UK & World News

  • 3 March 2014, 17:44

Ukraine: West Wants To Talk Not Fight

The one word that I keep hearing from defence officials and diplomats in Washington, London and Brussels is the need to "de-escalate".

Nato's North Atlantic Council met in emergency session on Sunday and it is likely they will again this week.

The Nato Ukraine Commission (NUC) convened immediately afterwards for the second time in under a week.

I'm told that this is proving a valuable partnership for intelligence sharing.

Reportedly, a military response was not considered or even talked about at either meeting. For the moment let's assume that is the truth.

However, military planners are working on various contingencies in the event the politicians do come calling.

As it stands right now, that is looking unlikely.

Appetite in the US, UK and EU for military action is low. Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of that.

In face of criticism that they are being outwitted by Moscow, Western leaders are, frankly, pursuing a policy of hope. But as the saying goes: "Hope is not a strategy".

Officially Nato could accelerate its contingency planning. This would send a message without actually committing troops to action.

In reality it would do little to advance what is already privately underway and is unlikely to be taken too seriously by the Kremlin.

As part of that planning, Nato's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) could be placed on high alert.

Headquartered in Gloucestershire, ARRC is made up of around 25,000 military personnel, drawn from the 28 member states. It is currently under the command of a Briton, Lieutenant General Tim Evans and it operates under the motto "Unified, Integrated, Ready".

The American warship the USS Mount Whitney and destroyer the USS Taylor were deployed off the coast of Sochi in the Black Sea to assist with security during the Winter Olympics.

They could be tasked to sail west, closer to Crimea, to provide a presence. Alliance submarines will undoubtedly already be operating in the Black Sea, intelligence gathering.

Back-channels with Kiev are open and busy. Nato is likely to be privately advising the Ukrainian military on best tactics. The use of intelligence gathering will have been stepped up, using satellites and cyber. Unmanned aircraft could even be brought into play.

But most of these options could and probably would be seen as provocative by Moscow and might incite them to respond.

Diplomats are amazed, and impressed, by Ukraine's restraint so far. Not a shot has been fired.

Retaliation would quickly escalate the situation and could give President Putin the excuse he is possibly looking for to push his forces further into eastern Ukraine.

For now the favoured approach is diplomacy not military action.

Leaders and foreign ministers talk of Russia having to pay the "significant cost" of its actions, but as yet no one has said what those costs might be.

But the EU and Washington won't have missed the effect Mr Putin's actions have had on the Moscow stock market: down 10% at the start of the week.

That reaction will no doubt encourage the pursuit of economic sanctions.

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