If there is was one way to assure a certain escalation in Ukraine hostilities beyond what has already happened, it is for NATO to do precisely what Russia warned it should not do: build up its presence in the surrounding countries. Which is why we find it somewhat puzzling that NATO announced it would do just this when as the Guardian reported, the military alliance said it would step up its presence around Russian borders to "reassure eastern European member states."
The reinforcements on Nato's eastern flank will take the form of more air patrols over the Baltic states, greater numbers of warships in both the Baltic and eastern Mediterranean, and more troops deployed in eastern Europe.
The Nato buildup will also involve the redeployment of warships, some of them now participating in counter-piracy operations off Somalia, to the Baltic and the Mediterranean. A Nato official said the details of the naval measures were still being discussed.
The Nato commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, said several Nato member states had offered ground troops for deployment in eastern European member states and that he would be soon making recommendations on how they should be positioned. Breedlove said that the situation represented more than a crisis, adding: "For Nato, it's bigger than that. It's a paradigm shift."
It goes without saying that to Russia this will be seen as a hostile move on behalf of the western countries, which is why Breedlove said "he had attempted to call the Russian chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, to explain that the deployments were entirely defensive but had not been able to reach him."
Did he at least leave a voicemail explaining why the piling up of new troops is not to be seen as an offensive meneuver?
Furthermore, that this is happening today is no accident: tomorrow is the official start of international talks on the Ukrainian crisis in Geneva, and the NATO action is a way to increase pressure on Moscow. However, as has been seen repeatedly in the past month, the Kremlin does not handly increased pressure easily and instead, usually finds a way to re-escalate on its own.
What is the thinking behind what can only be classified as a short-sighted move? "A spokesperson for the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said his primary goal was to persuade Moscow to halt its destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine, and call publicly for separatist groups to disarm and stand down."
And just in case NATO's open action is not clear, "EU officials in Brussels said the list of Russians subject to visa bans and asset freezes would be expanded by the end of the week. The US state department also signalled it would co-ordinate a further tightening of sanctions with its European partners, but not before the Geneva talks."
"Don't expect any before tomorrow's meetings," Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson at the state department, said. "But if there are not steps taken by Russia to de-escalate, we will take additional steps, including additional sanctions."
The negotiations will bring together Kerry, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, the Ukrainian foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, and the EU's Ashton. It will mark the first time the quartet has met since the Ukrainian crisis erupted in February.
In addition to one four-way encounter, Kerry will conduct separate bilateral meetings with Lavrov, Deshchytsia and Ashton. Western officials, however, cautioned that the talks were unlikely to bring a diplomatic breakthrough.
Harf said that "top of the list" of US demands would be that Russia halt what the US alleges are destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine. The US wants Russia to publicly call on separatists exerting control in cities in eastern Ukraine to disarm and stand down.
Of course, in case Russia also misses all of this because nobody could reach the Russian chief of staff on the phone, the Netherlands announced it is looking into the deployment of F16 fighter jets as Ukraine crisis air support "to try and ease the conflict around Ukraine, defence minister Jeanine Hennis told a television talk show on Tuesday night.
While there is no question of Nato military action against Russia, ‘we want to be very visible as support to our Eastern allies’, the minister told the Pauw & Witteman show.
With orange colored F-16s it will be very difficult not to be visible:
The defence minister added: "We are looking at how we can increase our air support or sea support in, say, the Baltic or the Black Sea region,’ she said. ‘We are members of an alliance for a reason and we will take our responsibilities.'Asked specifically what form Dutch air support could take, the minister said 'it could mean sending an F16.'
Surely the expansion of NATO forces in the region will promptly force Russia to back down. In the off chance it doesn't, one wonders how NATO will respond if Russia instead adds some more tactical nukes to its arsenal along the Polish border. Puredly defensively of course. Will that, in turn, force NATO to back down? Somehow we doubt it.