TIME europe

U.S. Envoy Blasts Kremlin Ahead of NATO Meeting

BELGIUM-NATO-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-AFGHANISTAN
US Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute gives a press conference on Dec. 1, 2014, at the organization's headquarters in Brussels. John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The war of words between the Western military alliance and Moscow heated up ahead of a NATO gathering in Brussels on Tuesday

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute accused the Russian military on Monday of engaging in irresponsible aerial maneuvers that put civilian aircraft in unnecessary danger.

The envoy’s remarks follow the alliance’s public announcement in late October that accused the Russian military of conducting an unprecedented number of unannounced aerial forays into Europe’s skies. NATO says it has scrambled its own aircraft over 400 times in response to Russian incursions this year — a more than 50% increase than the total number during 2013.

“These Russian actions are irresponsible, pose a threat to civilian aviation and demonstrate that Russia is flagrantly violating international norms,” said Lute during a press conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

NATO says Russian forces have repeatedly refused to submit flight plans to civilian air traffic control stations when flying exercises and, in multiple instances, have flown with their transponders turned off.

The Kremlin’s alleged indifference toward civilian aviation procedures is seen as particularly concerning to NATO members following Washington’s insistence that a Russian-supplied weapons system was responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in southeastern Ukraine this summer. Russia vehemently denies responsibility.

As relations between Moscow and the alliance continue to sour, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg boasted on Monday of the organization’s increased presence in Eastern Europe.

This year has been one of “aggression, crisis and conflict. But NATO stands strong,” said Stoltenberg during a press conference. “Russia’s aggressive actions have undermined Euro-Atlantic security.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin unleashed its own criticisms of NATO and panned the alliance for destabilizing northern Europe and the Baltics.

“They are trying to shake up the most stable region in the world, which is Europe’s north,” Alexei Meshkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told his nation’s Interfax news agency. “Those endless military exercises, rebasing of aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the Baltic nations. This is the reality, a very negative one.”

NATO has been steadily increasing its defensive capabilities in Eastern Europe following Russia’s forceful annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March. In September, the alliance unveiled plans to build a new expeditionary outfit that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed.” On Monday, NATO’s secretary general said he expected the “spearhead force” to be ready by 2016.

TIME Afghanistan

London Condemns Kabul Bombing as Taliban Ups Pressure on Afghan Gov’t

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST
Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of a suicide attack at a foreign guesthouse in Kabul on November 27, 2014. Shah Marai — AFP/Getty Images

The militant group appears to be stepping up its campaign of violence in the Afghan capital as foreign forces prepare to withdrawal

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has condemned the Taliban’s “appalling” suicide attack on a vehicle belonging to the country’s embassy on Thursday that killed six people, including two individuals working for the U.K. mission.

“I am deeply saddened to confirm that a British national civilian security team member and an Afghan national working for the embassy were killed in the incident,” said Hammond in a statement. “We will not allow such inhumanity to deter us from continuing our partnership with the Government of Afghanistan.”

The assault on the British convoy was followed by another attack by two Taliban suicide bombers at a foreign guesthouse in a high-end neighborhood in central Kabul, where myriad embassies and international organizations reside. One foreign national was reportedly injured in the blast and an ensuing gun battle.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for both bombings and described the ambush of the British embassy vehicle as a strike against “foreign invading forces,” reports Reuters.

Thursday’s blasts come as the Taliban appears to be orchestrating an increasing number of acts of sabotage and violence against foreign installations across the Afghan capital, just as a lion’s share of the international troops stationed in the country prepare to pullout after 13 years of war. In the last 10 days alone, Kabul has been rocked by at least eight separate blasts, according to Agence France-Presse.

Earlier in the week, NATO confirmed that two foreign soldiers fighting with the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force were killed on Monday after a roadside bomb detonated near a military convoy traveling in Kabul.

Amid the uptick in violence are signs U.S. President Barack Obama is reevaluating his earlier promise to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year. The New York Times reported late last week that the White House’s calculus in the country appears to have shifted, after a new plan was authorized that will allow American troops to continue fighting Taliban insurgents there well into 2015.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A Baltimore all-girls high school robotics team is bucking the trend for women in STEM education.

By Andrew Zaleski in the Baltimore Sun

2. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a celebration of bounty, but “a refusal to be defeated by what so gravely threatened.” Today, we need the same.

