NATO activates Rapid Response Force, as Ukrainians fight invasion, and US rejects Russian ‘diplomatic’ overtures

The Ukrainians have put up stiff resistance in the face of an overwhelming Russian force.
The flag of NATO and Ukraine (Photo: NATO)
The flag of NATO and Ukraine (Photo: NATO)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced on Thursday that it was activating its Rapid Response Force (RRF) in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Recent statements by US and NATO officials, including those on Friday, have made clear the common US and NATO approach to the Ukraine crisis: defend every inch of NATO territory, while providing Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, the weapons to defend itself.

The Ukrainians have put up stiff resistance in the face of an overwhelming Russian force. President Volodymyr Zelensky, although he was a comedian and an actor before being elected president in 2019, has led Ukraine’s resistance in an admirable way, garnering widespread respect for his courage and leadership skills.

That stands in sharp contrast to Afghanistan, where the army collapsed as NATO forces withdrew, and the president fled the country. If that were the case in Ukraine, the US-NATO approach would appear far less credible.

Also on Friday, the US dismissed a Russian proposal to hold talks with Ukraine, calling it “not real diplomacy.”

Kurdish Parallel to Ukraine

Some 30 years ago, following the premature cease-fire that US President George H. W. Bush called to the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurds faced a situation resembling that which the Ukrainians face now: a small people, confronted by a brutal, overwhelming force.

At that point, the US army believed it had destroyed Saddam Hussein’s forces and US intelligence believed Saddam would be overthrown in a coup. So on Feb. 28, 1991, after a mere 100 hours of a ground war, Bush called a ceasefire, precipitating popular uprisings in the south and north of Iraq.

But Saddam’s forces were not destroyed and he was not overthrown. Instead, he crushed the uprisings, first in the south and then in the north. Rather than use America’s overwhelming military force to stop the slaughter, Bush allowed it to proceed, believing a coup was imminent.

Read More: The US Watches, as Saddam Crushes the Uprisings: 25th Anniversary

When Saddam had finished in the south, he turned his forces northward. But the Kurdish leadership did not flee. Rather, it stood and fought. Masoud Barzani, in the north, and Jalal Talabani, in the south, confronted Saddam's forces in the mountains beyond Erbil and Sulaimani.

Read More: ‘Masoud Barzani is a good friend of mine’ — Kurdistan is not Afghanistan!

In the narrow passes, they and a handful of Peshmerga who stood with them, were able to disable the tanks of the Republican Guards and protect the population fleeing to the international frontiers behind them.

The fighting was very difficult. But the Kurds prevailed, establishing the basis for the humanitarian operation that followed: Provide Comfort, which, in turn, led to the establishment of the Kurdistan Region as an autonomous area of Iraq, and with it, the Kurdistan Regional Government.

So it really is possible for a small, outgunned—but committed—people and leadership to resist a much larger force.

NATO’s Rapid Response Force

On Friday, NATO activated its Rapid Response Force (RRF) for the first time in its 73-year history. Some of Putin’s recent statements suggest that his ambitions go beyond Ukraine, and Biden has, in fact, warned about that, saying Putin aims to re-establish the former Soviet Union.

Read More: Biden: Putin has grander ambitions than Ukraine

Activating the RRF is a way to defend against any such Russian moves. “This is an historic moment and the very first time the Alliance has employed these high readiness forces in a deterrence and defense role,” NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Tod Wolters, said in a statement issued on Friday.

That force is now on standby. It is ready to be deployed on short notice to defend any NATO member that may be threatened by further Russian aggression.

As Biden reiterated on Friday following a discussion with other NATO leaders, “The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory,” and “I strongly welcome the decision to activate NATO’s defensive plans and elements of the NATO Response Force,” along with “the commitments by our Allies to deploy additional land and air forces to [NATO’s] eastern flank” and “maritime forces from the High North” south to “the Mediterranean.”

Notably, any confrontation between NATO and Russia in the Mediterranean is likely to involve Russia’s air and naval bases in Syria.

Read More: Ukraine Crisis: Implications for the Middle East, including the US, Rojava, and the Kurdistan Region

Stiff Resistance from Ukrainians

The Ukrainians, although far-outnumbered and fighting alone, are putting up a stiff resistance—stiffer than the Russian military anticipated.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has remained in Kiev, and he has made a point of regularly posting videos on social media to show that he is staying in the city, as part of the national defense.

“Tonight they will launch an assault,” Zelensky warned on Friday, in a video posted to his Telegram channel. “All of us must understand this night,” he said. ”The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.”

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry distributed some 18,000 guns to reservists in Kiev. It also advised the city’s residents to remain in their homes and “make Molotov cocktails and take down the occupier.”

The Ukrainian resistance has given credibility to the US and NATO approach. If the Ukrainian government had collapsed in the same way that the Afghan government did, that approach might well appear as a fiasco, as it did in Afghanistan—but that has not happened, and Washington recognizes and appreciates it.

“We commend the Ukrainian people for showing strength and determination” in the face of “an unprovoked attack by the Kremlin,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Friday.

“We have seen Ukrainian soldiers demonstrate incredible bravery in the first day of self-defense,” he continued, “shooting down Russian aircraft, firing at tanks, and holding many of the positions while under violent assault.”

Putin’s Diplomatic Overtures Rejected

Asked about Putin’s suggestion that he was ready to hold talks with Ukraine in Belarus, Price dismissed it “as not real diplomacy,” because it would “take place at the barrel of a gun or as Moscow’s rockets mortars, artillery target the Ukrainian people.”

“If President Putin is serious about diplomacy, he knows what he can do,” Price continued. “He should immediately stop the bombing campaign against civilians, order the withdrawal of his forces from Ukraine, and indicate very clearly, unambiguously to the world that Moscow is prepared to de-escalate.”