A recent NATO meeting between defense ministers in Brussels has resulted in a plan to deploy 4,000 multinational troops into Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland, with a side order of 40,000 more troops that belong to a ‘rapid reaction force.’ The battalions are set to be put in place to deter possible Russian attacks until the rapid reaction reinforcement troops arrive. This force would allegedly be available for combat within a few days. In addition, there is a projected warehouse that contains battle-ready equipment.
Russia, on the other hand, is said to be undertaking internal change, by poising itself to be more self-sufficient in handling the increasingly unstable and threatening environment it finds itself in. This includes preparing militarily by upping their defense, which is something that can easily be taken out of context as a threat to nearby countries. To thicken the plot, NATO’s interest in spreading to the Eastern Bloc appears to be a backward pedal against the post-Cold-War negotiations that came to be a pillar of the Founding Act of NATO in order to secure a “stable, peaceful and undivided Europe.” Mixed opinions have been raised on what this means, and what the possible outcomes are.
In an Al Jazeera report, Vladimir Sotnikov (a strategic analyst at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences), Ted Seay (the Senior policy consultant for the British American Security Information Council), and Magnus Nordenman (the Director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative) shared their thoughts on the issue.
Vladimir Sotnikov made it very clear that Russia is not a threat to anyone, claiming that it is dedicating its renewal of military strength toward fighting international terrorism, and is, in fact, trying to understand why NATO is looking to expand eastward. He questions the purpose of “be[ing] engaged in a tug of war,” rather than working side by side and taking on this threat together. He expresses fears of diplomacy faltering in the face of military struggle for dominance.
Magnus Nordenman talks about how Russia has a distinct military advantage in the region, and that he believes “we will see in the coming years more in terms of logistics, air defense, and in command and control arrangements that will assist NATO in being able to better respond to Russia.” This response, as held by NATO, is needed in order to protect the freedom and security of its members. He also reiterates that all nation-states, who are members of NATO, freely chose to join, in a show of solidifying their democracy and ties to the free market.
Ted Seay, on the other hand, explains that this eastward movement has ripped the spirit of the founding letter of NATO and its agreement between NATO and Russia into small shreds. He also stated that
“what we have here is a situation where the cold war has been long over, Russia has not been engaging in provocative actions toward NATO and the west for years … We cannot forget that in 2001 on September 11th, the first foreign leader to contact president George W. Bush and offer his help and support was President Putin. We had Russian friendship in hand, we had Russian partnership in hand, … but because we keep insisting on expanding [eastward], we’ve taken that friendship, that partnership, and we’ve thrown it away.”
There has been speculation that Russia’s military advantage in the region, and NATO’s desire to not allow that to be the case, may be the reason for a misunderstanding of intensions. The opinion that this may lead to another Cold War has also been thrown into the mix.
While it is unclear what the outcome of this seemingly unnecessary tension will be, what is clear is that increasing military training exercises have been undertaken by both sides in order to pursue differing interests. Tensions have arisen as NATO has begun cracking down on protecting the ‘freedom and security’ of countries in the Eastern Bloc, while Russia has been undergoing a slow and steady reconstruction program to strengthen their muscles and savviness to potential threats around them. In order to avoid the huge potential for mass misunderstanding and a further breakdown of the NATO Founding Act that looks to “share the goal of overcoming the vestiges of earlier confrontation and competition and of strengthening mutual trust and cooperation,” both sides need to listen to one another, and come to a steady and fair compromise.