But Russia might be coming for European countries beyond Ukraine in approximately a year’s time anyway, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Wednesday.
“I can say what we need: We need security guarantees, and you have to find a place for Ukraine in the common security space. There will be either urgent help for Ukraine, which is enough to win, or Russia's postponed war with you,” Zelensky said, suggesting if countries don’t step up their security assistance to Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin will go after even more targets. “Next year could be a worse situation [for] not only Ukraine but also several other states, possibly members of the alliance… under fire from Russia.”
“The question is—who is next?,” Zelensky said. “Moldova? Or the Baltic countries? Or Poland? The answer is—all of them.”
European leaders have raised concerns about Putin’s interest in attacking other countries beyond Ukraine on countless occasions ever since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February. Part of Sweden and Finland’s interest in joining NATO is to protect against Russia invading their countries unprovoked. As the thinking goes, if Russia attacks a member of the alliance, NATO’s foundational collective defense provision, Article V, could be triggered, and an attack against one may be treated as an attack against all.
Russian propagandists, too, have posited that Putin’s next targets will go beyond Ukraine, and could include Great Britain, the United States, and Poland. Others have predicted Putin could go after Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Russian forces are currently waging battles over cities in eastern Ukraine, to be sure.
But while Russian forces shifted away from early plans to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and geared the ongoing war towards fighting in eastern Ukraine, the Biden administration’s current assessment is that Putin still has plans to take all of Ukraine, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Michael Carpenter, told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview.
Zelensky confirmed Wednesday that Ukraine’s government still believes Putin has plans to try taking over all of Ukraine.
“The Russian army… it does not want to stop in Donbas or somewhere in the south of Ukraine. It wants to absorb city after city, all of us, and then all in Europe, whom the Russian leadership considers its property, not independent states,” Zelensky said. “This is Russia's real goal.”
And while Putin has a strong distaste for what he views as Ukraine’s westernization—and used concerns about Ukraine’s interest in joining the alliance to justify his invasion into Ukraine— rather than tearing NATO apart, his war is just pulling NATO together, President Joe Biden pointed out Wednesday while attending the summit.
“You’re gonna get the NATO-ization of Europe. And that’s exactly what he didn’t want, but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe,” Biden said, according to the AP.
Putin’s fears about an expanding NATO counteracting his own imperialistic goals could mean more turmoil lies ahead for Europe. Already, Russian officials are reacting negatively to the decision to let Finland and Sweden join the military alliance.
The decision to expand NATO is a “strictly destabilizing factor,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to Interfax.
NATO members and the Biden administration announced a series of steps this week that they think will work to prevent Russia from taking brash and disastrous action against other European nations.
The alliance announced Tuesday that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had dropped his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, despite earlier reservations that they harbored individuals that were linked to groups Turkey considers terrorists.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin briefed Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov Wednesday on the United States’ military aid to the country, which in the last several days got a bump of $450 million worth of multiple launch rocket systems and artillery ammunition. The United States also announced Wednesday it will be increasing some of its military presence in Europe to try to boost security in the region.
The Biden administration will be permanently stationing an Army garrison headquarters and a field support battalion in Poland—which will be the first permanent U.S. forces on NATO’s eastern flank—adding a rotational Brigade Combat Team to Romania, and enhancing rotational deployments in the Baltic region. The Pentagon will also deploy more air defense to Germany and Italy, deploy two additional F-35 squadrons to the U.K., and station two more destroyers in Spain.
“Today I’m announcing that the United States will enhance our force posture in Europe and respond to the changing security environment as well as strengthening our collective security,” Biden said.