'Large number' of Russian troops dying in Ukraine says Vershbow

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Alexander Vershbow, the second most senior figure in NATO as its deputy secretary general, took the opportunity of a conference in Riga Thursday to claim that large numbers of Russian soldiers are dying in fighting in Eastern Ukraine. 

Speaking to parliamentarians from across Europe at the 'Interparliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy', Vershbow - a former US ambassador to Moscow - gave a clear statement of NATO's position regarding Russia.

“NATO doesn't seek confrontation with Russia but Russia no longer appears to want to be integrated in a common Euro-Atlantic community. We see an angry, revisionist Russia that breaks international rules, that wants to re-establish spheres of influence and is prepared to redraw borders by force to achieve its goals," Vershbow said.

“Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine reflect an evolving pattern of behavior that has been emerging for several years from Moldova through Georgia and now in Ukraine. It's justified by a false narrative alleging that Russia has been humiliated and encircled by the west ever since the end of the cold war. This is a myth. The reality is that for over 20 years NATO has tried to engage Russia not to isolate it."

“President Putin's aim seems to be to turn Ukraine into a failed state and to suppress and discredit alternative voices in Russia so as to prevent a Russian Maidan," Vershbow said.

“We've seen that the victims are not just in Eastern Ukraine with the brutal murder of Boris Nemtsov last Friday. While we don't know who pulled the trigger we do know that Boris Nemtsov was a powerful voice for democracy and against Russia's involvement in Ukraine.”

“Even before this tragic event there was mounting evidence that the Russian incursion into Ukraine is becoming much less popular among the Russian public, especially as Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting and dying in large numbers in Eastern Ukraine”

Asked about whether NATO should send weapons to Ukraine, Vershbow replied:

"If the Feb 12 Minsk agreement is not complied with, the international community will have to look at a range of measures to increase the costs to Russia and to support Ukraine as best we can."

And asked if NATO's famous Article 5, which treats an attack on any member state as an attack on all, needs to be redrawn to make its application clearer, Vershbow said it was already flexible enough, answering:

"I don't think we need to review Article 5 but we do have to ensure that we understand how it would work in the new environment. We already set a good example for ourselves in coming to grips with cyber attacks, because a cyber attack might not constitute an 'armed attack' if you read the [Washington] treaty literally, but we've agreed among allies that Article 5 does apply in the cyber domain."

Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis took a similar line, reminding the audience that Article 4 could also be applicable.

Article 4 says member states "will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened."

"I don't think there are major problems with the current text of Article 5 in the Washington Treaty. We should not forget that there is also article number 4 that provides posisbilities for the alliance to act very quickly," Vejonis said.

It means first of all we need good early warning systems on a national level and at NATO level. If we can recognise any activities that could cause trouble for NATO countries we can start to use paragraph number 4. We can use it even in [relation to] hybrid warfare.

The conference continues Friday.


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