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NATO leaders tackle Ukraine crisis at summit

Leon Neal, POOL, AFP | British Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured left) meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on September 3

US President Barack Obama is meeting with other NATO leaders in Wales Thursday for a summit on the Ukraine crisis, during which the alliance is expected to significantly re-evaluate its strategy on Russia for the first time since the Cold War.

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NATO will likely seek to shore up its eastern defences and build support for Ukraine at the summit, which is to be held at the Celtic Manor resort in south Wales.

Leaders will also discuss how to tackle the organisation that calls itself the Islamic State (previously known as ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq which has emerged as a new threat on the alliance's southern flank.

As more than a decade of NATO-led combat operations in Afghanistan draws to a close at the year’s end, the 28-nation, US-led military alliance is in part shifting its attention to the core task of defending its territory.

NATO leaders will also meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the sidelines of the summit to discuss deeper economic sanctions on Russia.

Eastern European NATO members, including Poland, have appealed to the military alliance to permanently station thousands of troops on its territory to deter any possible Russian offensive.

But members have spurned that idea, partly because of the expense and partly because they do not want to break a 1997 agreement with Russia under which NATO committed to not permanently station significant combat forces in the east.

Officials also said that the alliance itself will not supply the weapons that Ukraine is looking for, but stated that individual allies could do so if they wished.

The alliance's leaders will agree, however, to pre-position equipment and supplies, such as fuel and ammunition, in eastern European countries with bases ready to receive the recently announced NATO “spearhead” rapid reaction force if needed.

NATO has said it has no plans to intervene militarily in Ukraine, which is not a member.

Instead, it has concentrated on beefing up the defences of eastern European countries that have joined the alliance in the past 15 years. Baltic countries fear that Russia could use the same rationale it applied in Ukraine’s Crimea region - defending Russian speakers - to interfere in their affairs, or worse.

‘Russia has ripped up the rulebook’

In an opinion piece for The Times in Britain on Thursday, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote that, “We meet at a time when the world faces many dangerous and evolving challenges. To the east, Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state.

“To the South, there is an arc of instability that spreads from North Africa and the Sahel, to the Middle East.”

The two leaders said that people who wanted to take an isolationist approach to such threats “misunderstand the nature of security in the 21st century”.

“Developments in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria, threaten our security at home,” they wrote.

They are expected to approve a package of support, setting up trust funds expected to be worth around 12 million euros ($15.8 million) to improve Ukrainian military capabilities in areas such as logistics, command and control and cyber defence.

As part of a stepped-up programme of war games, a dozen countries will take part in an exercise in Lviv, Ukraine, later this month, co-hosted by Ukraine and the US Army.

Ties with Russia

NATO leaders will also discuss the alliance’s relationship with Russia, which officials say has been fundamentally changed by the Ukraine crisis.

“Russia has basically violated very fundamental agreements on the basis of which we have constructed peace and security in Europe for the last two decades. So we have to now figure out what kind of relationship we can have with Russia,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

NATO has already suspended cooperation with Moscow following its annexation of Crimea.

France, which has faced fierce pressure from Washington and other NATO allies to halt the sale of two helicopter carriers to Russia, said on Wednesday it would suspend delivery of the first of the warships because of Moscow’s actions in eastern Ukraine.

Obama stopped off in Estonia on his way to the summit in a symbolic show of support for the former Soviet republic, now a NATO member.

What NATO leaders will agree to do to help Iraq combat Islamic State is less clear.

The alliance as a whole is highly unlikely to follow the US lead in staging military strikes on Islamic State, NATO diplomats say, although some individual allies could choose to do so.

Leaders will study whether NATO could play a role in helping coordinate aid being given by individual allies in supplying humanitarian aid or military equipment, a British government source said.

They could also look at cooperating more on intelligence and surveillance about Islamic State’s activities, the source said.

NATO could also revive a previous mission to help train the Iraqi armed forces that it halted in 2011, diplomats say.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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