TIME Ukraine

NATO Unveils Rapid-Response Force to Counter Russian Troops in Ukraine

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a news conference at the Residence Palace in Brussels
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a news conference at the Residence Palace in Brussels on Sept. 1, 2014. Laurent Dubrule—Reuters

The alliance plans to tackle “Russia’s aggressive behavior” with a new expeditionary force

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Monday that the organization was planning to assemble a “spearhead” force that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed” in the face of Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in eastern Ukraine.

The new outfit would be manned by several thousand rotating allied troops who would be ready to respond by air or sea with the aid of special forces, explained Rasmussen.

“The Readiness Action Plan responds to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” he told reporters in Brussels. “It equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges, wherever they may arise.”

NATO representatives gathering for the Wales summit later this week are preparing a Readiness Action Plan to make the organization more agile.

Analysts said the announcement represents the strongest response yet from the military alliance since Russia began to forcefully intervene in Kiev’s affairs following the fall of the nation’s pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year.

“Actually, what has been announced seems to be quite significant in that NATO will start stationing troops quite close to Ukraine—not in the form of permanent bases but actually they will be rotating them in the form of temporary bases,” Clara Portela, assistant professor of political science at Singapore Management University and a sanctions specialist, told TIME.

“This is the first step that Western Europe has taken, in military terms, since the crisis started,” Portela said.

On Tuesday, Mikhail Popov, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said the transatlantic alliance’s recent maneuvers demonstrate it remains among Moscow’s principal adversaries.

“I have no doubts that the issue of NATO military infrastructure encroaching on our borders, including through the expansion of the alliance, will remain among the biggest military threats to the Russian Federation,” Popov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Popov’s remarks came as Ukrainian forces continued to engage in heavy firefights with pro-Kremlin insurgents, who NATO claims are being buttressed by Russian hardware and troops.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military reportedly withdrew from the international airport at the rebel stronghold of Luhansk after suffering heavy fire from a Russian tank battalion, according to Reuters.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the Ukrainian military is now assuming a much more defensive posture throughout the country’s southeast in order to beat back what Kiev fears is an all-out invasion of the country by the Russian military.

The tactical battlefield shift represents a sizable reversal in combat fortunes; Kiev looked poised to crush the separatist insurgency just weeks ago after forging large-scale inroads into rebel territory throughout the summer.

Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Valeriy Heletey described the conflict this week as the most serious military engagement in Europe since the Second World War, one that could cost tens of thousands of lives.

“A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II,” he said in a Facebook post.

According to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 4,445 people had been wounded and 1,830 people killed in eastern Ukraine as of Aug. 27.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week chided both government forces and insurgents for “contributing to rising civilian casualties” in and around Luhansk by unleashing artillery barrages that appear to be indiscriminate.

“Local residents are subjected to terrifying daily shelling, much of it apparently unlawful, and that the number of civilian casualties is steadily rising,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, in a statement.

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Says It’s Time to Arm Ukraine

Robert Menendez
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., questions State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 29, 2014. Susan Walsh — AP

“We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves” says Sen. Robert Menendez

The Senate’s top foreign policy official was unequivocal on Sunday: Ukraine needs weapons from the West to defend itself against Russian aggression.

During an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez said Kiev needed both sophisticated weapons and stronger sanctions to help repulse Moscow’s incursions.

“We should be providing the Ukrainians with the type of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon Putin for further aggression,” Menendez told CNN from Kiev, where he is on a fact-finding mission. “We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves.”

Menendez went on to describe the Kremlin’s incursions in Ukraine as a “direct invasion.”

The Democrat from New Jersey stopped short of suggesting that American or NATO troops should be deployed in Ukraine.

The senator’s words come as President Barack Obama prepares to visit Estonia next week, before heading to the U.K. for a NATO summit, where the alliance’s representatives will discuss the increasingly violent conflict in Ukraine.

The Obama administration continues to advocate for the isolation of Russia through targeted economic sanctions, while providing the embattled government in Kiev with non-lethal aid.

On Aug. 6, Obama said that if Russia were to launch an invasion of Ukraine, the White House’s calculus might change.

“Now if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions. We’re not there yet,” Obama told reporters at the time.

