While no imminent Ukraine membership in NATO is on the agenda despite Kiev’s insistence, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin continues to show his support for the countries surrounding the Black Sea, waving an alleged Russian threat.
US Secretary of State for Defense Lloyd Austin began a tour around the Black Sea on October 17, at the center of recurring tensions between NATO and Russia. The Pentagon chief has planned a visit to Georgia, Romania and Ukraine before attending the summit of defense ministers of the Atlantic Alliance, which will be held face-to-face in Brussels on October 21 and 22.
“We reaffirm and strengthen the sovereignty of countries which are at the forefront of Russian aggression,” a senior US defense official told reporters before the trip. Washington times. On the horizon, the prospect of NATO enlargement, of which Georgia and Ukraine are not members.
In Georgia, Lloyd Austin, who is the first Pentagon chief to return to the country since 2014, is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze, with the main objective of continuing cooperation on defense as a three-year U.S. military training program expires this year. In Ukraine, the US Minister will meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Defense Minister Andriy Taran. Finally, in Romania, he will meet President Klaus Iohannis and Minister of National Defense Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca, in the context of a new political crisis in the country.
Ukraine, embarrassing pretender?
The tour comes as Joe Biden recently expressed reservations about Ukraine’s NATO membership. In June, a few minutes after an enthusiastic tweet from the Ukrainian president suggesting his country’s imminent membership of the alliance, Joe Biden declared that the country had “more to do”, especially in terms of the fight against corruption.
“In the meantime, we will do all we can to ensure that Ukraine is able to continue to resist Russia’s physical aggression. It won’t be up to me […], it will depend on the Alliance as a whole. The Ukrainians will have to convince and it is not an easy thing, ”he also declared.
Joe Biden reiterated this position in September on the occasion of President Zelensky’s visit to Washington, promising to help him again against Russian “aggression” in Crimea, in particular by providing him with military equipment.
Another NATO heavyweight, Germany had also recently confessed not to consider immediately joining Ukraine, as Ulrike Demmer, a German government spokeswoman quoted by DW, had indicated. in April.
“Ukraine has the right to choose freely and has its own political needs. Nevertheless, no additional step towards its accession is envisaged at this time ”, she had commented, while stressing that the door of the military organization remained“ open ”.
In addition to the problem of corruption in the authorities, Ukraine is particularly unstable politically. Military tensions are crystallizing around the Donbass region in the east of the country, where two self-proclaimed republics seceded after the 2014 coup that overthrew President Viktor Yanukovych, and the reunification of Crimea with the Russia.
In general, despite the supportive speech displayed by Washington and its European allies, Kiev is growing impatient. “We cannot stay indefinitely in the waiting room of the EU and NATO”, summed up the Ukrainian leader in an interview with Figaro on April 15, when the tension between Moscow and Kiev escalated.
The Black Sea, a high-tension area
Another sensitive issue that Lloyd Austin takes with him: that of a possible enlargement of the Alliance to Georgia.
The United States has conducted military programs for years with the Georgian army. The current program ends in December. “We expect the meetings to focus on deepening our cooperation, regional security issues and Georgia’s integration process into NATO,” said David Zalkaliani, Georgian Foreign Minister. , ahead of the visit of the US Secretary of Defense.
But the country’s situation is far from stable and tensions persist with Russia. Moscow has in fact recognized since 2008 the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (pronounced at the end of a bloody conflict), two regions that Georgia considers its territory.
The Black Sea is also the scene of recurring incidents like last June, when Russia accused a British destroyer of having violated its territorial waters in Crimea.
If the NATO countries point the finger at Moscow, Russia, for its part, is worried about the proliferation of maneuvers by the military alliance on its borders.
“The scale [des activités russes à la frontière ukrainienne] does not exceed that of previous years and seems much more modest than the scope of the exercises of the Ukrainian armed forces and the NATO countries which take place near the borders of Ukraine and directly on Ukrainian soil ”, underlined the Russian diplomacy spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in March.
Finally, Lloyd Austin’s visit to Brussels at NATO headquarters will involve another point of tension: the dispute between France on the one hand and the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia on the other. It will indeed be the first summit bringing together French and American diplomacy since the cancellation of the “contract of the century”, relating to the sale of submarines, and which had been seen as a real “humiliation” by some observers.