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February 2, 2023

Eastern mini-summit of NATO

In the frenzy of the Romanian street last week, as it imposed the resignation of the Government (November 4) and is attempting with unavoidable staggering and delays to create an alternative political class, that would replace the one we see today, seen as definitively compromised, Bucharest hosted a NATO mini-summit. Concretely this summit, that has gathered heads of states from Eastern countries of the Aliance, what we would call NATO’s “flank” or “Eastern front line” in the capital of Romania on Tuesday, November 4, to discuss, if not necessarily a common strategy for the General Summit of the Alliance in Warsaw (July 2016), at least the coherence of a common regional point of view. Which is a necessity considering the present debate inside the Alliance regarding the fear-inducing priorities requested due to the amplitude of threats the Old Continent is confronted with, in the East and in the South.

It is actually a Romanian – Polish initiative that reveals its crucial importance not just for the future of the Alliance, but for that of the continent as well.
It is to be mentioned from the very beginning that this Summit was not attended by the “grand figures” of NATO, in other words the grand powers, and the attendants only included allied countries found in the geopolitical space between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea that actually represent the Eastern flack of NATO, today in the front line at facing the assertive actions of Russia, frustrated by its present position in global hierarchy.

Obviously, the Summit was attended by the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, A. Vershbow. If the states attending this mini-summit do not represent in the power balance of the alliance but a
significant part, yet not an impressive one, their combined potential reveals figures worthy of being considered: almost 100 million inhabitants, massive industrial-economical capabilities, political stability, a continuously increasing GDP. Above all, though, we must mention the strategic importance of the territory belonging to these states, crucial for the security and stability of the continent, as proved by recent evolutions, from Russia’s assertiveness and instability in Ukraine, to the crisis of refugees that were not fully absorbed yet.
The declaration adopted at the summit of the nine Eastern states present in Bucharest is revealing towards the expectations of allied states in these regions regarding the forthcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw, due next year.

And the fact that they express themselves is highly adequate now, when preparations for organizing this Summit are ongoing, so that the responsible persons of the Alliance are qualified to evaluate their caliber and include them in the final version of the agenda for the Summit in the Polish capital, as well as in NATO plans for the future. Especially that, at this point, there are two great trends to be identified regarding the orientation of NATO for the years to come, as they are developed in the areal of Europe, depending on present security crises.
Such initial tendency is to grant priority to the Eastern flank of NATO where the crisis in Ukraine has not yet consumed its combustion at full extent and where the complete implementation of Minsk- 2 has yet to wait.

The second, specific to allies that neighbour the Mediterranean Sea, and the West of the Continent in general, where certain predictions announce a development on the long run of the refugee crisis demands that the priority would be represented by the Eastern flank and, additionally, and sometimes pointed out explicitly, a geopolitical agreement with Russia.
Enforcing the first trend, the meeting of the nine allied Presidents reunited in Bucharest pointed out firmly in the final declaration that “Remaining gravely concerned with Russia’s continuing aggressive posturing, we will stand firm on the need for Russia to return to respect of international law as well as of its international obligations, responsibilities and commitments as a pre-condition for a NATO – Russia relationship based on trust and confidence.” Therefore, in preparing the NATO General Summit in Warsaw next June, the leaders of the nine states positioned at the Eastern flank of the Alliance demand additional forces to the military bases allied in this part of Europe, so that it would be discouraging for Russia’s assertiveness, and the return of this country to international legality would be the test of the mutual relationship. Which does not mean, obviously, that risks and threats should be neglected or underestimated at the Southern flank of the Alliance, as the present leaders insisted also on the completion of the engagements assumed at the high-level meeting of NATO in September 2014, referring to Readiness Action Plan and other measures required for the security of all allies and European stability.

The fact that the declaration issued by the nine Presidents of states representing the Eastern flank of NATO (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria) reveals a genuine state of spirit appropriate to the accurate perception of security threats was proved almost instantly. In Riga, on November 6-7, a reunion of experts was organized, including political personalities of highest ranks, with an agenda dedicated to the security challenges in the region and the ways security could be consolidated. The agenda of the reunion was complex and rich, including panels with topics regarding the role of NATO in global stability, as well as discussing the adequate actions that could bring Georgia and Moldova closer to the EU, the new warfare generation (with an accent on hybrid war, but also on the role of cyber defence), the situation of Belarus and Ukraine and measures to the undertaken by the West to empower their European orientation, the effects sanctions against Russia may have on EU states or, in general, which is the future of Russia’s relation to Europe. The ideas expressed were diverse. But they signalled a coherence regarding the perception of the threat represented by Russia, and Celeste Wallnder, adviser of American President B. Obama, declared, according to the Twitter account of the conference: “#RigaConf The US must defend itself and its allies from Russian aggression.” According to the same source: “#RigaConf Dr Celeste Wallander: We should tackle Russia that we see, not Russia that we wish to see.”

British General Richard Shirreff, Former Deputy Supreme Commander NATO , expressed the opinion that “NATO troops should be permanently stationed in the Baltic States, rotational training leaves dangerous gaps”. On the other hand, Mark Galeotti, professor of Global Affairs NYU School of Professional Studies declared that “Russia is acting out of weakness. But a weak Russia is still a great power that can do a lot of damage” and also that “the Russians are in Syria to protect their interest and their ally…this is not out of the norm of geopolitics”. And Ilves Toomas, President of the Republic of Estonia, declared: “#Europe very divided on #Russia. Some look for any reason to ‘start dialogue’. But dialogue is not a strategy”. Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, on another plan, mentioned that “US is now predeploying 250 tanks and other heavy stuff in Baltic and Central European states. Not much, but still a new approach. #RigaConf”. On the same line of evaluation,British strategist Julien Lindley- French pointed out that it was “Time to Return to Riga Realism. Riga Conference is part of vital new Euro realism”.

It goes without saying that, in these times of sinuous evolution of international relations, when European stability is at stake, the NATO mini-summit in Bucharest, as well as opinions expressed in Riga are obviously signs of new Euro-realism, a visionary one, that will soon prove, undoubtedly, that it is the only solution to follow.

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