US defense chief: NATO expansion not at fault in Ukraine crisis

Moscow has cited Kiev’s aspirations to join the military bloc as among the reasons for the military campaign

NATO’s eastward expansion was not to blame for the outbreak of the military conflict between Ukraine and Russia, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin believes. He singled Moscow out as the sole responsible party for the bloodshed, in line with the longstanding Western narrative.

President Vladimir Putin identified Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO as one of the reasons for military action. The Kremlin sees Kiev’s potential membership in the US-led military bloc as a major threat to Russia’s national security.

During the Shangri-La defense forum in Singapore on Saturday, Cao Yanzhong, a Chinese journalist and researcher at the country’s Institute of War Studies, argued that the “eastern expansion of NATO has led to the Ukraine crisis.” He proceeded to ask Austin whether Washington was working toward the creation of an Asian version of NATO, and what potential implications the “strengthening of the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific will have on this region’s security and stability?”

The US defense chief replied: “I respectfully disagree with your point that the expansion of NATO caused the Ukraine crisis. The Ukraine crisis obviously was caused because Mr. Putin made a decision to unlawfully invade his neighbor.”

As for the US’ activities in the Asia-Pacific region, Austin denied that Washington was seeking to establish a military alliance there, but was rather merely cooperating with “like-minded countries with similar values.”

Top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have on multiple occasions characterized Moscow’s military conflict with Kiev as a proxy war waged by NATO against Russia, in which Ukrainian soldiers serve as “cannon fodder.”

This week, reports emerged that US President Joe Biden had given Ukraine the green light to use American long-range weapons to strike targets in certain parts of Russia. The decision was later confirmed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

An anonymous US official quoted by the New York Times said the shift was creating “a new reality” for the world. The report said further relaxation of the US restrictions may follow in the future.

According to media reports, Kiev can now use Americans weapons to hit targets that pose a direct threat to Kharkov Region, where Russia launched an offensive earlier this month and seized several villages along the border.

Meanwhile, Zelensky made it clear that he expected bolder steps from Washington in this respect.

Putin warned earlier this week that the constant escalation of the Ukraine conflict “may lead to serious consequences.”