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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Waking Up to the Russian Threat -- The head of NATO says Europe has misread Vladimir Putin for years and now must scramble to push back against the Kremlin's widening ambitions -- By Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal

(Neil Davies illustration)

Until recently, members of the Russian delegation to NATO were free to roam at will about the Western alliance's headquarters here on the outskirts of the Belgian capital. The Russians had an awkward habit of listening intently to others' conversations at the cafeteria, yet their presence was tolerated in the name of dialogue.

Not anymore. In response to Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea, NATO earlier this month suspended all practical cooperation with Moscow. Now most of the 70 or so Russian personnel enjoy about the same level of access to the alliance headquarters as journalists. It's a small but significant sign of what NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calls "the new security environment" in Europe. 

With his salt-and-pepper hair, chiseled jaw and crisply pressed navy suit, Mr. Rasmussen, 61, cuts a handsome figure. The former Danish prime minister is also one of Europe's most serious thinkers on defense matters—a hawkish figure, by European standards, who supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite considerable opposition at home. His term as NATO secretary-general, which began in 2009, was supposed to come to a close in December but was extended through September 2014 so he might oversee preparations for the alliance's September summit in Cardiff, Wales.

Mr. Rasmussen sits down with me in a meeting room decorated with solemn portraits of his predecessors—men who led NATO through the Cold War and helped usher in "a Europe whole and free," as then-President George H.W. Bush put it in a 1989 speech commemorating the alliance's triumphant 40th anniversary.

Now that vision of Europe is imperiled once more. "I see Ukraine and Crimea in a bigger context," Mr. Rasmussen says. "I see this as an element in a pattern, and it's driven by President Putin's strong desire to restore Russian greatness by re-establishing a sphere of influence in the former Soviet space."
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