Member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are scrambling to invoke Article 4 of the alliance charter as war erupts in Europe.
While Russian troops continue to secure holdings in Ukraine, NATO member states Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have all demanded a general security consultation. The alliance’s Washington Treaty allows for the immediate defense of member states under Article 5, but threats outside of the coalition’s territory must be addressed by other means first. Ukraine, as a non-member, is simply not eligible for the alliance’s immediate aid.
Article 4, now being invoked to address Russian aggression, has been called on several times in history, according to NATO.
Although the Russian invasion kicked off this armed conflict in the early hours of Thursday morning, the situation has rapidly escalated over the course of several months.
Initially, concerns were sparked when Russian troops began appearing in neighboring Belarus during a November 2021 buildup. The military movements were seen by many as laying the groundwork for an invasion of Ukraine, which shares a large land border with both of these countries.
Russian soldiers continued to amass along its own border with Ukraine.
The worrying increase came to a head in December when Russia issued a set of security demands to NATO. The biggest part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s red line was the requirement that all ex-Soviet states be barred from entry into the alliance.
NATO rejected this proposal, affirming that Ukraine’s potential membership was a matter only for member states and Ukraine itself.
The Russian buildup continued, and intelligence revealed Russian logistics stockpiles — indicating a sustained invasion may be in the works.
International talks between world leaders and Putin failed to ease the situation.
President Joe Biden introduced the threat of sanctions, but talk of coordination between China and Russia hinted that any economic weapon would be severely blunted. China’s massive industrial capacity and large land border with Russia might even prove to be Putin’s biggest asset in the face of the U.S. punishments.
Things began to speed up Monday, when Putin recognized the breakaway regions Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine as independent.
Rebels have already held ground in the region for more than seven years, with the Ukrainian government unable to reestablish control. While Ukraine argues that Russian military aid makes this a daunting task, the deadly stalemate appears to provides Putin with all the pretext he believes he needs to invade.
Three days after the recognition, Russia conducted airstrikes and targeted attacks throughout Ukraine. The lightning offensive also saw Putin’s troops entering the country with armor and air assets. Biden and NATO have remained largely silent beyond token statements of support.
The eruption of war in Europe is a shocking thing for many to see in the 21st Century, and NATO members are no exception.
While NATO’s own statement on the situation called for Russia to recall its troops, it stopped short of threatening any real consequence.
What happens in the alliance’s security discussions will likely shape the fate of Ukraine, NATO, Europe and the world.