NATO summit ends pledging support to Ukraine and Afghanistan

The 2008 promise to Ukraine regarding NATO membership remains as distant as ever with some in the US-led military alliance and the European Union seeking a softer stance towards Russia.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Leaders of NATO countries meet at a summit in Warsaw, Poland.

Ukraine won promises of continued support at a NATO summit on Saturday but the prospect of Kiev's eventual membership of the military alliance seemed off the cards with the West seeking a tentative rapprochement with Russia.

NATO agreed during the two-day Warsaw summit to boost its eastern flank in response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Moscow's subsequent backing for rebels fighting Kiev troops in east Ukraine.

Some in NATO and the European Union are pushing for a softer stance toward Moscow as they grow impatient with what they see as sluggish progress in modernising the economy and fighting corruption in Ukraine.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia must stop its "political, military and financial support for separatists" in east Ukraine.

"We do not and we will not recognise Russia's illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and we condemn Russia's deliberate destabilisation of eastern Ukraine," he said.

The NATO chief restated the alliance's political support for Ukraine and its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He said NATO would help Kiev tackle risks from improvised explosive devices on top of other assistance aimed at improving Ukraine's military capabilities that had been agreed before.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and Ukrainian pilot and MP Nadiya Savchenko (C) attend a working session at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland July 9, 2016.

"These decisions demonstrate that NATO stands firmly for Ukraine," Poroshenko told the presser.

"Now we have to make the necessary reforms...They will bring us closer to the criteria and then the people of Ukraine will decide what we'll do further," he said of the prospect of Ukraine's eventual NATO membership. 

Kiev had been promised membership of the US-led military alliance in 2008 but is now off the table.

Peace and reforms

For all the friendly rhetoric, Kiev has come under increased pressure from the West in recent weeks to devolve power and hold local elections in the east Ukraine, where a truce is patchy.

The broader peace plan for the eastern Donbass region, negotiated in Minsk between Ukraine and Russia by Germany and France, has stalled for months. Paris and Berlin have now renewed efforts to implement it in full.

Photo shows pro-Russia fighters in Donbass.

That means Kiev should also grant Donbass a special legal status and decentralise the country through a constitutional reform.

Moscow is obliged to help Kiev regain control of Ukraine's eastern border, and both sides must withdraw heavy arms to ensure an effective ceasefire in east Ukraine.

The leaders of the United States, Germany, France and Italy met Poroshenko separately on the sidelines of the summit to express support for Ukraine, a White House official said.

"The leaders agreed that Ukraine has made considerable progress on political, economic, and anti-corruption reforms, but that more work must be done," the official added.

Poroshenko and French President Francois Hollande both said the six leaders worked on a 'roadmap' of security steps needed in Donbass to permit elections there in the coming months.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel addresses delegates during the annual federal congress of the SPD in Berlin on December 11, 2015.

In Germany, the head of Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner said the West should return to the negotiating table with Russia.

He added that he had "strong doubt" whether increasing NATO's military presence in eastern Europe would help that.

"I'm not in favor of us constantly escalating the relationship with Russia," Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democratic Party, said in Nuremberg.

In another sign of a cautious thaw with Moscow, NATO and Russian envoys to Brussels will meet for the second time since Crimea on Wednesday, including to discuss Ukraine.

Ukraine's deputy premier said NATO would benefit from Kiev's experience of fighting "a hybrid war" against Russia on its soil, which she said included the deployment of troops with no insignia and a massive disinformation campaign.

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze defended Kiev's record on reforms and vented frustration with the criticism from the West.

"Lack of prospective NATO membership for Ukraine has a negative impact on the security environment in the region," she said.

"The West needs to make a very strategic, long-term choice and not look for any excuses today to turn away from Ukraine."

Despite fatigue, NATO commits to fund Afghan forces to 2020

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, next to Afghanistan's Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, right, at the NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 9, 2016.

NATO allies also agreed to help fund Afghan security forces to the tune of around $1 billion annually over the next three years, despite public fatigue in Western countries about their involvement in the long-running conflict.

After 9/11 the United States invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban rulers, for harbouring Al Qaeda terrorists behind the attacks. 

Ever since the West remains entangled in a costly effort to stabilise a country facing resurgent rebels.

US President Barack Obama said completely withdrawing from Afghanistan risked seeing the country collapse and then having to send American troops back in again to deal with a new threat.

"We have an option of ... pulling out and potentially then seeing a country crumble under the strains of continued terrorist activity or insurgencies," Obama told a news conference at the end of the summit.

United States President Barack Obama gestures during a press conference ending the second day of the NATO Summit, in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 9, 2016. 

He defended his decision, along with other NATO allies, to reverse plans to sharply reduce troops levels, saying Afghan forces still needed training, funding and support.

"The Afghans are fighting. They are much more capable now than they were when I came into office, but they still need support because it is a really tough territory and it is a really poor country," Obama said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had won almost $3 billion in commitments from allies to help the United States pay for the Afghan military until 2020, which now has ground forces but still needs to develop an air force.

A senior US official said, on condition of anonymity, that the allies had made pledges that put them at more than 90 percent of the funding levels agreed to at a 2012 NATO summit in Chicago.

The United States has been keen to secure the target of one billion dollars annually from other countries to support more than 350,000 Afghan security forces as it draws down its own military presence in the country.

The Pentagon has budgeted $3.45 billion in annual US funds to pay for the Afghan forces, with the Kabul government providing an additional sum of around $420 million, for a total yearly budget of nearly $5 billion.

For the United States, the stakes are high as it seeks to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for groups hostile to the West, including Al Qaeda and DAESH.

"We know there are al Qaeda and DAESH components in Afghanistan and if we fail there, we know that it'll be a safe haven for those," US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the top NATO commander, told reporters on the summit's sidelines.

The other main decisions taken by NATO leaders during the US-led alliance's biennial meeting held in Warsaw on July 8-9 are:   

An agreement to deploy military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland from January 2017 to deter Russia, a response to Moscow's 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

The four battalions totaling between 3,000 and 4,000 troops will be led by Britain in Estonia, the United States in Poland, Canada in Latvia and Germany in Lithuania.

The alliance also took command of a US-built missile shield in Europe to defend against ballistic missiles from Iran.

NATO leaders agreed to provide support for the European Union's military mission off the Libyan coast to crack down on smugglers.

The US-led alliance may provide vessels, surveillance aircraft and radars to help uphold a UN arms embargo, although details are still being worked out.

NATO and the European Union signed a cooperation pact aimed at overcoming years of mutual suspicion to work together in areas ranging from maritime patrols to preventing possible Russian cyber attacks.

Britain's outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron said he would hold a parliamentary vote on July 18 to decide on the renewal of Britain's nuclear deterrent.

NATO reaffirmed its commitment to a mixture of conventional and nuclear forces, indirectly warning Russia that the alliance's capabilities were far greater than those of any adversary.

TRTWorld, Reuters