Russia’s “provocative actions” in neighboring Ukraine are prompting NATO to re-examine its relevance, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday, as the West faces what U.S. officials have described as the worst crisis in relations with Moscow since the end of the Cold War.
During a town hall meeting with U.S. service members in Stuttgart, Germany, -- the first stop on a trip that also will take him to India and Australia -- Hagel discussed the importance of NATO’s upcoming summit, set to take place next month in Wales.
Russia’s support for rebels in eastern Ukraine “is forcing us to take another look at the relevancy of NATO and how well NATO is structured and prepared,” the secretary said.
After meeting with Ukrainian leaders in the Ukraine capital of Kyiv today, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance will hold a special meeting with Ukraine at its upcoming summit, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko expected to attend. "We are advising Ukraine on defense planning and defense reform, and we are ready to intensify this cooperation," Rasmussen said.
Pentagon officials have said that Russia continues to arm Ukrainian rebels and has massed at least 10,000 troops along the Ukrainian border.
The Ukrainian crisis will make the upcoming NATO summit “as important as we’ve had in a long time,” Hagel said in Stuttgart, adding that the summit will be heavy with objectives and big issues that have drawn attention beyond the alliance.
“I think it’s making all of the nations of Europe take another look at the realities of the world,” the secretary said.
Hagel also said the United States continues to assist in the investigation and recovery efforts following the downing last month of a Malaysian commercial airliner over eastern Ukraine, including having investigators on the ground. Nearly 300 people were killed when the Malaysia Airlines jet was blown out of the sky July 17 over eastern Ukraine, and U.S. officials have said evidence points to Russian-armed separatists being responsible. Russia and Ukraine have denied involvement in the incident.
For up-to-the-minute coverage of the secretary’s trip, follow the Defense Department’s official Twitter account, @DeptofDefense.
(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneDoDNews)