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In NATO debut, Biden's Pentagon aims to rebuild trust damaged by Trump

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President Joe Biden’s administration will use a NATO defence gathering this week to begin what is expected to be a years-long effort to rebuild trust with European allies shaken by Donald Trump’s 'America First' foreign policy, write , and

Biden aims to rebuild NATO trust after Trump era

US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity ahead of the event, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would emphasize US commitment and appreciation for the trans-Atlantic alliance after Trump’s open hostility.

The NATO defence ministers' meeting, to be held virtually on 17-18 February here, is the first major European event since Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20. Biden will deliver remarks at a virtual gathering of the Munich security forum here on 19 February.

After years of Trump’s public ridiculing of NATO allies such as Germany who failed to reach defense spending targets, Biden’s Pentagon will, without abandoning those targets, focus on progress made toward bolstering NATO’s collective defense, officials said.

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“Trust is something that can’t be built overnight, is something that takes time. It takes more than words. It takes action,” said a US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s objectives for the NATO meeting.

To underscore Biden's views on NATO, the White House even took the rare step of releasing a video on 27 January of the US president's first conversation with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in which he used the word "sacred" to describe the US commitment to collective defense.

Still, Biden could face an uphill battle in Europe, which saw Washington upend its commitments under Trump, including pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.

Trump’s portrayal of NATO as an organization in crisis, dragged down by laggard members, has left many European allies feeling worn down.

“There’s an exhaustion in European security circles from Trump and his unpredictability,” said a European NATO diplomat.

“We’ve just spent four years not talking to each other and the world is very different from four years ago. Biden needs to do a big repair job in Europe.”

Portugal’s Defence Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho, underscoring wariness about the United States, told the European Parliament on Jan. 28 that the Trump years were an “ideological experiment” that had “devastating effects in terms of the credibility of the United States and its strength internationally.”

The deadly 6 January riots at the US Capitol in which pro-Trump followers tried to keep him in power, has also done severe damage to America’s global image as a beacon of democracy, political analysts said.

One of Biden’s biggest challenges will be convincing allies there won’t be a return to another Trump era, or something akin to it, perhaps four or eight years down the line.

“That’s a legitimate fear and a legitimate concern,” said Rachel Rizzo, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security focusing on European security and NATO.

She added it will be a “slow process” to prove the United States can be a reliable ally.

French President Emmanuel Macron has gone so far as to say Europe needs its own sovereign defense strategy, independent of the United States here. Still, eastern European allies such as Poland – fearful of Russia - say European defense plans should only complement NATO, not replace it.

The NATO defense ministerial is expected to broach a range of issues, including efforts to end the two-decade-old war in Afghanistan.

The ministerial is also expected to include discussion of the so-called “2 percent target” which requires NATO members spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024.

Germany, Italy and Spain will all miss the 2024 target, according to initial projections released by NATO in October. Germany has pledged to reach the NATO spending target by 2031, and its failure angered Trump, who ordered a pullout of some 12,000 troops from Germany, declaring: “We don’t want to be the suckers any more.”

Asked about the target, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he expected Austin to emphasize that many allies were meeting the target and others were “striving to get there.”

“I think you’ll see a supportive message from the secretary about how relevant NATO is,” said Kirby, a retired Navy admiral.

Another U.S. official said that even with economic stress on budgets because of COVID-19, the expectation was still for allies to hit 2 percent of their GDP, with Washington likely to make the argument that the health crisis should not be allowed to turn into a security crisis.

“But you’ll hear a substantially different tone and a lot more emphasis on different capabilities,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It won’t be instrumentalized as a political weapon to beat up allies.”

Moscow

NATO vs Russia: Dangerous games

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It seems that the Black Sea has recently become more and more an arena of confrontation between NATO and Russia. Another confirmation of this was the large-scale military exercises Sea Breeze 2021, which were recently completed in the region, which Ukraine hosted, writes Alexi Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

The Sea Breeze — 2021 exercises are the most representative in the entire history of their holding. They were attended by 32 countries, about 5,000 military personnel, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, 18 groups of ground and sea special forces from Ukraine, as well as NATO member and partner countries, including the United States.

The main venue for the exercises was Ukraine, which, for obvious reasons, considers this event as a military and partly political support for its sovereignty, primarily in view of the loss of Crimea and the military—political impasse in the Donbas. In addition, Kiev hopes that hosting such a large-scale event will contribute to the speedy integration of Ukraine into the Alliance.

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A few years ago, the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation was a regular participant in this series of maneuvers. Then they worked out mainly humanitarian tasks, as well as interaction between the fleets of different states.

In recent years, the scenario of the exercises has changed significantly. Russian ships are no longer invited to them, and the development of actions to ensure air and anti — submarine defense and amphibious landings-typical naval combat operations-has come to the fore.

