At NATO, goal is to curb Russia but not provoke it

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At NATO, goal is to curb Russia but not provoke it
President Barack Obama listens as British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a news conference at the G7 summit in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, June 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
US President Barack Obama greets US Ambassador to Britain Matthew Winthrop Barzun (L) as he disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England, on September 3, 2014, on the eve of a NATO summit in Wales. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 3: British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Celtic Manor Resort on September 3, 2014 in Newport, Wales, United Kingdom. Some 67 world leaders will be attending the NATO summit at Celtic Manor September 4-5. (Photo by Leon Neal - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama waves as he disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England, on September 3, 2014, on the eve of a NATO summit in Wales. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
David Cameron, U.K. prime minister, speaks to employees at General Dynamics Corp.'s U.K. division during a tour of the company's plant in Newport, U.K., on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Cameron will today sign a 3.5 billion-pound ($5.8 billion) order from General Dynamics for nearly 600 armored Scout vehicles for the British Army. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Nordea Concert Hall in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama British Prime Minister David Cameron participate in a news conference at the G7 summit in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, June 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JUNE 4: US President Barack Obama (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) attend a joint press conference on the last day of the G7 summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on June 5, 2014. Leaders of the worlds leading industrialized countries minus Russia met in Brussels for a Group of Seven summit to discuss the situation in Ukraine and the relations with Moscow.(Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron hold a joint press conference during the G7 Summit at the European Council in Brussels, on June 5, 2014. Leaders of the Group of Seven industrialised nations head from a two-day summit in Brussels to Paris before travelling to D-Day commemorations in Normandy on June 6 where they will rub shoulders with the Russian leader. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
iU.S. President Barack Obama steps off Air Force One as he arrives in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama and 89th Airlift Wing Commander Col. John Millard walk on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. President Obama flies to Estonia, in a show of solidarity with one of the countries that could benefit from NATO’s plans to expand its military presence in Eastern Europe. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
U.S. President Barack Obama high fives a child as he is welcomed by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Urmas Paet, Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, left, and Toomas Kahur, Estonia's Chief of Protocol, center, as he arrives in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Journalists wait to photograph U.S. President Barack Obama as he steps off Air Force One upon arrival in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama walks to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, as he begins his trip to Estonia and Wales for the NATO Summit. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama walks out of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 to board Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto Estonia for meetings with Baltic leaders then onto Wales for a NATO summit. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama returns a salute as he disembarks Marine One helicopter to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, as he begins his trip to Estonia and Wales for the NATO Summit. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. President Barack Obama and with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves review the honor guard at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. President Barack Obama and with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves review the honor guard at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. President Barack Obama, right, meets with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. President Barack Obama signs a guest book for Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The guest book is placed on a table after it was signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he was welcomed by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. President Barack Obama and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves review the honor guard at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. President Barack Obama and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves are seated with their respective delegations during their meeting at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Obama is in Estonia for a one day visit where he will meet with Baltic State leaders before heading to the NATO Summit in Wales. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2nd R) listen to their national anthems prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (C) shakes hands with Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas (2nd R) prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) is greeted by local children prior to meetings with the Estonian President at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (C) speaks to local children prior to meetings with the Estonian President at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (L) and US President Barack Obama (2nd L) inspect a military honor guard prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (L) and US President Barack Obama (C) inspect a military honor guard prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2nd R) arrive for meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (C) welcomes US President Barack Obama (L) for meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2nd R) listen to their national anthems prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (C) listen to their national anthems prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (C) listen to their national anthems prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / ILMARS ZNOTINS (Photo credit should read ILMARS ZNOTINS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama's message in a guest book is seen prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (L) and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves walk up stairs to hold meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (3rd R) and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (3rd L) hold meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia, September 3, 2014. US President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia aboard Air Force One to meet Baltic leaders and reaffirm Washington's commitment to the security of ex-Soviet NATO members. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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NEWPORT, Wales (AP) - The heady "we won the Cold War" days are over. When President Obama and other NATO leaders assemble here Thursday for a key summit meeting, their No. 1 goal will be an old and familiar one: protecting vulnerable alliance members from Russia, without goading the Kremlin into military action.

After reaching out to Russia for two decades as a potential partner, NATO is once again is looking for ways to curb the Kremlin's territorial ambitions without sparking a full-scale return to expensive and risky Cold War confrontation.

