Meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels 1 April 2014: Enhanced support for Ukraine and further expansion still on the table

By Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch

Setting the scene
In his doorstep statement before the Ministerial, Secretary General Rasmussen made three clear statements: 
  1. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine fundamentally changes Europe’s security landscape and causes instability right on NATO’s borders;
  2. NATO’s collective defence starts with deterrence - no threat against NATO Allies will succeed; and
  3. Political and practical measures will be agreed to support the NATO-Ukraine partnership.
Jonathan Marcus from the BBC asked if the reported small troop withdrawals by the Russians from near the Ukrainian border might be the start of a significant Russian pullback. Mr Rasmussen said that he couldn’t confirm that Russia was withdrawing its troops but he urged them to do so.
A reporter from Norwegian Broadcasting asked if NATO should permanently allocate more soldiers on the ground in the Baltics. Mr Rasmussen said that all options to enhance collective defence, including appropriate deployments, are being considered.
A journalist from the Wall Street Journal asked what realistically NATO could do short of military action. Mr Rasmussen said that he didn’t think anybody would like to see a military confrontation in Europe and that the right way forward was politically and diplomatically. However, NATO was determined to provide effective defence and protection of all Allies, if necessary.
A reporter from German TV asked, what was the minimum NATO might do to show solidarity with East European Member States?  Mr Rasmussen said that it depended on the evolving situation. Air policing has been enhanced in the three Baltic States. AWACs aircraft have been deployed to improve surveillance of Poland and Romania. There is an increased naval presence in the Black Sea. “And we will not hesitate to take further steps if needed to ensure effective deterrence and defence”.
Noureddine Fridhi with Al-Arabiya asked if NATO would accept the Russian annexation of Crimea. Mr Rasmussen said that NATO's relationship with Russia was under active review. He warned against any further incursions by Russia into Ukraine.
Putting down a marker
Following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the Foreign Ministers released a statement of condemnation of Russia’s illegal military intervention in Ukraine and Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It included a commitment to intensify NATO’s ‘Distinctive Partnership’ cooperation in order to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to provide for its own security. Measures aimed at deepening cooperation with other NATO partners in Eastern Europe were also agreed. All practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia has been suspended, but political dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council will continue at the Ambassadorial level and above to allow an exchange of views on the crisis.
Finally ministers agreed to “continue to provide appropriate reinforcement and visible assurance of NATO’s cohesion and commitment to deterrence and collective defence against any threat of aggression to the Alliance”.
Celebrating enlargement
Later that afternoon, the Foreign Ministers released another NAC statement “celebrating the enlargement anniversaries”, namely the: 
  • fifteenth anniversary of the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland;
  • tenth anniversary of the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia; and
  • fifth anniversary of the accession of Albania and Croatia.
Ministers added that by “their accession and contributions, NATO has become stronger and more inclusive”, that “the Open Door policy under Article 10 of the Washington Treaty is one of the Alliance’s great successes” and that “the Alliance’s door remains open to new members in the future”.
Unity statement
Not long afterwards, the Foreign Ministers released a unity statement by the NATO-Ukraine Commission similar to the earlier statement of condemnation of Russia’s actions in annexing Crimea. They called on Russia to reverse its actions and de-escalate the crisis and supported the deployment of an OSCE monitoring mission to Ukraine. Additionally:
NATO and Ukraine will intensify cooperation and promote defence reforms through capacity building and capability development programmes. NATO Allies will also reinforce the NATO Liaison Office in Kyiv with additional experts. … We welcome Ukraine’s signature of the political chapters of the Association Agreement with the European Union on 21 March.
That evening, the Secretary General opened his press conference by repeating what had been achieved by the day’s meetings and with the stark warning that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is the gravest threat to European security in a generation”, adding:
Today, we directed our military commanders to develop additional measures to enhance our collective defence and deterrence against any threat of aggression to the Alliance. We will make sure we have updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments.
Mr Rasmussen said that the Summit in Wales (in September) had become even more important, stating that NATO’ core missions will continue to be supported while partnerships through defence capacity building will be enhanced.
There follows an edited Q&A session.
Q1. Ivana Sumar, News Agency Interfax Ukraine: Ministers said that they agreed on concrete measures to help Ukraine to enhance the ability to conduct its own security. What kind of concrete measures?
