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Russia to stay a threat even if it loses war, says top NATO officer

Russia will remain a threat to NATO even if its forces are defeated in Ukraine, a top military official in the Western alliance said on Thursday (19 January).

“Whatever the outcome of the war, the Russians will most likely have similar ambitions … therefore the threat does not go away,” Admiral Rob Bauer, the chairman of NATO’s military committee, told reporters at the alliance’s Brussels headquarters.

While Russian forces, equipment and ammunition have all been depleted by the war, NATO countries expect Moscow will try to rebuild and even strengthen its military capacity, Bauer said.

“Is that three to five years? Is it three to 10 years? That is something we will have to talk about together. It is something that will be looked by the intelligence services,” said Bauer, whose committee is NATO’s highest military authority.

“The general belief is that the Russians will reconstitute what they had, they will also learn from this conflict themselves and try to improve what they had,” said Bauer, speaking at the end of a two-day meeting of top military officers from NATO member countries.

“So that will most likely, further down the road, have implications for our plans,” he added.

It would take time for NATO to assess how long Russia would need to reconstitute and improve its forces, Bauer said.

Russia ‘to sober up’ NATO

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow would do all it could to “sober up” the European Union and NATO, which he accused of setting out to weaken and defeat Russia.

His comments came on the same day that former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned NATO that a defeat for Russia in Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war.

Nearly 11 months after invading Ukraine, Russia is increasingly presenting the war to its own people as an existential battle with the West. In televised comments, Lavrov said Moscow would set out to disabuse Western politicians of their “presumptuous” and “colonial” attitudes to Russia.

“I hope that the sobering up will come,” Lavrov said. “We will do everything so that our colleagues from NATO and the European Union sober up as soon as possible.”

He was speaking during a visit to Moscow’s close ally Belarus, which is staging air exercises with Russia this week – part of a long series of joint military activities that have drawn concern from Ukraine that President Vladimir Putin may seek to draw Belarus into the war on Russia’s side.

“We have a common position on what goals need to be achieved and how to ensure that neither Russia nor Belarus is threatened by our neighbours – be it Ukraine or anyone else,” Lavrov said in a statement after meeting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus said the defence ministers of both countries had also spoken by phone.

The joint air exercises started on Monday and are due to run until 1 February, using all of Belarus’s military airfields. Belarus has said they are purely defensive in nature.

Ukraine has repeatedly warned of possible attacks from Belarus’s territory, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that Ukrainian forces must be ready at the border.