NATO Plans New Military Outposts to Stop Putin—Just Don't Call Them Bases

To blunt Russia’s aggression, the Western alliance is considering new bases, new troops, and the economic equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Will the Obama administration go along?

With Russian forces entering into Ukraine, NATO is putting together a plan to place the alliance’s troops in bases behind the former Iron Curtain. One U.S. official who was not authorized to speak to the press said the presence of U.S. troops inside these bases in Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would act as a “tripwire for Russia. If Putin considers any military action in these countries, they will know that they will be involving U.S. forces too.”

Officially, however, the Obama administration has gone to great pains to explain that the proposed outposts in these Eastern European countries are not bases, per se. “I do not believe we're talking permanent basing,” said Navy Captain Gregory Hicks, who is the spokesman for U.S. European Command. “I believe NATO will be discussing basing for the duration of a level of activity, whether it be an air detachment, ground presence, or port. The discussion is for a persistent rotational presence, it’s not about establishing bases. The concept is to use existing infrastructure to accommodate the training.”

The debate over the bases—or “persistent rotational presence,” if you must—is part of a larger discussion with the NATO alliance and the Washington policy-making establishment over how to deter Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. Also on the table: a new, NATO quick-reaction force and new legislation, being prepared by a leading U.S. senator, that would amount to an economic nuclear bomb against the Russian federation.  

The Daily Beast has obtained a draft of proposed legislation from Sen. Mark Kirk, the Republican lawmaker who co-authored the crippling sanctions against Iran. In short, Kirk proposes to do to Russia what he and his Democratic colleague, Sen. Robert Menendez, did to Iran: make it all-but-impossible for any Western bank to do business with the state. If passed, the draft legislation would essentially make Moscow a pariah economy.

Specifically, Kirk’s legislation, still circulating among his colleagues, would impose strict limits on any bank that does business with Russia’s central bank to participating in the U.S. banking system. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Kirk also said he supported moves to compel President Obama to support kicking Russian banks out of the SWIFT interbank payment system, a move that would stymie the ability of Russian businesses to efficiently pay foreign companies for goods and services.

While the United States and the European Union have issued sanctions against some Russian banks, defense firms and its largest oil company, those sanctions would not ban other banks and persons that do business with the sanctioned entities from participating in the U.S. financial system.

Kirk’s proposed sanctions would, in principle, ban any bank that did business with Russia’s central bank from the U.S. financial system. And while Kirk’s proposed legislation is still in the early stages, the last time he began campaigning for such crippling sanctions he eventually prevailed by partnering with Menendez.“The best way to avoid war is to come up with effective sanctions against Russia,” he said, echoing an argument he made over and again for his sanctions legislation against Iran.

Kirk’s proposed legislation comes as President Obama is gearing up for a NATO summit in Wales where he will press the alliance’s European militaries to contribute troops for a rapid reaction force that could be deployed within 48 hours if President Putin invades a NATO country on his border.

It’s notable that the proposals being considered now by NATO are aimed at protecting countries already inside the alliance. In Ukraine, a new Russian-led advance into the eastern part of the country has already reversed some gains made by Ukrainian forces over the summer. Over the weekend, Putin himself told the president of the European Commission that his forces could take Kiev within two weeks. And the Kremlin leader not-so-subtly reminded the planet that “Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations.”

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, although its new president will be traveling to the Wales Summit in part to make the case that his country should be allowed into the alliance.


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