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Russian invasion of Ukraine would prompt NATO reinforcement of eastern flank

Russia knows if it invades Ukraine that NATO's military options are very limited, despite the alliance's warning that such action would have “massive consequences”.

However, an invasion could lead to the exact scenario Moscow is attempting to avoid by its sabre-rattling, aggressive diplomatic language and an untenable new proposal to the allies: the military reinforcement of NATO's eastern flank with Russia, according to allied sources.

“If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin heads into Ukraine, NATO will have no choice but to strengthen its deterrent position in those allies on Russia's border or close to it,” a NATO diplomatic source told Janes on 20 December. “It's precisely the wrong calculation by Putin.”

The allies more than hinted at that in their 16 December statement on the situation on Ukraine's border, where Russia has massed nearly 100,000 troops. The statement declares that NATO will respond in a “determined way to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defence posture as necessary.”

Like boxers in a ring, each side is trying to gauge the other's next move – and limits.

Russia's current military build-up serves “to get a clearer view of the US's bottom line over war and to gain leverage in possible negotiations over a revised European security order”, writes Michael Emerson, associate senior research fellow, in a 17 December analysis for the Centre for European Policy Studies: a Brussels-based think-tank,

As for NATO, prior to finalising their statement, some allies wanted to frame an if/then message to Russia, but that was rejected to avoid chaining the alliance's force posture to Russia's decisions. The statement does specify, however, that “should Russia take concrete steps to reduce tensions [as] we are prepared to work on strengthening confidence-building measures”.

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