NATO has tried unsuccessfully to connect with Russia via a deconfliction hotline and written letters as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spread further west toward NATO territory, senior NATO military officials said on Wednesday.
“We are trying to communicate with them of course,” one of the officials told reporters in a briefing at NATO headquarters. “But it requires two [sides] to communicate.”
The US also has a separate deconfliction hotline with Russia that it has tested and has determined is functioning but has not yet used in practice, officials have said.
The officials’ comments followed Russia’s attacks on a Ukrainian military base earlier this week just 10 miles from the Polish border, which raised concerns about the conflict potentially spilling over into a NATO member country.
The current assessment of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander of Europe Gen. Tod Wolters, the officials said, is that “currently there is no threat to NATO as such. Not a deliberate threat by Russia. Russia is occupied for the time being with Ukraine.”
But there are of course risks, the officials added, which is why there are now discussions about moving NATO’s defensive systems further east.
“As we have now seen that Russia is prepared to use again, in the middle of Europe, military means to achieve political goals, it is worthwhile and it will be discussed to move forward the integrated air and missile defense system to cover the areas that are adjacent to Russia,” one of the officials said. Those areas include Belarus and potentially Ukraine, he added.
NATO’s supreme allied commander currently has command and control over some 40,000 soldiers, the official said, as well as hundreds of aircraft and more than 200 ships at sea.
Asked about Poland’s call on Wednesday to send NATO forces into Ukraine on a “peacekeeping” mission, the NATO military officials suggested such a plan would be untenable.
“We are looking at two nation states that are in a war. If they agree on a reliable and robust peace settlement, I do not necessarily see a need for a peacekeeping mission,” one of the officials said. “And if you are looking at the other version of ‘peacekeeping,’ which is actually ‘peace enforcement,’ I mean, that is war with Russia.”
“We would then have to ‘protect,’” the official explained, “and then shoot, and then kill and then destroy.”