BRUSSELS | The Trump administration will push America’s NATO allies this week to show more “leadership” in confronting Russia over its latest provocations in Ukraine, following Moscow’s recent clash with Ukraine’s navy in the Kerch Strait.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Brussels to emphasize Washington’s — in the words of one U.S. official — “unwavering” support for NATO in a speech Tuesday that will coincide with meetings at the alliance’s headquarters where the issue of Russian aggression will be a prime topic of discussion.
While the administration seeks to be “in sync” with Germany, France and other key European members of NATO in confronting Russia, a senior State Department official who traveling with the secretary of state emphasized that “we really want to see European allies do more.”
“We are calling on European allies to show leadership in tackling a problem in Europe’s own backyard,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the sensitive meetings here this week.
“The administration has been forceful and clear up to and including providing a lot of lethal aid to Ukrainians,” the official said. “We want to see European allies take greater responsibility for a security problem that’s just a few hundred miles from Germany’s border and [we] will be right there with them every step of the way.”
The comments come at a moment of concern among some in Europe over President Trump’s commitment to the alliance, given his open demands that NATO members spend more on defense.
Fresh tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, roared to the fore on Nov. 25, when Russian ships fired on Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait — a narrow waterway that links the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea and separates the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by the Kremlin in 2014, from the Russian mainland.
While Ukrainian officials say their vessels were traveling in established international sea lanes, the Russian barrage injured six Ukrainian sailors who have since been held in Russian captivity.
U.S. and European leaders have expressed outrage over the attack, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared martial law in regions along the tense Russian border.
But it remains to be seen whether the European allies will engage in the sort of action the Trump administration is seeking.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert suggested last week that U.S. officials are pushing European allies to enforce more aggressively sanctions placed on Russia in the wake of the Crimea seizure.
“That is one thing that we can look for European countries to do more when we talk about doing more,” Ms. Nauert said.
However, she also hinted at the potentially charged question of pressing European leaders to boycott the Russian government-owned “Nord Stream 2” pipeline that snakes through several of the region’s nations and would vastly increase the dependence of countries like Germany on Russian oil and gas.
“I think that’s a question European countries have to ask themselves: Is Nord Stream 2 something that they want to continue with, because it helps the Russian government?” Ms. Nauert said. “Is that the kind of support that they want to provide the Russian government with?”
Mr. Pompeo also met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brussels. The State Department said the two men discussed anti-Israeli bias in the United Nations, security challenges in the Middle East and Africa, and “America’s resolve in confronting the totality of the Iranian regime’s threats through maximum pressure.”
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