By James Carroll in the Boston Globe

3. Congress — yes, that Congress — is about to pass a vital update to the Freedom of Information Act.

By Jason Leopold at Vice News

4. Discrimination against LGBT people isn’t just a civil rights violation, it’s bad economic policy.

By M. V. Lee Badgett at the New America Foundation

5. The truth is out about Russia. The EU must focus on the Balkans and think about the future.

By Judy Dempsey in RealClearWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Ukraine

Russia Wants a ‘100% Guarantee’ That Ukraine Won’t Join NATO

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the All-Russia Popular Front in Moscow on Nov. 18, 2014 Alexei Druzhinin—AP

Comment's come as NATO's secretary-general accuses Kremlin of "destabilizing" Ukraine

A top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the Kremlin wants “a 100% guarantee” that Ukraine will be prevented from joining NATO.

Dmitri Peskov told the BBC that NATO’s eastward expansion continued to make Russia “nervous.” His comments echoed similar tough talk coming from President Putin, who promised a crowd attending a forum in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia would never be subdued by Washington.

“Throughout history no one has ever managed to do so toward Russia — and no one ever will,” RT quoted Putin as saying.

Putin’s remarks came as NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused the Russian leadership of “destabilizing” Ukraine and breaking a two-month-old truce by continuing to support separatist forces fighting in the country’s southeast.

“We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery, of advance air-defense systems, and this is in violation of the cease-fire agreements,” said Stoltenberg, after arriving at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. “We call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk Agreements.”

The alliance, along with independent monitors, has issued numerous reports during the past two weeks claiming that the Russian military is moving armored columns across the border into Ukraine, where rebel militias have been shelling strategic locations in the war-torn Donbass region on a daily basis.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned during a press conference that there was no end in sight to the conflict in Ukraine unless all parties to the Minsk accord stuck to the cease-fire.

“There are no grounds for optimism in the current situation,” Steinmeier told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel struck an even harsher tone — labeling Russia’s incursions into Ukraine as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“The violations of sovereignty and international law that the Russians have perpetuated continue to require responses,” said Hagel, adding that the U.S. has begun working with NATO “in shifting our entire rotational rapid deployment focus.”

But as politicians verbally spar over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the humanitarian disaster inside the country continues unabated. Last week, the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that Europe was facing its largest displacement crisis in more than two decades as winter arrives.

“By October, UNHCR estimated that more than 800,000 people have been displaced, representing the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Balkan wars,” read a statement released by the U.N. “It is the latest refugee crisis in a year that has seen several, and is stretching resources thin.”

Read next: Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

TIME Ukraine

Russia Sends More Convoys Into Ukraine as Cease-Fire Collapses

Ukraine
A driver parks a truck of a Russian humanitarian-aid convoy at a warehouse in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Oct. 31, 2014 Dmitry Lovetsky—AP

NATO’s supreme commander says cease-fire now exists in “name only”

Russian officials announced on Wednesday plans to send a seventh convoy across the border into Ukraine’s war-torn Donbas region, amid widespread accusations that the Kremlin is sending arms to separatist forces instead of aid to civilians.

The announcement follows reports from the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) that 43 unmarked green military trucks were spotted heading toward the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Tuesday.

“Five of the trucks were each towing 120mm howitzer artillery pieces. Another five were each towing partly-covered multi-launch rocket systems,” read a statement released by the OSCE.

Moscow has repeatedly denied giving military assistance to rebels and says its convoys are humanitarian.

Fighting between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists has intensified since rebels held elections in the enclaves of Donetsk and Luhansk in early November. Experts say the two-month old cease-fire is now dead.

During a press conference in Naples on Tuesday, General Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander Europe, said the truce signed by Kiev, Moscow and separatist forces in Minsk last September was in tatters.

“The cease-fire is in name only at this point,” Breedlove told reporters on Tuesday, according to CNN. “The violence continues to increase day by day.”

The NATO commander’s candid admission followed acknowledgement from the White House earlier in the day that sanctions targeting Moscow, which continue to wreak havoc on the Russian economy, have failed to alter “Russia’s calculus” over Ukraine. “That’s why we continue to impose them,” Ben Rhodes, a White House Deputy National Security Adviser, told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday.

The U.N. estimates that at least 4,000 people have been killed since the pro-Russian rebellion first erupted in southeastern Ukraine seven months ago.

