Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has put NATO allies in eastern Europe on edge and triggered a series of military moves by the NATO alliance, including an acceleration of exercises and the creation of a NATO rapid response force.
Carter, who will view components of that NATO force later on Monday, said the alliance would keep the door open to an improved relationship with Russia but said flatly: “It’s up to the Kremlin to decide.”
“We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We do not seek to make Russia an enemy,” Carter said. “But make no mistake: we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us all.”
Carter said on Sunday the United States and NATO were preparing militarily for the prospect that their rift with Russia could even outlast President Vladimir Putin.
During his trip this week, Carter will climb aboard a U.S. warship in Estonia fresh from Baltic Sea drills. In Brussels, he will meet NATO defense chiefs, and could offer moredetails on plans to pre-position heavy military equipment, officials say.
Moscow has decried the new steps by NATO and threatened to strengthen its own forces and to add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal this year.
U.S. officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter “hybridwarfare,” the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the West says Russia has used there.
NATO’s historic focus had been the conventional threats of the Cold War, which ended in 1991. But Carter said NATO “will not rely on the Cold War playbook”, citing instead a combination of military and non-military tools, including sanctions.
He encouraged Europe to keep up its sanctions – which he called the best tool – for as long as it takes to change Russia’s calculus.
“The United States will not let Russia drag us back to the past,” he said.
The United States has refused to provide lethal arms to Ukraine, worried that would only escalate the conflict. Carter at one point said “we’ve provided weapons to Ukraine” but his spokesman, Brent Colburn, said the secretary misspoke.
Turning his attention to Germany, Carter commended Germany’s leadership during the Ukraine crisis. He also sought to encourage a stronger German military role globally. Still, he called for more defense spending “to ensure that Germany’s defense investments match Germany’s leadership role.”