the foreign ministry wrote on its twitter account.
“NATO is willing to satisfy its eastern allies in their phobias. What about fighting real challenges to international security?” another “tweet” indicates.
“One should not be misled by the term “rotation”. What matters is permanence of NATO presence in the East,” the ministry also said.
A major NATO summit in Wales next week will discuss the deployment of allied armed forces in military bases in east Europe, Rasmussen told “The Guardian” on Tuesday.
The Cardiff summit is likely to come up with a solution for calls to a permanent NATO presence, alliance sources said, which would avoid the term “permanent” for the new bases. But the impact will be to have constantly manned NATO facilities east of what used to be the iron curtain.
Rasmussen said that the bases could be established on a rotation basis.
“The point is that any potential aggressor should know that if they were to even think of an attack against a NATO ally they will meet not only soldiers from that specific country but they will meet NATO troops. This is what is important,” said Rasmussen.
When asked whether there would be permanent international deployments under a NATO flag in east Europe, Rasmussen said:
“The brief answer is yes. To prevent misunderstanding I use the phrase “for as long as necessary”. Our eastern allies will be satisfied when they see what is actually in the readiness action plan.”
As Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko talk about the Ukraine situation, suspicious “little green men” spontaneously appear once more, and the Ukrainian army continues a long, bloody advance into the rebel-held east, NATO may be fixing to get almost as aggressively ambiguous as Russia already is.
A few events before the upcoming NATO Summit in Cardiff on September 4 all suggest that the West has finally decided that it would like to do a great deal (or more than absolutely nothing) but just doesn’t want to be too tacky about it.
The first is a puzzling sale of 58 T-72 tanks to the Czech Republic by Hungary. Since the signing of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty in 1990, the purchase, transfer, and stationing of European arms and troops has been tightly regulated.
So a sale between two signatories (such as the Czech Republic and Hungary) is closely monitored. And something caught the eye of defense industry observers in this transaction. While the Czechs were buying the vehicles, it didn’t appear that they would actually be using them.
It’s not yet possible to tell where these tanks will be going, but the current speculation is that they’re destined for the Ukrainian army.
This makes sense, because Ukraine is desperate for new equipment that is completely compatible with the Soviet-style stuff already in their inventory; the army doesn’t want to screw around with new training or parts in the middle of a war.
The closer you have to live to Russia, the more adamant you are about having a lot of armed backup.
But Hungary borders Ukraine directly, so why not just drive them into Ukraine? Well, the Hungarian entity selling the tanks is their Ministry of Defense. The Czech buyer, however, is a private company.
So as long as the Czechs keep in compliance with relevant treaty obligations and the like, the sale is legal, and the Hungarian government can be completely honest when they say they’re not providing arms to the Ukrainian military.
Secondly, the Croatian Ministry of Defense has announced that this is the perfect time to upgrade its helicopters to something more in keeping with the country’s position as a member of a US-led alliance. They’re getting rid of 14 old Mil Mi-8 transport choppers and will replace them with 20 new UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the US.
What about the old, non-NATO helicopters? Well, as it turns out, there’s a country to Croatia’s east — that starts with “U-K-R” and rhymes with “insane” — on the lookout for ready-to-use Soviet-compatible equipment.
Finally, NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently told the Guardian that the alliance may put some sort of bases in Eastern European nations that share a border with Russia. There’s some division on this within NATO.
Some longtime NATO members, like Spain and Italy, are opposed to new bases, but folks in the East are clamoring for a stronger, permanent NATO presence, and Germany is sitting on the fence.
It appears that the closer you have to live to Russia, the more adamant you are about having a lot of armed backup.
To split the difference (and to limit how big a deal Russia can make out of this) NATO won’t be setting up large permanent bases. Rather, the idea is that there are facilities, with some troops stationed there for as “long as necessary” and other NATO forces rotated through.
The idea of higher rotation is that it acquaints all the other militaries with the environment and gives them practice deploying to the base without being stationed there permanently.
Hopefully, this means that in the event of a real crisis, all of NATO would know how to find their way to the east, would be familiar with all the local rental car places, hotels, and restaurants, and could just hop on over and go fight the heck out of a war with Russia in a jiffy.
But even if NATO wanted a more visible and formidable presence in the East, it may simply not have enough strength to do it convincingly. As Rasmussen told the Guardian:
“Since the end of the cold war we have lived in relatively good weather. Now we are faced with a profound climate change. That requires more investment. Politicians have tried to harvest the peace dividend after the end of the cold war. That’s understandable. But now we are in a completely new security situation.”
Whether or not having the ability to conjure a large military deterrent is the same as actually having the deterrent in place is an interesting question. How much of deterring an opponent is just the basic psychological fact of having a big ole military force on the ground, versus having a big ole military force on speed dial?
It might not pack quite as much punch; consider the difference between seeing a cop right in front of you versus knowing they’re a phone call away. How will Russia, NATO, and Eastern Europe view a 24-hour armed guard differently than an armed first responder? It’s hard to tell, but Ukrainians might have some thoughts on the matter.
Nato has accused Russia of a “blatant violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty, saying it is engaged in direct military operations to support rebels.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that “despite hollow denials”, it was now clear that Russia had illegally crossed Ukraine’s border.
He said Nato would respect any Ukrainian decision on security, after its PM said he was putting the country on course for Nato membership.
Russia denies sending troops and arms.
President Vladimir Putin blamed the Ukrainian government for the crisis, comparing its siege of two cities held by separatists, Donetsk and Luhansk, to the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis in World War Two.
“It is necessary to make the Ukrainian authorities start substantial talks [with the rebels],” he said.
Nearly 2,600 people have been killed since April, the UN says, when Russia’s annexation of Crimea prompted the rebels to take control of large parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the far east of Ukraine.
Earlier, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said the government was re-opening the question of Nato membership.
He said it was sending a bill to parliament calling for Ukraine’s non-aligned status to be cancelled, in effect paving the way for Ukraine to join Nato.
Mr Rasmussen indicated Nato was open to considering Ukraine’s application if it met the conditions.
WASHINGTON — The Russian military has moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory in recent days and is using them to fire at Ukrainian forces, NATO officials said on Friday.
The West has long accused Russia of supporting the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, but this is the first time it has said it had evidence of the direct involvement of the Russian military.
The Russian move represents a significant escalation of the Kremlin’s involvement in the fighting there and comes as a convoy of Russian trucks with humanitarian provisions has crossed into Ukrainian territory without Kiev’s permission.
Since mid-August NATO has received multiple reports of the direct involvement of Russian forces, “including Russian airborne, air defense and special operations forces in Eastern Ukraine,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO.
“Russian artillery support — both cross-border and from within Ukraine — is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces,” she added.
NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, criticized the Russian moves in a statement issued in Brussels on Friday.
“I condemn the entry of a Russian so-called humanitarian convoy into Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian authorities and without any involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Mr. Rasmussen’s statement said.
“These developments are even more worrying as they coincide with a major escalation in Russian military involvement in Eastern Ukraine since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces,” the statement continued, adding:
“We have also seen transfers of large quantities of advanced weapons, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery to separatist groups in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, NATO is observing an alarming buildup of Russian ground and air forces in the vicinity of Ukraine.”