But the U.S.-led alliance's eastward march into Moscow's old sphere of influence, and the demonstrated willingness of Russian President Vladimir Putin to use military might to push back when it suits Moscow's strategic goals, have created a volatile and potentially dangerous situation.

Some fear getting sucked into a spiral of moves and countermoves that in the most nightmarish of scenarios might escalate into head-on confrontation between Putin's nuclear-capable military and NATO's own forces.

On Monday, NATO announced plans for a new rapid-deployment force and the advance stockpiling of ammunition and fuel to better protect Poland and other alliance members in Eastern Europe that feel threatened by Russia.

The following day, in the latest twist of the screw, a senior Russian military official announced Moscow would be revising its own strategy to account for "changing military dangers and military threats."

For months, the U.S. and its allies have accused the Russians of blatant, ongoing military interference in eastern Ukraine on behalf of the local Russian minority, following Moscow's takeover and annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March.

Despite repeated Russian denials, NATO has estimated that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers have entered Ukraine, helping turn the tide in favor of pro-Russian insurgents.

Last month, the alliance's top commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, told a German newspaper that if the Kremlin were to take similar destabilizing actions against a NATO member_in the Baltic nation of Latvia, for instance, where 27 percent of the inhabitants consider themselves Russian- it would be deemed an attack on all alliance members under Article 5 of the 1949 treaty that created NATO.

Under that pact, "the U.S is as committed to defend Riga as Berlin or Richmond," said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow and NATO specialist at the Atlantic Council of the United States, a Washington-based think tank.

In a report issued in July, the Defense Committee of the British House of Commons said NATO is particularly vulnerable to Russia's now proven capability to wage a novel type of warfare that marshals military and non-military components including disinformation campaigns conducted over social media, fomenting civil disorder, and the use of troops operating in disguise or without identifying insignia.

A senior NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not empowered to make public statements, said Monday that enhancing alliance capabilities to counter such "hybrid" or "assymetric" warfare is one of a package of proposals that Obama and leaders of NATO's 27 other member nations will consider at their meetings in southern Wales.

But while vowing to do more to protect frontline members of the alliance, NATO leaders appear determined to minimize the chances of provoking Putin and his generals.

One intangible that may be contributing to the cautionary mood: this year's sobering commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, a four-year slaughter some historians contend Europe's Great Powers blithely embarked upon before thinking through the consequences of their acts.

At the Wales summit, "we will decide on measures that will further strengthen the alliance's reaction and defense capabilities," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her country's parliament on Monday. In doing so, Merkel said it was important that NATO also uphold commitments it made in happier times to the Russians, which include a pledge to not permanently base large numbers of troops in the former Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

The commitments are part of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, which Merkel pointedly said "is marked by the insight that security in Europe can achieved not by confrontation but only by cooperation. This is, and remains, our conviction."

In Paris, officials in President Francois Hollande's entourage who briefed reporters on France's goals for the summit said NATO must strive to deliver a "calming discourse" in the Russia-Ukraine dispute, and combine pressure on Moscow with a continued willingness to negotiate a political exit from the crisis.

The upshot, Benitez said, is that eastern NATO members won't get the permanent, large-scale alliance presence they have been demanding - or anything like the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and phalanxes of battle tanks that were deployed in West Germany to defend it from the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.

"Diplomats and pundits will play semantics with terms like 'continuous presence,' but the bottom line is that while there will now be NATO troops conducting exercises in the eastern allies practically every day, these deployments will be short-term and smaller scale than the threatened allies feel necessary," Benitez said.

The U.S.-based analyst personally believes the alliance need a more muscular policy to check Putin's ambitions. Citing a media report of war games held recently on both sides of Russia's frontier with the alliance, Benitez asked rhetorically, "Will 6,000 NATO troops exercising in your country make you feel safe from 150,000 Russian forces exercising near your border?"

NATO officials and representatives of member countries have also made clear they think this is no time to redraw the map of Europe, because of negative effects it could have on an already unpredictable security climate. At its 2008 summit in Bucharest, Romania, then President George W. Bush and other NATO leaders agreed that Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet republics that the Russians consider part of their "near abroad," would one day be admitted to the alliance.

Last week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he would submit a bill to his nation's parliament proposing Ukraine shed its current non-aligned status and seek NATO membership. But speaking Monday to reporters, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen dodged the question of precisely when Ukraine might be allowed to join, saying things were at "an early stage of the process."

A French government official flatly ruled out admitting Ukraine or Georgia at this juncture, saying "NATO, its actions, must not contribute to the tension or worsen the climate around Ukraine."

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