The 2016 Warsaw Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on July 8–9 will address a range of issues that have direct security implications for the post-Soviet space. Chief of them is whether the security architecture built in Europe after 1991 will be preserved.
There is no consensus on the issue among NATO experts and politicians. Opinions range from the desire to limit Russia’s influence in its neighbouring states by any means, including military intervention, to the wish to normalize relations with Moscow out of pragmatic considerations. The latter would mean recognizing that Russia’s interests in the former Soviet Union are just as important as the foreign policy interests as of Western countries and, accordingly, it would mean putting a stop to the current militarization of Eastern Europe. Both points of view have support among the former Soviet Union countries, but the Warsaw summit will not meet the wishes of either camp.
The Baltic republics are the only former Soviet states to be members of NATO, although this clearly does little to boost their confidence or their national security. In recent years, Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn have been lobbying Western political circles to tear up the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation and deploy full-fledged NATO military bases on their territories. The most recent unsuccessful attempt to use their fears to influence NATO countries to make important political decisions was made at the NATO summit in Wales (September 2014), and the next attempt will most probably be in Warsaw. NATO is already preparing a “consolation prize” for the Baltic countries. In June, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg announced that four battalions would be deployed in Lilthuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland in the near future. Minister of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania Juozas Olekas has already complained that the support is too modest. However, Commanding General of the United States Army Europe Ben Hodges has pledged that the militarization of the region will continue.
Such statements are very much in tune with the course followed by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, the “model” members of the Eastern Neighbourhood. However, the primary task for these republics is to join NATO. The leaders of these countries seem not to notice the existence of territorial conflicts that preclude their membership in NATO. However, judging by the fact that Ukraine has been allowed to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, even though it “had not done its homework,” workarounds can most definitely be found for admitting these countries to NATO if absolutely necessary. It is another matter entirely that NATO apparently feels that there is no rush to do so. In April 2016, United States Permanent Representative to NATO Douglas Lute said that expanding NATO to the east was impossible in the near term. He argued that such a move would harm the relations Moscow, a statement that at the very least puts into question the foreign policy of those former Soviet Union countries that are leading the drive toward Euro-integration. So, the Warsaw summit will not take fundamental decisions on the accession of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to NATO. Instead, it will, as usual, pay lip-service to solidarity with these countries and pledge their readiness to do their utmost to “contain Russia” in the name of “the values of freedom and democracy”.
At the same time, however, the Warsaw summit will not signify success for Russia and Belarus, which are united in their commitment to contain NATO. Russian officials have come out on a number of occasions recently to throw harsh criticism at the actions of NATO, and they have backed up their words by strengthening defences on the western borders, primarily in the Kaliningrad Region and Crimea. NATO’s actions meet with a similar reaction in Belarus, in spite of signs of a thaw in its relations with Western countries in recent years. A month before the Warsaw Summit, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko declared that NATO was exacerbating tensions on the Russian borders, and in the event of a conflict, Belarus would form a common front with Russia. As if to confirm his words, in mid-June, Belarus successfully tested its Polonaise multiple-rocket launcher.
Despite these actions by Moscow and Minsk, NATO is not showing any signs that is seeking de-escalation of military and political tensions in the region on the eve of the summit. On June 7–17, one of the biggest military exercises of the post-Soviet was held in Eastern Europe, involving NATO and a number of non-NATO partners. The so-called Anaconda 2016 exercises involved 3,000 armoured vehicles, 105 planes and helicopters, 12 ships and 31,000 servicemen from 24 countries. A joint Lithuanian–Polish–Ukrainian Brigade (LitPolUkrBrig) also took part in the exercises. The brigade was ostensibly created for humanitarian operations, although Anaconda 2016 scenario simulated military aggression from the East.
The exercise was, predictably, criticized by Moscow, but also by Germany. “What we should not do is to continue to escalate the situation by sabre-rattling and war cries,” said the German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier after the exercise. So far, however, the German diplomat’s position puts him in the minority in Western political circles. Accordingly, no serious proposals on military de-escalation in Eastern Europe will emerge from the Warsaw summit. To sum up, the best that the Warsaw Summit on July 8–9 can deliver is blocking the more radical demands of some East European states that could trigger a new spiral of tensions in Europe.