However, last week NATO published satellite images that appeared to show Russian armored columns fighting in Ukrainian territory in a bid to prop up the pro-Moscow insurgency that has been taking place since April.

In the face of mounting evidence, more politicians are advocating that the U.S. take firmer action against the Kremlin.

“I think it is appropriate to up that level of aid, to make them a more capable fighting force to resist this incursion and to make it as painful as possible for Putin to make any progress in the Ukraine,” Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.

TIME russia

Canada Trolls Russia on Twitter With Sardonic Geography Lesson

So what is and isn’t Russia? Canada aims to set the record straight

“Geography can be tough.”

Canada’s NATO delegation posted a cheeky lesson on what is — and isn’t — Russian land in a tweet on Wednesday.

The snide post, which includes labels of “Russia” and “Not Russia,” was aimed at the Kremlin’s soldiers who “keep getting lost & ‘accidentally’ entering #Ukraine” — a clear reference to the recent capture of Russian soldiers in Ukrainian territory. Exactly why the Russian soldiers wandered across the border remains murky, though Moscow maintains it was an accident.

The Canadian tweet had been retweeted more than 30,000 times as of early Friday morning, including by NATO delegations from the U.S., U.K. and Sweden on their official Twitter accounts. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also retweeted the map.

Russia, however, came back with its own snarky rebuttal.

On Thursday, the Russian NATO delegation’s official account wrote, “Helping our Canadian colleagues to catch up with contemporary geography of #Europe.” The tweet included its own map, which noticeably labels the Crimean Peninsula as belonging to Russia.

The map also shaded in a separate color for Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two states whose 2008 unilateral independence is recognized by Russia — but internationally condemned.

The Canada-Russia tweet battle came prior to an emergency NATO session with E.U. leaders on Friday. They plan to discuss Kiev’s accusations that Russia invaded eastern Ukraine as well as the West’s contention that Moscow is directly involved in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 27

1. A reimagined NATO – with rapid response capability – could balance the Putin doctrine.

By David Francis in Foreign Policy

2. Hold the bucket: Focusing on a single disease isn’t a good use of philanthropy dollars.

By Felix Salmon in Slate

3. The Navy’s audacious plan for a new warfighting vessel was too good to be true. The result is a ship that meets none of our needs well. Cancel the Littoral Combat Ship.

By William D. Hartung and Jacob Marx at the Center for International Policy

4. The conventional wisdom is that social media stimulates debate, but self-censorship online actually leads to a ‘spiral of silence.’

By Keith Hampton, Lee Rainie, Weixu Lu, Maria Dwyer, Inyoung Shin and Kristen Purcell at the Pew Research Internet Project

5. Better living through design: Injectable, long-acting birth control will revolutionize family planning in the developing world.

By Heather Hansman in Pacific Standard

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

TIME Ukraine

NATO Chief: ‘High Probability’ of Russian Military Intervention in Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during an interview with Reuters in Brussels on August 11, 2014 Yves Herman—Reuters

A humanitarian-aid convoy from Moscow could be a cover for military support to besieged rebels, NATO's Anders Fogh Rasmussen says

NATO is warning that a Russian intervention in Ukraine is likely, fearing that a convoy of humanitarian aid dispatched by the Kremlin to the separatist-held city of Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, is being used as cover for a military buildup.

Russian aid, which is being delivered as part of a Red Cross–administered program, comes in response to setbacks suffered by pro-Russian rebels in the past week. The Putin Administration insists the assistance is purely humanitarian, and Ukraine has indicated that it welcomes the international relief mission of which the Russian convoy is a part. Nonetheless, Kiev and its Western backers remain suspicious of Moscow’s motives. According to NATO, Moscow has around 20,000 combat-ready troops along Ukraine’s border.

The Associated Press reported that 280 trucks left the Moscow area Tuesday, painted in Red Cross livery. Andre Loersch, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, told AP that he had “no information about the content” of the trucks.

On Monday, NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters that there was “a high probability” of a military intervention by Russia. “We see the Russians developing the narrative and the pretext for such an operation under the guise of a humanitarian operation and we see a military buildup that could be used to conduct such illegal military operations in Ukraine,” he said.

