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Stoltenberg’s Call to Untie Ukraine's Hands to Strike Russia Shows NATO is Desperate

© AFP 2023 / ANDRII NESTERENKONATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (C) addresses Ukrainian lawmakers at the parliament during his visit to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion in Kyiv on April 29, 2024.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (C) addresses Ukrainian lawmakers at the parliament during his visit to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion in Kyiv on April 29, 2024.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.05.2024
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has joined forces with US officials calling on President Biden to lift formal restrictions on Ukraine to attack areas deep inside Russia using American weapons. Sputnik asked Michael Maloof, a former senior security policy analyst at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where this dangerous road may lead.
Speaking with The Economist on Friday, NATO’s secretary general said the time had come for allies to untie the Ukrainian military’s hands and formally allow Kiev to use its Western-sourced long-range strike systems to target Russian rear areas.
“Especially now when a lot of fighting is going on in Kharkov, close to the border, to deny Ukraine the possibility of using these weapons against legitimate military targets on Russian territory makes it very hard for them to defend themselves,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief acknowledged that such a step would increase the risk of a spiraling escalation, but said this should be possible to avoid, since the alliance “will not be directly involved from NATO territory in combat operations over or in Ukraine.”
“We don’t have any intention to send NATO ground troops into Ukraine because our purpose…has been two-fold, to support Ukraine as we do, but also to ensure that we don’t escalate this into a full-scale conflict,” Stoltenberg assured.
But escalation may be exactly what the Western bloc gets, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying Saturday that Stoltenberg’s remarks were “useful” for anyone invited to the upcoming “supposed ‘peace conference’ in Switzerland” in mid-June, signaling the utter insincerity of Western peacemaking efforts.
Russian officials have responded to similar proposals by Western officials on freeing Kiev’s hands to attack Russia by warning that Moscow would have no choice but to “take tough and swift measures” in response.
In Washington, Secretary of State Blinken has publicly stepped back from calls by Congressional hawks to greenlight long-range attacks into Russia. Privately, however, he has reportedly lobbied President Biden to lift the symbolic restrictions after traveling to Kiev and being briefed on the increasingly desperate situation at the front for the US proxy.
“I think Stoltenberg’s comments are a sign of desperation on NATO’s part,” veteran former Pentagon analyst-turned independent foreign and defense policy observer Michael Maloof told Sputnik.
“Stoltenberg is now conceding – without saying so, that the NATO mission has failed. NATO doesn’t have the ability to maintain a consistent level of armaments for Ukraine. As a result, this effort now to escalate even further using the more offensive weapons…is only going to expand the war,” Maloof warned.
NATO’s growing desperation obviously echoes the desperate straits the Ukrainian military has found itself in, the observer noted.
“They have very limited manpower. They have very limited arms. And the fact that the Russians are coming on multiple fronts at the same time is affecting Ukraine’s ability to respond because they have such limited forces,” Maloof said.
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Maloof fears Stoltenberg’s rhetoric – and that of his counterparts in Europe and the United States, could create dangerous conditions “where the distinctions between what is NATO and what isn’t become blurred,” particularly as a number of European allies have threatened to send ground troops directly into the conflict, thus obviating the NATO Treaty’s article on collective defense.
“If they get attacked, there could not be a NATO response under the current rules, and then those countries will find themselves in a direct confrontation with Russia – especially if they send in the troops. I’m sure Russia will target those troops in Ukraine. If missiles are shot, or aircraft are launched from NATO countries to assist Ukraine, that will definitely expand the war,” the ex-Pentagon analyst stressed.
Maloof is astonished by the shortsighted thinking of some European leaders with regard to the Ukrainian crisis, pointing out that Europe’s economic future and even survival may be at stake, given that “they’re much closer to the conflict than the United States.” That means “they’re the ones who are going to get the brunt of any backwash from assisting the Ukrainians.”
Citing the example Washington’s insistence that the Europeans cut their dependence on Russian energy resources, Maloof recalled that that policy resulted in American LNG flooding into Europe, and being sold at prices far higher than Russian pipeline gas. This created “resentment” among European countries, and that isn’t at all surprising, given Washington’s tendency to “backstab” its own “friends,” he noted.
Even if the Europeans don’t go further into the Ukrainian conflict, the observer believes it may take a generation or longer for European economies to recover. “If they go to war, it’s going to be even more devastating, and it could bust up Europe, the EU [and] NATO,” Maloof said. “This could mean the beginning of the end of NATO. [The Europeans] are talking much more loudly now of an independent European defense alliance,” the observer stressed.
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In the United States too, there is has been “groundswell” among ordinary Americans saying they’re “sick and tired of fighting foreign wars,” Maloof said, listing off an array of domestic problems, from infrastructure to energy costs, inflation and the situation at the US southern border, which have been ignored amid Washington’s adventurism abroad.
Ultimately, Maloof hopes that Biden, “even…in his demented state,” will nonetheless recognize that “an enlargement of the war” via the approval of Ukrainian attacks into Russia “would be catastrophic.”
In any event, Ukraine doesn’t have enough of the long-range weapons Stoltenberg and others want to unleash on Russia to harm Moscow in any sustained basis, the observer says.
“It will be more of an ‘insurgency’ type of activity, and I think it will only manage to create greater hostility, primarily toward Ukraine,” Maloof noted – adding that Russia will likely prioritize the destruction of these systems as quickly as possible.
“I think the response will be to really pour in on Ukraine [on the Russians’ part, ed.] and for Russia to acquire the territories where you have the predominant Russian-speaking populations. And I understand that even includes Kiev,” Maloof concluded.
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