A1. Secretary General: We are speaking about supporting transformation of Ukrainian Armed Forces into modern and effective organizations able to provide a credible deterrence and defence against military threats. We will enhance the ability of Ukrainian Armed Forces to work and operate together with armed forces from NATO Allies. We will invite Ukraine to participate in development of military capabilities. It is also possible that mobile training teams will be deployed.
Q2. Dieter Eberling from DPA German Press Agency: Will any recommendation to deploy and reinforce military assets in the Eastern parts of the Alliance require further consent and agreement of the North Atlantic Council or is that something that could just go ahead since there has been some decision today? How confident are you that all member States would back the deployment of military assets in Eastern countries?
A2. Secretary General: I feel confident that NATO Allies are ready to take the necessary steps to make sure that we can provide effective defence and protection of all Allies against any threat. Pending the outcome of the military advice, it will be subject to political discussions and political decisions.
Q3. Radio Free Europe: Does your statement about deepening cooperation with other NATO partners in Eastern Europe refer to Moldova, Azerbaijan and Armenia?  And if so, what sort of packages or measures?
A3. Secretary General: Yes, it means Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan. We have been working on enhancing our partnerships for quite some time with a view to our summit in Wales, in September.
Q4. Reuters: What exactly does this suspension of all practical cooperation with Russia mean? Does this mean the Alliance will no longer cooperate in areas such counter-narcotics in Afghanistan or the helicopter project or other areas of cooperation in Afghanistan for example?
A4. Secretary General: I would expect the counter-narcotics projects to continue. I would also expect the Afghanistan-related cooperation projects to continue, the transit arrangements as well as the helicopter project.
Q5. Teri Schultz with NPR and CBS: Could I clarify your suspension of practical cooperation will then not mean all projects, some programmes will continue?  The NAC already threatened this kind of suspension or suspended most working-level cooperation and that did nothing to sway President Putin. Doesn't it really come down to Russia knowing how far you are willing to go militarily?  What assets are you talking about possibly deploying in the frontline States?
A5. Secretary General: Yes, the NATO Council decided some weeks ago to suspend practical level of cooperation within the NATO-Russia Council. Today, we have broadened it to also covering the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace. It’s premature to make any further announcements on the military assessment in addition to what we have already done.
Q6. Jonathan Marcus, BBC: There's a lot of NATO-speak here. You talk about making the Ukraine military more effective, more able to defend itself.  Do you rule out the supply of weaponry to Ukraine? The Polish Foreign Minister said that the only NATO installation in his country was a conference centre.  Do you foresee NATO's footprint in many of these countries becoming more significant in the years to come?
A6. Secretary General: Military equipment is owned by NATO Member States. So delivery or a possible delivery of equipment is a bilateral arrangement between NATO Allies and their partners. I think you will see more exercises in the future in countries where we haven’t conducted exercises before, including new Member States.
Reaffirming transatlantic relations
Later that evening, US Secretary of State Kerry gave his own press conference, the full transcript of which was made available in the State Department website. He said that this was:
An important time for NATO allies to come together and to reaffirm our commitment to each other, to the transatlantic treaty and transatlantic security, and especially to our common values. As we mark the 65th anniversary of the strongest alliance on earth, we are all facing a new challenge, a critical moment, a new reality on the Euro-Atlantic landscape at a time when some of the basic principles underlying the international system have been violated and, frankly, our alliance has been put to the test.
Mr Kerry referred to the Secretary General’s comment that the events in Ukraine were a wake-up call – a reminder that NATO’s constant vigilance was necessary, adding that “I made clear that many members of the alliance now need to step up defence spending”. He said that successive expansions had strengthened NATO by opening doors for millions of people who are now able to experience greater opportunity, a greater prosperity, and greater security through their membership.
There follows a highly edited Q&A session (most of this was about Israel and Palestine and thus not relevant to the Ministerial).
Q1. Margaret Brennan, CBS News: NATO says there are no signs of a Russian pullback. What is it going to take for this body to have a greater show of force? Because there do seem some members wary of antagonizing Russia.
A1. Secretary of State: It is important for everybody in the world to understand that the NATO alliance takes seriously this attempt to change borders by use of force. People here today made a commitment to be able to strengthen visibly, as a matter of deterrence.