The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has for the first time activated a military response force designed to boost the defenses of frontline nations in eastern Europe that feel vulnerable after Russia’s military assault on Ukraine.
Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander and the top U.S. military officer in Europe, decided to activate the multinational force consisting of land, air, sea and special operations troops to deter Russia from further aggression.
“This is an historic moment,” Wolters said in a statement. “These deterrence measures are prudent and enhance our speed, responsiveness and capability to shield and protect the one billion citizens we swore to protect.”
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NATO’s first activation in Europe of thousands of troops represents an escalation of a volatile and unprecedented ground war. Recent months have seen the U.S. and European allies increase air-policing operations over allied nations, as well as moving troops, navy ships, and heavy weaponry eastwards on the continent. This is close to where the Russian military operates.
Ukraine is not an NATO member. However, it borders four other countries that include Poland, Slovakia Hungary and Romania. The U.S. and other NATO allies have pledged to protect their eastern and central European members under the alliance’s defining Article 5 mutual defense commitments.
Although President Joe Biden insists that U.S. forces will not engage in combat in Ukraine during his tenure, he has increased the defenses of surrounding countries with approximately 14,000 troop movements eastward in Europe over the course of three weeks. The pro-Western government has received $650 million in additional military assistance from Washington.
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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Friday that he has received promises to Ukraine to help with additional equipment. This was after leaders of the 30 member alliance met virtually. “We see rhetoric, the messages, which is strongly indicating that [Russia’s] aim is to remove the democratically-elected government in Kyiv,” he told reporters.
According to a U.S. Defense official, the Russian military advances on Kyiv are slowing down than intelligence had predicted. However, Ukrainian forces have resisted.
“The Russians have lost a little bit of their momentum,” the official said. “They are not advancing as far or as fast as we believe they expected they would. This is reflected in the fact that no populations centers have been captured. We also assess that Russia has yet to achieve air superiority over Ukraine.”
Although there were fears the Ukrainian army would collapse under the increasing combat power Russia is continuing to flood into Ukraine, the command and control of the Ukrainians remains in place. Air missile defense systems are still working even though installations were destroyed by Russia’s opening salvos, and Ukrainian fighter jets continue to engage Russian warplanes, the U.S. official said.
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Russia has yet to commit most of its forces to the assault, the official cautioned, with only about a third of the more than 150,000 troops amassed on Ukraine’s borders moving in so far. Russia launched an amphibious offensive Friday against Mariupol (a port city located on the Sea of Azov). “Indications are right now that they are putting potentially thousands of naval infantry ashore there,” the official said.
Explosions continue to rock several Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, in what the Pentagon believes is the first phase of a Russian “decapitation” strategy aimed at toppling the President Volodymir Zelensky’s government. The Pentagon stated that more than 200 missiles had destroyed military bases, weapons depots, and other targets.
Amnesty International said Friday that Russia’s invasion has been marked by indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas and strikes on protected targets such as hospitals. Amnesty International released a report detailing three instances that killed or injured six civilians. “The Russian military has shown a blatant disregard for civilian lives by using ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, the nonprofit’s secretary general.
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Zelensky reported Thursday night that at least 137 Ukrainians died and over 300 were injured in the initial day of the invasion. A recording by Ukrayinska Pravda of an audio recorded on Thursday shows that thirteen border officers were shot and killed at Snake Island. This is a tiny island in the Black Sea close to Romania. Russia’s navy is heard imploring the unit to give up over radio communications. “Lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths,” a Russian officer said. “Otherwise, you will be bombed.”
The reply from the Ukraine’s border guards was simple: “Go f–k yourself.” Moments later, they were all killed.