Read next: U.S. Says Russia Must Observe Truce as Hostilities Erupt Again in Ukraine

TIME europe

NATO Accuses Russian Military Aircraft of Flagrantly Violating European Airspace

Military aircrafts are seen on the tarmac during a visit of new NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg of Norway at Lask air base
Military aircraft are seen on the tarmac during a visit by the new NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway at Lask Air Base, in Poland, on Oct. 6, 2014 Kacper Pempel—Reuters

The alliance claims the incursions pose a risk to civilian air traffic

NATO officials have announced that an increasingly large number of Russian military aircraft have been tracked flying unannounced into European airspace this month — behavior that threatens to escalate the already taut relations between Moscow and the West.

On Wednesday, NATO claimed to have monitored at least four groups of Russian military aircraft as they conducted “significant military maneuvers in European airspace” over the Baltic and Black Seas as well as the Atlantic Ocean this week.

According to the alliance, multiple sets of Russian strategic bombers and tanker aircraft failed to file flight plans or engage in radio contact with civilian air-traffic-control officials during their forays into European skies. The crafts also refrained from using their onboard transponders during the exercises.

“This poses a potential risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic,” read a statement released by NATO this week. “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

In response, NATO allies scrambled their own jets to intercept and identify the Russian planes. Washington, D.C.–based think tank the Atlantic Council says the alliance has conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year — a threefold increase in incursions since 2013.

Russia’s disregard for civilian procedures comes as relations with the West have hit new lows. In July, Washington accused Moscow of “creating the conditions” in eastern Ukraine that allowed separatist fighters to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with an alleged Kremlin-supplied weapons system.

Moscow has repeatedly denied having a direct hand in the felling of the flight and in turn blamed Kiev for igniting civil war in the country’s east.

TIME russia

Russian Aircraft Intercepted by NATO Forces After Entering Airspace

The Russian intelligence jet reportedly entered NATO airspace on Tuesday

Swedish jets have intercepted a Russian aircraft that briefly entered North Atlantic Treaty Organization airspace Tuesday.

NATO and Swedish forces reportedly noticed the plane, identified as a Russian intelligence jet, traveling near NATO airspace in the Baltic Sea, Reuters reports. The plane later crossed into Estonian airspace for about a minute, and was escorted away.

This interception follows NATO guidelines for halting planes that enter airspace without permission, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, NATO has been keeping a closer eye over the Baltics given high tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

[Reuters]

Read next: Swedish Hunt for ‘Russian’ Sub Recalls the Cold War

TIME latvia

Latvia and U.S. Play War Games as Tensions with Russia Grow

Soldiers from the Latvian army participate in the Silver Arrow NATO military exercise in Adazi, Latvia, Oct. 5, 2014.
Soldiers from the Latvian army participate in the Silver Arrow NATO military exercise in Adazi, Latvia, Oct. 5, 2014. Ints Kalnins—Reuters

NATO members are beefing up their forces in eastern Europe, as Russia dials up its propaganda warfare and military intimidation

Over the sandbanks and marshes of northern Latvia, battle cries rang out late last month as U.S. and Latvian troops stormed a mock-up urban street, a training exercise one officer described as a “Stalingrad-type scenario” for soldiers more used to peace-keeping or fighting rural insurgents. After an €80,000 anti-tank missile and a volley of mortar and artillery fire launch the drills, a U.S. Black Hawk transports Latvian soldiers into the war games scenario, where they go house-to-house searching for a high-value target.

Not far away in the Latvian capital of Riga, officials were getting to work in the newly-inaugurated NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, a hub aimed at countering information warfare by enemies of the 28-member military alliance.

The endeavors are at opposite ends of the tactical spectrum, but reflect the challenges presented by the new hybrid warfare which analysts say is the Kremlin’s modus operandi under President Vladimir Putin. While Russian troops openly went into Crimea this year to annex it from Ukraine, some of Russia’s neighbors are grappling with more subtle meddling and mind games.

“NATO must be flexible,” Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis tells TIME, citing economic coercion, propaganda warfare and military intimidation along Russia’s Baltic borders as some of the new threats to emerge in the past year.

“During the last 65 years after the Second World War it was calm and silent in Europe… now the situation has changed this year due to Russian activities in Ukraine. We must be ready to adapt to the new situation, and ready to react to new geopolitical challenges in Europe.”