The scenario announced this year includes a large-scale coastal component and simulates a multinational mission to stabilize the situation in Ukraine and confront illegal armed groups supported by a neighboring state, no one particularly hides that Russia is meant by it.

For obvious reasons, the Russian Armed Forces followed these exercises very closely. And as it turned out, not in vain! The sea was patrolled by Russian warships, and Russian fighter jets were constantly in the sky.

As expected in Moscow, the NATO ships made several attempts to arrange provocations. Two warships-HNLMS Evertsen from Dutch Navy and the British HMS Defender tried to violate the territorial waters of Russia near the Crimea, referring to the fact that this is the territory of Ukraine. As you know, the West does not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. Precisely, under this pretext, these dangerous maneuvers were carried out.

Russia reacted harshly. Under the threat of opening fire, foreign vessels had to leave the territorial waters of Russia. However, neither London nor Amsterdam admitted that this was a provocation.

According to the special representative of the NATO Secretary General for the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, James Appathurai, the North Atlantic Alliance will remain in the Black Sea region to support its allies and partners.

"NATO has a clear position when it comes to freedom of navigation and the fact that Crimea is Ukraine, not Russia. During the incident with HMS Defender, NATO allies showed firmness in defending these principles, " Appathurai said.

In turn, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said that British warships "will continue to enter the territorial waters of Ukraine." He called the route followed by the intruder destroyer the shortest international route from Odessa to Georgian Batumi.

"We have every right to freely pass through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international standards. We will continue to do so, " the high-ranking official stressed.

Moscow said that it would not allow such incidents in the future, and if necessary, it is ready to apply the "toughest and most extreme measures" to violators, although such a scenario is presented by Kremlin as "extremely undesirable" for Russia.

Many experts both in Russia and in the West immediately started talking about the potential threat of the 3rd World War, which in fact can flare up because of Ukraine. It is obvious that such forecasts are not beneficial to anyone: neither NATO nor Russia. Nevertheless, a belligerent and resolute attitude remains on both sides, which cannot but cause fear and concern among ordinary people.

Even after the end of Sea Breeze 2021, NATO continues to declare that they will not leave the Black Sea anywhere. This is already confirmed by the sending of new ships to the region.

Nevertheless, the question remains open: is the North Atlantic Alliance ready to take extreme measures against Russia under the pretext of protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which is still persistently denied admission to NATO?

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Defence

Kremlin says NATO membership for Ukraine would be 'red line'

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The Kremlin said on Thursday (17 June) that Ukrainian membership of NATO would be a "red line" for Moscow and that it was worried by talk that Kyiv may one day be granted a membership action plan, write Anton Zverev and Tom Balmforth, Reuters.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the remarks a day after US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in Geneva. Peskov said the summit had been positive overall.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday (14 June) that he wanted a clear "yes" or "no" from Biden on giving Ukraine a plan to join the NATO. Read more.

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Biden said Ukraine needed to root out corruption and to meet other criteria before it could join.

Peskov said Moscow was following the situation closely.

"This is something we are watching very closely and this really is a red line for us - as regards the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO," Peskov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

"Of course, this (the question of a membership plan for Ukraine) raises our concerns," he said.

Peskov said that Moscow and Washington agreed at the Geneva summit that they needed to holds talks on arms control as soon as possible.

Biden and Putin agreed at the summit to embark on regular negotiations to try to lay the groundwork for future arms control agreements and risk reduction measures.

Russia's deputy foreign minister said earlier on Thursday (17 June) that Moscow expected those talks with Washington to start within weeks. He made the comments in a newspaper interview that was published on the foreign ministry's website on Thursday.

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China

China urges NATO to stop exaggerating 'China threat theory'

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China's mission to the European Union urged NATO on Tuesday (15 June) to stop exaggerating the "China threat theory" after the group's leaders warned that the country presented "systemic challenges", Reuters.

NATO leaders on Monday had taken a forceful stance towards Beijing in a communique at United States President Joe Biden's first summit with the alliance. Read more.

"China's stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security," NATO leaders had said.

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The new U.S. president has urged his fellow NATO leaders to stand up to China's authoritarianism and growing military might, a change of focus for an alliance created to defend Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The NATO statement "slandered" China's peaceful development, misjudged the international situation, and indicated a "Cold War mentality," China said in a response posted on the mission's website.

China is always committed to peaceful development, it added.

"We will not pose a 'systemic challenge' to anyone, but if anyone wants to pose a 'systemic challenge' to us, we will not remain indifferent."

In Beijing, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, said the United States and Europe had "different interests," and that some European countries "will not tie themselves to the anti-China war chariot of the United States".

G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

China's embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the "sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States."

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