BY ZEYNEP GURCANLI
The Ukraine crisis has begun to evolve form a West-Russia tension into a NATO-Russia conflict.
The US administration announced that it has allocated an emergency response force of 8,500 soldiers for NATO to use in the Ukraine crisis This situation created the perception that direct NATO intervention is on the agenda. This perception is only enforced by the fact that Western countries sent bilateral weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.
The simple answer to this question is “no.” Ukraine is not a NATO member. Therefore, the article that says NATO can directly intervene in the event of an attack on one of its members does not apply to Ukraine.
A UN Security Council resolution is required to intervene in crises in regions that are outside of NATO’s borders. Since it is impossible for the US and its Western allies to force such a decision from the Security Council, of which Russia and China are permanent members, it is not possible for NATO to send troops directly to Ukraine given the current situation.
However, the NATO council may deploy its Emergency Response Force to Ukraine on the grounds that the crisis may spread to NATO member countries like Romania or Poland, both of which are neighbors of Ukraine. The allocation of 8,500 soldiers by the Americans was done within this framework.
NATO DECISION NEEDED
Just because the United States has allocated troops to the NATO emergency response force does not mean it is possible for other NATO members to do the same.
Decisions in NATO are made unanimously. In other words, the NATO council must first make a decision in order for the NATO Rapid Response Force to be sent to the countries neighboring Ukraine. Moreover, even if member states approve the use of NATO’s emergency response force n the Ukraine crisis, this “yes” does not mean that countries will automatically send troops. Each NATO member country will evaluate the crisis in terms of their national interests – their relationship with Russia – as well as their economic and will make their decision accordingly.
The most important issue that will help Turkey here is that the command of the Rapid Response Force was transferred to France at the end of December. The pressure on Ankara would have been greater if the Biden administration had wanted to involve NATO militarily when the US was commanding the Turkish Rapid Response Force last year.
As a matter of fact, the fact that President Erdogan was not included in the video conference that President Biden held with his European counterparts last week to discuss these issues is an indication that the Washington administration does not intend to go through Turkey in this crisis.
WHAT MIGHT BE RUSSIA’S MILITARY PLAN?
On the other hand, Russia has potential political and military plans.
According to retired general Ali Er, who served in NATO for many years, Russia’s amassing of troops on its border with Ukraine is no small matter. He does not think that Moscow is bluffing, due to the nature of the buildup. He summarized the situation as follows:
Russia did not place ordinary military units on the border with Ukraine. They placed over a hundred thousand soldiers consisting of elite tank battalion task forces.
The Moscow administration says that this force is in the region for the purpose of exercise, but military exercises are is carried out with the troops already in the region or nearby. However, Russia brought the power that it had accumulated on the Ukrainian border from the east and inner regions of the country.
The Russian administration has also placed military aircraft and air defense systems in Ukraine’s northern neighbor,
Belarus. Per this military plan, this means opening a second front. This is a move that will force Ukraine to divide its military forces both to the east and to the north, and to divide the front into two.
If the Donbass region comes under control of Russia, just like in the Crimea, the Moscow administration will have seized the Ukrainian shores of the Sea of Azov and will have gained full dominance of the sea.
This will give Russia strategic dominance in the northern part of the Black Sea.
WHAT WILL TURKEY DO?
While Russian leader Vladimir Putin has caught the Western alliance at its most disorganized, it doesn’t look like he will leave this critical win unfinished.
It’s obvious that the crisis concerns Turkey. As a NATO member with a Black Sea coast, it is not difficult to predict that serious pressure will be exerted on Ankara by the United States. The first pressure put on Turkey will likely to be active in the NATO rapid response force.
However, even if Ankara repels this first salvo, a second and much stronger pressure will likely arise via the Straits/Montreaux. This is inevitable in a NATO -Russia conflict. According to the treaty of Montreaux, all authority regarding which ships can pass through the Straits in case of war falls to Turkey. The US will want Turkey to use this authority in favor of the Western Alliance.
The US has already started to take its first steps towards this by sending many ships, including aircraft carriers, to the region in February in the name of naval exercises in the Mediterranean.
And unfortunately, the AK Party government, which fails even in the fight against snow, does not seem to grasp where it is going.
If they had grasped the seriousness of the matter, or taken seriously the admirals who warned against Montreux, would they continue to insist on Kanal Istanbul, which would open Montreux for debate?