It would be “catastrophic” for the United States, the UK, or other NATO countries to get embroiled in Ukraine, a British defense minister has warned, stressing the importance of minimizing the risk of miscalculation.
Russia has demanded that NATO must never allow Ukraine to join the alliance, and has amassed an estimated 130,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, though Moscow has insisted it has no intention to invade.
Writing in The Times of London, UK minister for the armed forces James Heappey stressed that NATO is a “defensive alliance” and that it must be “careful” not to play to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s narrative that NATO is expansionist and set on threatening Russia .
Heappey acknowledged that, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO has deployed beyond its borders to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans, etc.
But he argued that “these are all very different from offering the collective security of the alliance to a non-member especially with the very real possibility that the alliance fractures as a result.”
Doing so would be “exactly the pretext Putin needs to claim that he’s responding to Western aggression on his borders,” he wrote.
“Clarity in our message is essential so that we minimize the risk of miscalculation and escalation,” he stressed. “The consequences of the US, UK, or any other NATO country becoming embroiled in Ukraine are catastrophic.”
“This is a time for cool heads,” he said, adding: “NATO must show its resolve within its own borders.”
But a senior Conservative MP criticized the attempt to “hide behind the fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO.”
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defense Select Committee in the House of Commons, said: “Libya wasn’t a member of NATO and we stepped in there to avoid a bloodbath in Benghazi. Bosnia wasn’t a member of NATO. Kosovo is not a member of NATO.”
Talking to LBC radio, he dismissed the idea that “there’s no treaty for us to lean on,” saying: “Surely we have a commitment to freedom, to supporting European democracy.”
He added: “This is exactly the language of somebody who was just to appease your actual aggressor. We’ve got this completely wrong.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko backtracked on a suggestion that his country could consider dropping its ambition to join NATO to avoid war.
Prystaiko told the BBC on Sunday night that Ukraine would consider “serious concessions” including removing the goal of joining NATO from the Ukrainian constitution.
But on Monday he told BBC Breakfast that Ukraine is “ready for many concessions” but those do not include giving up on future NATO membership, as it is “enshrined in the constitution.”
Asked to comment on the ambassador’s remarks, Heappey, the junior UK defense minister, said Britain would support whatever Ukraine decides to do on its ambition to join NATO.
“If Ukraine as part of its own diplomatic effort to build relationships and confidence with Moscow wants to offer an alternative route forward that it feels it has chosen as a sovereign country, the UK would delight in supporting Ukraine in that because we are one of Ukraine’s best friends in the world,” he told the BBC.
“But if by the same token Ukraine wants to reserve its rights to join NATO or to do something that Moscow disagrees with, that’s something we should support, too, because Ukraine is a sovereign country.”
PA Media and contributed to this report.