The conflict in Ukraine has led to a crisis between East and West at a level not experienced since the Cold War, with wide-ranging sanctions on Russia imposed by the E.U. and Washington. Military intervention by Russia would significantly exacerbate tensions, although Rasmussen suggested that NATO would not be drawn into an armed conflict.

“If the Russians were to intervene further in Ukraine, I have no doubt that the international community would respond determinedly, notably through broader, deeper, tougher economic sanctions that would isolate Russia further,” he said.

The Kremlin describes the situation in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands have fled the intensified fighting over the past week, as “catastrophic.” While agreeing that the humanitarian situation was “disastrous,” Rasmussen called on Moscow to pull back its troops, “stop the flow of weapons and fighters and money into Ukraine and cease the support for armed separatists and engage in a constructive political dialogue.”

TIME Foreign Policy

John Kerry Tells Iran and Syria to Back Off Iraq

Secretary of State John Kerry warned U.S. adversaries in the Middle East not to foment unrest in Iraq


Amid mounting reports of military intervention in Iraq by Syria and Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry strongly advised that surrounding countries in the Middle East step away from any action that might further unhinge the delicate security situation.

“We’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension,” Kerry told a NATO summit. “And so it’s very important that nothing take place that contributes to the extremism or could act as a flash point with respect to the sectarian divide.”

The Syrian government reportedly bombed Sunni militant strongholds on Tuesday, along the western border of Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran has reportedly sent in drones and other military supplies. Kerry added that questions about Iran’s intentions in Iraq should be directed at the Iranian and Iraqi governments.

While the U.S. had a stake in what happens to Baghdad, the American government will not directly pick Iraqi leadership, Kerry said. Iraqi citizens must develop a government that can push back against terrorism and “will not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday opted against forming an interim “national salvation government” in order to unite the sectarian groups butting heads in the region, calling it “a coup against the constitution and the political process.”

“It’s up to Iraqis to decide who has the ability to do that and who represents that future,” Kerry said.

TIME Afghanistan

Report: Friendly Fire Incident Kills 5 U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan

Five NATO service members and one Afghan soldiers were killed in in what officials fear was a case of "fratricide"


Five U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldier were killed in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, reportedly in an incident of friendly fire.

NATO said that the soldiers were patrolling a volatile region of southern Afghanistan when their unit came under enemy fire. An Afghan police chief told the New York Times that the soldiers were ambushed at close-range by Taliban militants. The soldiers radioed for air support, at which point a coalition jet mistakenly bombed their position, the Times reported.

NATO has not confirmed the details of the soldiers’ death, saying that the incident was still under investigation. “Tragically, there is the possibility that fratricide may have been involved,” read a statement from the International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s coalition force in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon confirmed that five U.S. troops had been killed on Tuesday. “Investigators are looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen.”


Hagel Pushes NATO Partners to Put More Skin in the Game

U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel speaks during a news conference at the end of a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference in Brussels on June 4, 2014. Reuters

During a trip to Brussels on Wednesday, Chuck Hagel leaned on fellow NATO member states to up their financial stake in the alliance in order to counter an increasingly aggressive Russia

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel leaned on fellow NATO member states to up their financial stake in the alliance in order to counter an increasingly aggressive Russia during a trip to Brussels on Wednesday.

The secretary of defense’s urging for greater financial contributions from NATO members comes as several of the bloc’s governments continue to slash their military budgets, which has forced the U.S. to shoulder more of the costs of keeping the alliance afloat.

“Over the long term, current spending trends threaten NATO’s integrity and capabilities,” Hagel told reporters.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Hagel spoke forcefully about the need to counter Moscow and said Russia’s recent actions in neighboring Ukraine “constitute the most significant and direct challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War.”

The sectary of defense called on NATO’s members to “issue a definitive declaration to reverse current trends and rebalance the alliance’s burden-sharing,” according to a statement published by the Pentagon.

Hagel’s trip to the NATO headquarters in Belgium coincided with President Barack Obama’s state visit to Poland. During a speech in Warsaw, Obama pledged to tap Congress for an additional $1 billion to fund new European security measures.

