VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania, Poland and Latvia are considering triggering Article 4 of the NATO treaty to deploy troops to Belarus in response to what they say is Russian aggression on their borders.
The European Union has imposed sanctions on Moscow and the United States is pressuring Moscow to end its threat to annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. But the officials have little hope of persuading the Kremlin to change its behavior. The U.S.-backed Ukrainian government has struggled to maintain control over the sprawling eastern part of the country where it still has little territory.
In the past year, Russian special forces backed by troops from the nearby Russian enclave of Kaliningrad have assaulted and occupied two Ukrainian territory, and are suspected of seizing military personnel in other regions.
Krystyna Kalinina, the spokeswoman for the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, told Reuters on Tuesday that the three Baltic states were in a “preparation mode” for the invocation of Article 4, which states that if an alliance ally sees a threat to its territorial integrity, it must place a specific number of troops on its soil, usually 3,000. NATO’s Article 5 provides for collective defensive action, including the destruction of enemy forces.
If the Baltic states trigger Article 4, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia would be obligated to share such a commitment with all alliance allies in the event of an attack on another allied country. An invocation of Article 4 can take place in the context of a mutual defense or a non-traditional war-like situation.
It is not clear when a decision will be made about how many troops will be sent to Belarus, or how many would be directly involved in any possible NATO attack on Russia.
The crisis involving the Russian military movements along Ukraine’s borders was set off when in September 2017 the military military leader of Russia’s Sebastopol division, Lt. Gen. Dmitry Sakorov, said he would soon unleash his Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine.
Sakorov was speaking during an official ceremony marking the regiment’s completion, according to the commander of Russia’s combat information center, Ivan Morozov.
Russia later dispersed its troops from the eastern border with Ukraine to the western region of Kaliningrad.
Ukraine is now recovering from more than a decade of strife sparked by Russian intervention in eastern regions, including by a divisive campaign to rebuild its national identity using nationalist methods.
Since it declared independence after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Ukraine has been dogged by political and territorial disputes with various neighbors, including its eastern neighbor.
In 1999, Ukraine signed an accord with NATO, the only alliance to offer membership to Moscow. But in April 2014, protesters took to the streets of Kiev to overthrow President Viktor Yanukovych after he abruptly withdrew Ukraine from the alliance.
Following the unrest, Russia annexed Crimea in the hopes of lifting sanctions on its own ally, Belarus. Now that Belarus is propping up its allies in Moscow, with which it has a bitter rivalry, it appears inevitable that Moscow will push for expansion of its military operations beyond the Black Sea.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Belarus’s military forces, which are only a few thousand strong. “They will be successful in almost any scenario,” Putin said.
The Baltic states have long tried to obtain the right to invite foreign troops to occupy their territory. They have long struggled to maintain the pro-Western tone of their governments. Most declined to join the NATO alliance until 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Many Baltic leaders worry that Russia, spurred by its influence in Belarus, may try to destabilize their capitals through political violence.