NATO made an official statement warning Russia against pressing further into Ukrainian territory when the alliance’s 28 members met to discuss the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, which has seen a sharp uptick in violence in the past month. Shelling around Mariupol, a key port city on the Sea of Azov that analysts say would be Russia’s likely first step towards establishing a “land bridge” to Crimea, has picked back up to levels not seen since before both sides signed the Minsk II ceasefire agreement banning, among other things, further advances and the use of heavy artillery.
Though the fighters always have taken that deal’s terms more as guidelines than as rules, the violence did die down somewhat in the interim. But the flareup has renewed worries that Russia or the rebels it backs might try to grab another slice of Ukrainian land. Reuters reports on NATO’s statement:
“Russia has a special responsibility to find a political solution,” NATO acting spokeswoman Carmen Romero said in a statement.
“Any attempt by the Russian-backed separatists to take over more of Ukraine’s territory would be unacceptable to the international community,” she said.
The rebels currently control parts of Ukraine’s Lugansk and Donetsk regions and have threatened to expand their holdings further westwards.
The NATO allies stressed the need for all sides to “de-escalate tensions and exercise restraint” while calling for “full implementation” of the peace accords reached in Minsk in February.
The statement also said that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) must be able to do their job safely and without harassment. The observers have reported aggression from fighters on the ground, especially the rebels.
Because it’s an official NATO statement, this stands out from the chorus of strong Western condemnation for Russia’s action in Ukraine by loud individual voices who condemn Putin’s menacing moves and call for actions to stop them, such as Senator John McCain or NATO’s verbally prolific ex-chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The red line is drawn. Will Russia cross it?