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Diplomacy Watch: NATO infighting continues as Putin signals long war

Diplomacy Watch: NATO infighting continues as Putin signals long war

Western policy on Ukraine is hitting a snag as Turkey and Hungary flex their new-found geopolitical muscles.


When Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May of this year, all eyes turned to Turkey. The Nordic countries have long had rocky relations with Ankara, in large part due to differences over human rights issues and terrorism.

Turkey initially signaled that it was in favor of letting Sweden and Finland into the alliance, but it quickly became clear that such a move would come at a cost — and likely a high one given how determined Stockholm and Helsinki are to join NATO. Now, Ankara is cashing in.

On Monday, Turkey’s justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, praised Sweden’s decision to extradite a man who Ankara accuses of ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that Turkey and the United States consider a terrorist organization. But Bozdag made clear that Sweden and Finland would have to go much further if they want to secure Turkey’s approval to join the alliance, which accepts new members only by consensus.

“In line with the trilateral memorandum with Sweden and Finland, they should lift all [arms] embargoes on Turkey, change their legislation for the fight against terrorism, and extradite all terrorists that Turkey wants,” he said. “All of these conditions should not be reduced to extraditions."

In Brussels, another NATO member made a controversial move: Hungary vetoed a proposed European Union loan to Ukraine worth $19 billion, throwing a wrench into EU efforts to send more aid to Kyiv and deepening tensions within the bloc.

Other EU states blasted the decision as “immoral” and suggested that they would work together on what one might call an “EU-minus-one” version of the plan. Budapest continues to argue that each member should support Kyiv on a bilateral basis.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the war in Ukraine could be a “lengthy process,” signaling that Moscow is prepared to dig in for a long conflict. 

As Mick Ryan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted on Twitter, the statement had three key audiences. The first is the Russian population, apparently to prepare it for future hardships associated with the conflict. The second audience is the Russian military, to assure that the Kremlin “won’t be cutting and running” before its war aims are achieved.

The third (and perhaps most important) target is the Western public. Putin is “again asking them if high inflation and high energy costs over the long term are worth their support to Ukraine,” according to Ryan.

On the other side, Ukraine’s resolve to fight a long war will also likely intensify following this week’s release by the United Nations of a disturbing report about Russian atrocities. The investigation confirmed that Russian forces had carried out at least 441 extrajudicial killings in areas near Kyiv, with 28 children among the victims. The real number of killings is “likely considerably higher,” according to the report.

“There are strong indications that the summary executions documented in the report constitute the war crime of willful killing,” said Volker Turk, the UN’s top human rights official.

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— After months of stalled negotiations, the United States and Russia agreed to a prisoner swap that will bring U.S. professional basketball star Brittney Griner home, according to CBS News. In exchange for Griner’s release, Washington will free Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been serving a 25-year sentence in the United States for illegal weapons sales. Former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian prison for four years following a conviction for espionage, was not part of the final deal despite being included in earlier proposals.

— French President Emmanuel Macron argued Saturday that security guarantees for Russia will be crucial to future peace negotiations, according to the New York Times. “One of the essential points we must address — as President Putin has always said — is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors, and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia,” Macron said.

— On Tuesday, House Democrats blocked a Republican effort to mandate an audit of U.S. aid to Ukraine, with one progressive lawmaker arguing that the bill was a “trap” that would undermine Washington’s united front on the war, according to the Washington Post. Democratic opposition to the bill was likely due in part to their antipathy for its far-right sponsor, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). The dust-up is a preview of what are sure to be sharp fights over Ukraine policy when Republicans take over control of the House next year.

— Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused Ukraine Tuesday of shelling the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, claiming that Kyiv has fired 33 shells at the facility in the past two weeks and that some have caused damage, according to Reuters. Another Russian official hinted that UN-backed talks to establish a safe zone around the plant are progressing, pointing to “positive dynamics” in talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Ukraine denies Russian accusations that it has fired on the power plant.

U.S. State Department news:

In a Tuesday press conference, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the United States is only interested in a ceasefire if it is followed by a “just” peace. “If we have a pause instead of peace, we know that President Putin will use that pause to retool, to refit, to regroup, and to, in all likelihood, go back into Ukraine with renewed vengeance,” Price argued.

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