Andrew A. Michta | M. W. Buckman Professor of International Studies at Rhodes College and an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS):
MAP for Ukraine and Georgia is not in the cards in Wales. Notwithstanding all the rhetoric to the contrary, NATO closed off that option already in Bucharest in 2008; the Russian-Georgian war sealed it. The real question now is how far the Alliance will go in addressing the rapidly deteriorating security situation along its northeastern flank. It is likely that NATO will offer infrastructure, rotational training and prepositioning of equipment. But the permanent basing of U.S. and NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic States of the kind we have seen in Germany, for example, may prove a bridge too far.
Vytis Jurkonis | Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University:
If NATO Summit 2008 in Bucharest happened before the Russian invasion to Georgia, the Summit organised in Wales happens to be at the very epicentre of the numerous security challenges for Europe and during an ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Some experts and scholars even in the United States (like John J. Mearsheimer or Stephen F. Cohen) still blame the West for interfering into “Russia’s traditional zones of national security“. The majority of such authors use the argument as if Russia is threatened by the expansion of NATO. However, they often tend to forget the Russia – NATO Council, Partnership for Peace programme and other initiatives/efforts to include Russia into EuroAtlantic community.
Moreover, the question about the enlargement of NATO in the Eastern Europe was basically of the table since Bucharest, so even earlier attempts to respect (or should one say to adjust to) the Russian interests didn’t prevent Kremlin’s aggression.
The illusion about the willingness of the official Moscow to cooperate or at least to have a dialogue was transformed into the so called reset policy, which was largely supported by politicians and foreign policy makers even in the Baltic and Visegrad countries. This enthusiasm continued despite the serious wake-up calls in Estonia 2007 and in Georgia 2008. Neither lessons learned after the Bronze soldier – riots with the participation of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi and cyber attacks, nor the war in Georgia and Kremlin’s violations of the so called Sarkozy peace deal were convincing enough.
NATO has reacted to some of these challenges developing contingency plans for the Baltic states, establishing Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn and NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Vilnius. Nonetheless, the recent events in Ukraine evidence that the level of security challenges is much higher than estimated before.
Many European countries used to take peace for granted. The open door policy prevailed in the majority of the institutions despite some concerns about the real interests of Kremlin reminding of the frozen conflicts and other unresolved issues. However, the majority perceived Russia as a partner much more than a potential foe.
Europe lately was much more concerned about the internal issues and debates, economic challenges than any enlargement or increase of the military expenses. Lithuania has been named and shamed within the recent years as next-to-last in terms of defence spending among NATO countries. Expert community was talking about the transformation and demilitarization of the strategic relations between US/NATO and Russia, issues of historical reconciliation were discussed and even the idea of the visa-free regime for the Russian citizens was seriously considered. Despite all of that, Kremlin dragged Europe into the geopolitical battle because of a rather loose Eastern Partnership initiative launched in 2009.
Therefore the reality is completely different today. Violations of international norms, bilateral and multilateral agreements, manipulation and propaganda of various sorts, aggression, military intervention do not correspond the definition of partner. Neither it does describe a peaceful neighbor.
In the face of the Kremlin’s aggression every European country needs to step up and cannot free-ride at the expense of other members of Euro Atlantic community. Lithuanian politicians finally agreed to increase the expenditure on defence, but it doesn’t mean there’s any desire to escalate an already difficult situation. On the contrary, I doubt there’s anyone in Lithuania willing to see how Article 5 is functioning in practice. Nonetheless, the occupation of Crimea, the ongoing hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine orchestrated, financed and implemented by Kremlin urge to be prepared for the worst case scenario.
The upcoming Summit in Wales will certainly discuss situation in Ukraine and the security challenges in the region. Contingency plans will be on focus and the speed of their implementation would be definitely discussed. Obviously, Baltic states which have direct borders with Russia and most of them a substantial Russian speaking minority are mostly concerned about the sustainability of the presence of NATO forces in Eastern Europe and the upgrade of the rapid-reaction capability.
Discussions about the collective defense in Cardiff are going to be far from just a theoretical exercise or debate as Baltic States need a realistic plan with severe security guarantees and a very specific timeline. The concerns about the hostile neighbourhood of Kremlin are no longer just a matter of mistrust, it is an assessment of facts and a pattern of a cynical behaviour of official Moscow. Baltic states need fitter, faster and more flexible NATO – all of that.
The commitment to collective defense providing military guarantees is a minimum that this region needs. There should be an enduring presence of NATO forces on the ground able to immediately react if needed. Military component, though important is not the only vulnerability. Energy dependence, socio-economic tensions, influence of propaganda, corrupt practices – all of that is a to do list, homework for many countries at the Eastern Neighbourhood. Main expectations for the Summit in Wales is to hear practical steps, unequivocally showing that is not a business as usual.