On Aug. 29, the Ukrainian prime minister said he will pursue NATO membership for his nation by asking parliament to overturn a law banning foreign alliances.
Separately, the NATO secretary general said Russia is undertaking direct military operations designed to destabilize the Ukraine—and that NATO will “fully respect” any change in the Ukraine’s non-aligned status. He made the comments today after an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission held at the Ukraine’s request.
The news comes on the heels of the Aug. 28 decision by the alliance to release spy satellite imagery that shows what NATO called “substantial numbers” of Russian combat troops inside Ukrainian territory.
“The Ukrainian government is submitting a bill to parliament on the abolition of the non-aligned status of the Ukrainian state and on the resumption of Ukraine’s course towards NATO membership,” Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said in an announcement.
Ukrainian law forbids the nation from forming alliances that would economically or politically entangle the country with the Russian Federation. Overturning this law would remove any legal barriers from Ukraine joining NATO, a goal which the alliance has said it supports.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will fully respect any decision made by the Ukraine regarding its “security policy and alliance affiliations.”
During its Wales summit in early September, NATO will discuss how it can increase cooperation with the Ukraine, including funds for help with logistics, command and control, cyber-defense and medical care for wounded soldiers.
During the media conference at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Rasmussen also took the opportunity to bluntly say that Russia has seriously escalated aggression against the Ukraine.
“Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border into eastern and southeastern Ukraine,” he said. “This is not an isolated action, but part of a dangerous pattern over many months to destabilize Ukraine as a sovereign nation.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin has steadfastly denied that Russian forces are invading the Ukraine and blames the current crisis on Ukrainian agitation. Russia says the troop build-up along its border with the Ukraine is part of military exercises … and any Russian troops fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists are volunteers using leave or vacation time to join the fight.
NATO rejects Russia’s denials. “This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Rasmussen said. “It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.”
During a briefing yesterday, Brig. Gen. Nico Tak, an officer in the Dutch army and director of NATO’s Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Center, showed reporters satellite images depicting Russian self-propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then establishing firing positions in the area near Krasnodon.
“We have also detected large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defense systems, artillery, tanks and armored personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine,” Tak said. “The presence of these weapons along with substantial numbers of Russian combat troops inside Ukraine make the situation increasingly grave.”
He called the presence of Russian arms and troops a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine that has occurred within the last two weeks.
Tak said at this point NATO prefers to call Russian actions in the Ukraine “an incursion.” However, it is clear that Russia military operations aid the pro-Russian separatists, he said.
The separatists are fighting to maintain what they hope will become successful breakaway republics that create what many of them call Novorossiya, a combination of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic.
“Russia obviously is determined to retain influence in eastern Ukraine and is willing to use any means to do so,” Tak said. “It is likely that the situation will end in a stalemate at least. The foothold that has been created will be expanded and will be secured so the separatists will not suffer a defeat and Russian influence continues to be in place in the eastern Ukraine.”
At top—French mercenaries on the side of pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk. AP photo/Mstislav Chernov