NATO members are beefing up their forces in eastern Europe as a result. Earlier this year 600 U.S. troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia and this week, U.S. tanks returned to Latvian soil for the first time since the Second World War. Joint military exercises have increased in size and frequency. At a NATO summit last month, leaders pledged increased funding for cyber and information warfare units, while also announcing the formation of a Rapid Reaction Force which could deploy to allied nations within days.

Analysts say this is a good start, but there is concern that NATO needs to send a stronger signal that any Russian military intervention – not just a overt invasion – would provoke Article Five, by which an attack on one member demands reaction from all 28.

“This is time for NATO to be crystal clear,” says Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat now working for the Estonia-based International Center for Defense Studies. “If you use military force in the Baltic states, there will be consequences, there will be war. It needs to be that clear.”

A return to the conventional warfare and military muscle-flexing of the past appears to be the easy part. The generation of military minds overseeing NATO’s transformation is steeped in Cold War history.

“My father was in the military, I grew up in Germany, and was in Berlin when the Berlin Wall fell, so (the context) is certainly not lost on my generation,” says LTC Robert ‘Todd’ Brown, a battalion commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who designed the urban war games.

The resonance is even stronger in the Baltic states, which spent five decades as part of the Soviet Union. “We know what occupation means,” says Colonel Martins Liberts, Commander of the Latvian Land Forces. He says the joint exercises illustrate the changing focus from peace-keeping and nation-building abroad to multinational forces protecting home soil from conventional threats.

More than 100 of his troops are taking part in the live-fire exercise with U.S. troops over the sand dunes and marshes of Adazi Military Base about an hour’s drive from Riga. After an €80,000 anti-tank missile and a volley of mortar and artillery fire launch the drills, a U.S. Black Hawk transports Latvian soldiers into the war games scenario, where they go house-to-house searching for a high-value target. The street may be made from plywood, and their enemy cardboard silhouettes with balloons pinned to their chests, but the message the Latvians want to send Russia is very real.

“It is a strong political signal to Russia that we are part of NATO [and] Article Five will be enforced if it is be needed,” says Defence Minister Vejonis.

From Russia’s point of view, the war games are another example of NATO creeping closer to its borders, measures it feels are unnecessary and provocative. But Moscow has not held back from its own military posturing: since the start of this year Latvia has detected 170 cases of Russian fighter jets coming close to their border. That compares with about 50 such cases in the previous decade. Russian war ships and submarines have also upped patrols in the Baltic Sea.

The country’s neighbors have also been affected. Last week, Lithuania accused Russia of violating international law after its border guards seized a Lithuanian fishing vessel and its 30 crew whom they accused of illegally trawling for crab in Russian waters. Estonia – which in 2007 blamed Russia for a massive cyber attack on government websites – is currently locked in dispute with Moscow over a security official which its government says was kidnapped on its territory in a cross-border raid last month.

It is these kinds of subtle provocations that Bryza thinks NATO should respond to more forcefully, or risk giving Putin the confidence to escalate the meddling. Bryza also advocates permanent NATO bases on eastern European soil – a move also suggested in the past by Poland and Estonia, but one which would violate a historical NATO-Russia pact.

For now, Latvian officials say they are happy with the Rapid Reaction Force announced in September, but are keen to see it and other defensive measures come into force quickly. “We have been quite good in declarations so far, but implementation is important,” says Andrejs Pildegovics, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

“Seeing how deep Russia’s involvement in the war with Ukraine has been, seeing these militaristic statements by Russian leaders, seeing this speculation about how capitals can be conquered in the neighborhood – we think it should be really rapid.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Like Pakistan, Turkey nurtured a militant movement next door. Will ISIS enter Turkey as the Taliban made a new home in Pakistan?

By Michael M. Tanchum and Halil M. Karaveli in New York Times

2. Look homeward: America should form a new North American partnership with Canada and Mexico to tackle global challenges.

By Nicholas Burns in the Boston Globe

3. Protestors in Hong Kong and around the world can bypass government censorship with “mesh networks.”

By Gareth Tyson in the Conversation

4. Early childhood development can dramatically change a child’s life and future. Massively scaling up investment in youth could close the income and skills gaps, and accomplish much more.

By the Brookings Institution

5. Rural America has the nation’s fastest rising child poverty rate. To overcome it, we must confront the weaknesses in our economic recovery.

By the Rural Family Economic Success Action Network

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser