As soon as we learned that a missile had fallen on the Polish city of Przewodów on November 15, the phrase “Article 5” was trending on social networks… And some feared an extension of the war in Ukraine to the fringes of NATO. Finally, the tension died down when it turned out that the missile in question had been fired by a Ukrainian S-300 air defense battery… and not Russian as Kiev claimed, despite the evidence.
As a reminder, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty provides for a collective defense clause, ie all Member States must provide assistance if one of their countries is attacked. It has only been invoked once, by the United States, after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Be that as it may, Przewodów’s episode showed that the risk of a general conflict in Europe could not be ruled out… And this is what Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s general secretary, granted during an interview to the NRK, the Norwegian public radio television, on December 9.
First, the former Norwegian prime minister returned to the weeks leading up to the start of the war, specifically at the NATO-Russia Council [COR] held on January 12. A priori, he understood at this time that Moscow would not back down. “At a certain point discussions are pointless. [Vladimir] Putin had decided to use force,” he said.
Mr Stoltenberg also said: “Because an invasion is a violation of all international rules, it was important to make people understand [à la Russie] that NATO would support Ukraine”. That has indeed been the case since the beginning of the war…
As for Mr Putin, “he believed he could get what he wanted through military violence and brutality not seen since World War II,” continued NATO’s secretary general. . Russian troops “deliberately targeted civilians by cutting off water supplies and attacking non-military targets. This is an extremely brutal war,” he continued…
However, Mr Stoltenberg said he believes the Kremlin chief “cannot break up Ukraine” and that “on the contrary, he is mobilizing even more support for Kiev”. But more generally, he continued, “it would be extremely dangerous to underestimate what we are dealing with.” And to insist: “We face a test to know whether freedom can withstand authoritarian regimes”.
As for the economic impact of this war, largely due to the sanctions imposed on Russia, Mr. Stoltenberg did not try to play it down. “I understand those who think food prices and electricity bills are too high. That is a painful price we pay in Europe. But a much higher price will have to be paid if our freedom is threatened by Putin’s victory in Ukraine,” he said.
Still, for the Norwegian official, there is a risk that the war in Ukraine will “get out of hand” and turn into “a big war between NATO and Russia”. That said, he also said he was “confident that we will avoid this”. And finally: “NATO’s main task is to prevent a large-scale war in Europe, and we are working on that every day”, especially since [Vladimir Poutine] “underestimated our ability to protect and defend each other.”