TIME career

What to Do After You’ve Been NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) James Stavridis (L) speaks with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, US General Stanley McChystal, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on June 11, 2010 before the start of the second day of a NATO defense ministers meeting at organization headquaters in Brussels. GEORGES GOBET—AFP/Getty Images

How to change a life: James Stavridis had to transition from a world where people more or less do what you order them to do, to one where no one is going to salute.

Recently, I made a huge job and life transition: after more than 35 years in the U.S. military, and the last four as the Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, I needed new challenges. This is, of course, a situation familiar to many — especially in today’s highly mobile job universe, when an average college graduate will have perhaps a dozen significant jobs and possibly four or more separate careers.

As I tried to work through what to do next, there were many options. I was offered positions in international consulting, global risk assessment firms, domestic business ventures, board positions and even additional jobs in government. To sort through it, I tried to think of what I had enjoyed so much about my time in the U.S. Navy. After all, something had kept me happily going for more than three decades. I realized that I liked many things about the Navy: going to sea as a mariner, traveling around the world, working with brave volunteers in combat and on diplomatic missions, and the educational benefits, to name a few. But what I truly loved about the Navy was the challenge of leading and mentoring young people, helping guide the trajectory of their lives in a positive direction. “Sounds like education,” said one mentor, herself a university president. And so I set about finding the right kind of job in the world of education.

“If you think faculty meetings are tough sledding, try mediating between 28 allies debating an intervention in Libya.”I knew that I have a deep passion for the international sphere, and a real love for the place I had earned my own graduate degree, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Luckily, the incumbent dean was retiring at a time that made it possible for me to move directly from my position at NATO, which Dwight Eisenhower had held, to a nice campus in Medford, Mass. I went from an organization representing half of the world’s GDP and 3 million men and women in uniform to one with 700 graduate students and 150 faculty and administrators. It was a startling shift.

People kept saying, “it must be pretty challenging to go from the military — where people more or less do what you order them to do — to the world of academe, where no one is going to salute and move out.” The President of Tufts, to whom I report, was asked why on earth he hired a military guy to lead one of his graduate schools. He said, only slightly in jest, “I wanted at least one dean who knows how to follow orders.” There’s certainly some truth in that.

The transition has gone well. Why? Because of things I learned along the path of what my father jokingly referred to as my misspent youth in the Navy.

First, I have focused on listening and learning, especially in this first year. I have been reading not only classics on higher education (The University: An Owner’s Manual by Henry Rosovsky), but also brilliant novels about this world (Stoner by John Williams and Something for Nothing by Michael Klein). I’ve also reached out to mentors in this industry, from Robert Gates, former President of Texas A&M, to Jack DeGioia of Georgetown, to Donna Shalala at the University of Miami, and many others.

Second, I spend lots of time walking the campus and talking to students, faculty and administrators. The faculty is at the heart of any school, but as I always say, there is another name for students: customers. I also chat with the cleaners, maintenance people, campus police and the folks running our dining facility. Putting in the time to understand the full spectrum of an enterprise is critical.

Third, the university is coming up with a strategic plan for the first time in a decade. It’s not only a terrific way to team build and create a coherent way ahead, but also a good exercise in learning where the faulty lines and fissures of an institution lie. Research versus teaching? Practical skills courses versus theory and history? Fundraising for facilities or financial aid? Disciplines that cooperate together and those that compete? Working on the plan throws all those issues under a bright light: just what the new dean needs.

Finally, I went from the crisp efficiency of the U.S. military to what feels like, in comparison, the free-wheeling academic carnival that is higher education. I spent four years in NATO, a consensus-driven, highly competitive, discussion-oriented international security organization. If you think faculty meetings are tough sledding, try mediating between 28 allies debating an intervention in Libya. Much of the same skills are called for: collegiality, good humor, a sense of where you want to land in the process, but above all deep respect for each of the participants in the dialog. Collaboration is at the heart of NATO, and at the heart of the academy as well — hard as it is at times to achieve.

Academe and higher education in particular are not for everyone, nor for the faint of heart. But for me — applying some of what I learned along the way in my nation’s service — it has been a delight.

James Stavridis, a former NATO Commander and retired four-star Navy Admiral, serves at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is the author of the upcoming memoir The Accidental Admiral.

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