The Cable

Russian Troops in Ukraine Shape NATO's Counter to Putin

NATO's response to Russia's latest incursion into Ukrainian territory came into focus on Tuesday -- and it's forceful.

Russian tanks, troops, and artillery reportedly crossed into a previously unbreached border of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, Aug. 26, opening a third front near the city of Novoazovsk and leading Ukrainian forces into a chaotic retreat. Western officials told the New York Times that they fear Russia is carving out a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed earlier this year.

NATO answered by announcing it would deploy troops to new bases in Eastern Europe, the first time soldiers serving under the NATO banner have been sent to a former Soviet bloc nation. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the move is a direct response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

"We will adopt what we call a readiness action plan with the aim to be able to act swiftly in this completely new security environment in Europe," Rasmussen told European newspapers. "We have something already called the NATO Response Force, whose purpose is to be able to be deployed rapidly if needed. Now it's our intention to develop what I would call a spearhead within that response force at very, very high readiness."

NATO is also shipping more supplies and other equipment to these bases so that troops can quickly respond to crises in Eastern Europe, Rasmussen said.

"In order to be able to provide such rapid reinforcements, you also need some reception facilities in host nations. So it will involve the pre-positioning of supplies, of equipment, preparation of infrastructure, bases, headquarters. The bottom line is, you will, in the future, see a more visible NATO presence in the east."

Rasmussen hopes the buildup will assure NATO countries such as Estonia and Latvia, both of which have Russian-speaking populations. Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign-policy doctrine claims Russia may intervene to protect such groups, regardless of which country they are citizens of. Putin's critics say the policy is just a pretext for invasion, pointing to Ukraine as proof.

The NATO chief also said that the policy shift does not violate existing agreements with Russia, which discourage NATO from establishing permanent bases in Eastern Europe.

"To prevent misunderstanding I use the phrase 'for as long as necessary,'" Rasmussen said of the bases. "Our eastern allies will be satisfied when they see what is actually in the readiness action plan."

But that is unlikely to placate Putin or his Kremlin backers. Putin has warned repeatedly that Moscow would swiftly rebuke any new military installations within the former Soviet Union. For instance, when U.S. President George W. Bush tried building a missile-defense shield across Poland, Turkey -- which was never part of the Soviet Union -- and the Czech Republic, the Kremlin protested vigorously. President Barack Obama scrapped the plan.

Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden say they will work more closely with NATO now. Under the terms of the deal, NATO troops will help Nordic nations during emergencies.

According to the Finnish government, in the event of "disasters, disruptions and threats to security," NATO will come to its aid. Swedish Defense Minister Karin Enstrom told the Associated Press that neither Sweden nor Finland are seeking NATO membership, but added: "We are an active partner with NATO, and we want to deepen our partnership with NATO."

Taken together, the Nordic agreement and the troop stationings in Eastern Europe are exactly the kinds of actions experts told Foreign Policy are needed to balance the so-called Putin doctrine. They also come ahead of next week's NATO summit in Wales, where the alliance's leaders are expected to formalize a response to Russia's incursion into Ukraine.

"NATO needs to put multilateral troops on the ground in allied territory," former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker said in a recent interview.

"I find it very difficult if we go back to the pre-Crimea status quo," added Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group. "The worry [about the Putin doctrine] is not going away."

All of this takes place against the backdrop of the first face-to-face meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Belarus during a regional economic summit. The two reportedly met for two hours Tuesday and left the session with very different impressions.

Poroshenko said that all of the leaders at the summit -- including Putin -- agreed to a peace plan to stem the crisis. Putin had a different recollection.

"We did not discuss this matter substantively," Putin reportedly said. "Frankly speaking, we cannot discuss any conditions for a cease-fire or possible agreements between Kiev, Donetsk, and Luhansk. This is not our business; it is a domestic matter of Ukraine itself."

The Ukrainian government also alleges that Russia spiked its military activity in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where nine Russian soldiers were captured Tuesday. Putin admitted that his soldiers were taken but said that the whole incident was an accident. (Canada's NATO delegation sent out this helpful tweet to assist lost Russian soldiers.)

"After all, Ukrainian service members entered our territory with armored equipment, and we didn't have any problems. I hope that in this case, there also will not be any problems with the Ukrainian side," Putin said, according to the Kremlin's transcript of his remarks.

Complicating matters further, Russia allegedly will cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, which could lead to gas-supply disruptions across Europe. Europe relies on Russia for some 30 percent of its energy, while Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom gets 60 percent of its revenue from European coffers.

"We know about the plans to completely block the transit [of gas] to EU member states," said Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, according to Ukrainian news agency UNIAN. "We know about the plans to disable all energy resources going to Ukraine."

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak denied the accusation, calling it a "groundless attempt to intentionally mislead or misinform European consumers of Russian gas," according to Reuters.

"We will put forth maximum efforts to fulfill gas-contract obligations to European importers regardless of political issues in this or that transit country," Novak added.

Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP / Getty Images

The Cable

Iraqi Ambassador Offers Window Into New Prime Minister's Worldview

The Iraqi government is poised for a significant overhaul following this month's nomination of Haider al-Abadi as the country's next prime minister. But at least one senior official won't have to worry about cleaning out his desk: Iraqi ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily.

"I anticipate that I will stay here," Faily told Foreign Policy. "I know the prime minister-designate extremely well."

Indeed, Faily and Abadi have been close confidants since their days of academic and private-sector work in England in the 1980s. While Abadi earned a doctorate in engineering at the University of Manchester in 1980, Faily completed his degree in mathematics and computer science at Manchester Metropolitan University a few years later. On a weekly basis, the two men collaborated on student activism projects and demonstrations rooted in their opposition to Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. While immersing themselves in the Shiite Dawa Party, Abadi led a company that serviced elevators for the building that housed the BBC World Service; and Faily worked for multiple IT companies.

It is Abadi's connection to the West that has fueled hope that he might govern in a more inclusive manner than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, whose insular, power-hungry style alienated Iraq's Sunnis and helped pave the way for the Islamic State's takeover of large swaths of the country. But much remains unknown about Abadi's plans for Iraq, and many doubt that a lifelong Islamist of his profile can save the bitterly divided country.

In comparing the two leaders, Faily said Abadi's rise brings an opportunity for better relations with Washington. "He speaks English. He doesn't need a translator. He can tune into the D.C. frequency quite easily," he said.

By contrast, Maliki spent many of his formative years in Iran and Syria. "Prime Minister Maliki hardly had been to the West," noted Faily. "He was taught in a region where anti-imperialism is the normal doctrine. In that sense, they are two different breeds."

But those hoping for a dramatically different chief executive in Baghdad will likely be disappointed. Faily emphasized that the two Dawa Party members share a broadly similar worldview and cautioned against those depicting the political transition in stark terms. "He's also an Islamist by background. He will not have that much of a different vision than Maliki," said Faily.

Born to a prominent doctor in Baghdad in 1952, Abadi joined the Islamic Dawa Party at age 15. In the 1970s, the Dawa Party staged an armed insurgency after the Baathist Party came to power. Two of his brothers, also Dawa Party members, were killed by the Baath regime, and another was imprisoned for 10 years. In the late 1970s, Abadi moved to Britain and later became an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein.

Although his time in Britain introduced him to the Western way of life, it also exposed him to policies he vehemently disagreed with, such as London and Washington's support of Saddam in the Iran-Iraq War. "He and I and others had difficulties with the British system because they were with Saddam at the time," Faily said. "People talk about justice and fairness, but at the end of the day, they're supporting him in a fight where he was the aggressor. So how would you expect him to think that these were people with ideals rather than opportunists?"

Abadi now finds himself in a high-stakes effort to keep Iraq in one piece.

He must build a power-sharing government that diminishes sectarian tensions and fends off Islamic State militants, the greatest threat to the country's security since the fall of Saddam in 2003. According to the White House and State Department, forging strong partnerships with Iraq's Sunnis and Kurds is key, but the going hasn't been easy.

On Monday, Aug. 25, Abadi said the new government was forming with a "clear vision," but the remarks coincided with a spate of fresh car bombings underscoring the deep divisions in the country.

"The talks to form the government were positive and constructive. I hope in the next two coming days to agree on a clear vision of a unified program for the government," Abadi told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad. After the address, a suicide bomber detonated his vest inside a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, killing at least nine people and wounding 21. On Monday, bombings in the Shiite holy city of Karbala killed four and injured 17. On Saturday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for three car bombings in Kirkuk and one in Erbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish north.

Besides divvying up cabinet positions among Iraq's various sects, experts say Abadi must repair relations with Sunni tribes supporting the Islamic State and tweak the constitution to limit executive power. "Iraq does, in my view, require a very different model of governance," said Charles Dunne, Middle East director at Freedom House, a Washington think tank.

But few are convinced that Abadi will take up the West's recommendations just because he knows English or has lived in Britain. "Bashar al-Assad was an ophthalmologist in Britain, so we can't necessarily read too much into that," Dunne said.

Others are slightly more optimistic. "Abadi might not differ much from Maliki in that they both are from the same party, but the expectation is that Abadi would be more inclusive than Maliki in making sure all forces, particularly the Sunnis, feel part of the decision-making process," said Marwan Muasher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "With ISIS controlling a good chunk of Iraq's territory, and the Kurds threatening to go their separate way, Abadi can go a long way by being more inclusive; and so far many of the Sunni forces [have] indicated their willingness to cooperate so long as he shows inclusiveness."

To some extent, the ball is in the Sunnis' court, said Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "The Shiites did a really big thing in forcing Maliki out," he said. "Now the question is, what are the Sunnis going to be willing to accept to turn against the Islamic State and fight them?"

As for whether Abadi has the political skill to win over skeptical Sunni leaders, Pollack said it's impossible to know. "Too many times, Americans get themselves overexcited about a new 'great white hope,' but it rarely pans out," he said. "If you were a betting man, you'd say it's unlikely that this is going to be fixed soon."

Photo by Getty Images