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March 29, 2023

Rediscovery of Eastern Europe (II)

Of course, there is one question: why a new alliance, isn’t NATO enough? The author probably takes into account the fact that, according to some agreements reached by Russia and the US/Germany in 1990 – the famous “gentlemen’s agreement” repeatedly mentioned by former Soviet leader Gorbachev – but also to the 1997 agreement between Moscow and NATO concerning the North Atlantic Alliance’s expansion, the alliance’s military deployments in Eastern Europe have certain restrictions. Aspects like these have appeared in the international press too, being also mentioned during the US-Russia “reset” in 2009. Britain’s ‘The Economist’ pointed out on March 29 that “even today, when it does have plans and exercises, only 136 of the 66,217 American troops in Europe are based in the central and eastern parts.”

Secondly, we are talking about the unprecedented military preparations of regional states as a consequence of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and particularly in view of the massive concentration of Russian troops (approximately 40-60,000 soldiers according to the latest data) deployed to forward positions on the eastern border of Ukraine, which hints to the fact that an armed action on the part of Russia is possible in the continuation of the previous one. However, without knowing what would be the direction of this new offensive outburst (Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, the Odessa region, Transdnestria and the mouths of the Danube), especially since the Russian concentration of forces was making possible various scenarios given its size and the structure of the forces involved. So that last week marked the start of a wide and rapid military preparation of Eastern European states. The EU has signaled that it supports Eastern Partnership states, by signing the political agreement with Ukraine and committing itself to soon signing the agreements reached with Moldova and Georgia (March 21). Poland has considerably accelerated the rhythm of its military procurement program, especially in what concerns its air force, in particular the number of UAVs. The Polish Defence Minister stated on March 18: “We initially planned that key decisions relating to this [program] would be made on the turn of 2014 and 2015, but I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to accelerate it.” The organisation of joint military exercises has accelerated, revealing the consolidation of regional cooperation. It has to be pointed out that this Polish plan stipulates the procurement of UAVs worth approximately USD 1 bln by 2020, while Russia’s program in the same domain totals over USD 3 bln. Poland has reactivated an older plan of creating a “battle-group” consisting of Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian military units. In Estonia officials pointed out that only 2 percent of GDP for defense is not sufficient. “We need two brigades to have real defensive capability. We will get one brigade up to readiness in a year’s time. With the current funding level, the complete arming and outfitting of the second one is envisioned after 2018,” the Estonian Defence Minister stated. Simultaneously, but in our opinion closely connected with this regional military consolidation, the Western European allies decided to limit/delay their military cooperation with Russia. Great Britain has blocked the export of defensive equipment to Russia and has asked other EU states to follow suit. Moreover, London has taken measures meant to strengthen the defence of the Baltic States’ airspace by deploying Typhoon fighter jets at a Lithuanian airbase. The UK also deployed AWACS (E-3D) planes on missions in Poland and Romania. France has announced that it is considering canceling the sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers, different measures meant to compensate her for the losses of jobs and financing being sought at inter-allied level (the allies purchasing these ships which are currently under construction or the French Navy obtaining them). In Germany the government has announced the cancelation of the transfer of a high-end battle simulation facility, a transfer agreed following a contract signed by Rheinmetal and Russia in 2011. Likewise, the US has announced military sanctions in her relations with Russia.
We thus witness the birth of a new narration about Eastern Europe, substantially different from the one that was usual until now. Equivalent to a rediscovery of the older role of this region, which is geopolitically significant for the continental balance of power, this unique narration that coagulated at light speed after the Russian invasion in Crimea three weeks ago has several characteristics. Those presented before are completed with others, equally important. Thus, besides the drawing of plans referring to a new alliance in the region or the amplification of military preparations of the states in the region, or the limitation/prohibition of military ties with Russia by European states or the USA add to the fact that the neutral countries of the East-European region were prompt in measuring the danger to their own security in the new conditions and seek rapid and efficient solutions.
It is worth mentioning, for instance, that Finland and Sweden now have preoccupations referring either to the accession to NATO, or to forming a bilateral alliance. In Finland, which formally declared the Crimea referendum as illegal, Premier Jyrki Katainen said on March 18 that Finland being ‘nonaligned’, “the country is not neutral’. In a statement about this matter, the premier mentioned that “We have been a member of the European Union for 20 years… We keep open the option of becoming a full member of NATO, and this will not stop us from maintaining excellent bilateral relations with Russia.” A Finnish official also mentioned the alternative of an alliance with Sweden in the new circumstances: “Nordic defence cooperation has produced only limited results, while European Union membership had delivered little in substance in the absence of a military capability edge. Finland and Sweden need to consider other avenues.” The same official (Jussi Niinisto, the head of the Parliamentary committee for defence) mentioned in an interview that the options of Nordic states Finland and Sweden in the present circumstances are strengthening the regional relations on the Nordic dimension, the accession to NATO and the founding of a defence cooperation (equipment and joint structures of forces, objectives shared and designated in a new bilateral military treaty).
Worth mentioning, Denmark and Norway, which are NATO members, have a constant direction of action aimed at improving the defensive cooperation on the Nordic dimension, also by including Sweden and Finland in NATO. According to recent opinion polls, in Finland 54 pc of the population prefers a bilateral alliance with Sweden (and 36 oppose it); as for the accession to NATO or the participation in a joint defensive project of the EU, only 25 pc of subjects agree to such solutions (data collected on March 17-20 this year). The Finnish Minister of Defence, Carl Haglund considers the results of this poll as “interesting. We already cooperate with Sweden’s armed forces on various military fronts, but there is nothing formal in our relationship. We have, so far, not discussed a treaty-based military alliance. While one should not rule out the option of entering a military alliance, we are not at this point, at present.” In Sweden, a poll conducted on 12 January 2014, before the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the public support for the accession to NATO advanced by 6 percent points, to 36 pc.

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