TALIN, Estonia – A division is being opened among NATO members on how to increase military deployments in Eastern Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, amid disagreements over whether the Kremlin’s failed battlefield efforts could pose a significant threat to the alliance’s territory.
A preliminary decision will have to be made by the end of June, when NATO leaders will meet at a summit in Madrid. At that meeting, they are expected to give initial approval to the membership applications of Finland and Sweden, with Turkey expected to withdraw its objections. The expansion itself would significantly increase NATO’s military capabilities in the eastern part of the alliance.
“Russia’s direct military aggression against NATO allies cannot be ruled out,” according to a secret joint proposal from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, obtained by the Washington Post. “Russia can quickly build up a military force against NATO’s eastern border and deal with the alliance with a brief war and failure,” the document said, adding that a division-sized contingent of about 20,000 troops could be sent to each country quickly if threatened. In
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Other countries are wary of firm new commitments in Eastern Europe, signing large deployments that would be costly and remove troops from other areas.
“Tomorrow we will have a peace to build, let us never forget,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters last week, warning against taking steps that would make it impossible to work with Russia in the future. “We have to do this with Ukraine and Russia around the table. Ukraine and Russia will decide the outcome of the talks and the path to reconciliation. But it will not be denied, it will not be excluded, it will not be insulted. “
“We are not at war with Russia,” he said in a separate tweet.
Eastern European leaders say choosing a silent response would be a strategic mistake in the same category as Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and its limited Western response to Ukraine’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. Eastern European officials say it was a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he could protect himself from attacks by his neighbors.
Estonian Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Jonathan Veseviv said that during the invasion of Ukraine in February, Putin “clearly miscalculated some basic things.”
“He believes in his own propaganda. He misunderstood [in Ukraine], So he can do it wrong here in the NATO region, and he can convince himself that an attack on the Baltic states would not get a big response from the rest of the alliance, Veseviv said. That would be a mistake, he said, but Putin would be less likely to make a mistake if he saw a military force ready to fight.
The deployment was the subject of a weekend meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, who agreed to continue talks ahead of the Madrid summit. Eastern European officials see a narrow window to keep promises. They are worried that support in Western Europe will decline once the Ukraine war ends.
“Many of our partners in Western Europe will be keen to return to the status quo once this is over. Some of the announcements and common sense that we see at the moment may disappear, “said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive and ongoing discussions.
“We don’t like it because we believe we’ve seen a tectonic shift in European security,” the official said. “We believe there will be no going back.”
Although most Eastern European countries do not anticipate an impending attack, citing the fact that Russian troops are now stuck in Ukraine and will probably take time to regroup after the war, they argue that a stronger force is needed first to resist. Russia’s move repeats itself in Ukraine.
“Our allies need to reflect on the security concerns that have been most publicized,” Czech Deputy Defense Minister Jan Havranek said in an interview. His country has volunteered to lead a new NATO battalion in neighboring Slovakia, which is at new risk due to the division of the border with Ukraine. NATO’s stance must be “adaptable and measurable to the current security situation,” he said.
Eastern European countries, including the Baltic states and Poland, envisioned huge NATO troop deployments with thousands of troops and “enabling” units that would provide air defense and other protections. Under the Baltic plan, a permanent division of troops would not be established permanently in each country, but their equipment would already be there, and NATO would allocate thousands of additional troops to be on standby for each country in the event of a crisis. According to a proposal reviewed by The Post, only roughly one brigade of NATO troops – about 6,000 troops – will be on the ground in each country on an ongoing basis, up from about 2,000 before February.
“If you look at the Russian strategy, if you don’t raise NATO troops on the ground, you can’t respond,” said a senior European diplomat.
Poland is hosting more than 10,000 American troops, from a pre-war presence of 4,500, and wants to keep more there.
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U.S. officials say there is a broad agreement across NATO that countries in the East should not be asked to withstand the attack until the alliance is strengthened. But they have previously viewed the permanent deployment of large numbers of NATO troops as costly and disastrous, preferring to establish the situation – such as advance deployment of equipment, pre-deployment of naval units and a new command structure – which would help NATO move faster. Scale up, the number most likely to be imagined by the weakest member state.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Millie, told lawmakers last month that he was in favor of establishing a permanent base with troops stationed temporarily in Eastern Europe, “so you will have the effect of sustainability without having to bear the cost of relocation.”
The Biden administration has already increased the footprint of its troops in Europe from about 60,000 to more than 100,000 in response to the Russian-made invasion of Ukraine, but many of these soldiers are sleeping in makeshift barracks and living in unstable conditions for long missions.
Eastern European countries are also pressuring NATO to formally abandon the NATO-Russia Founding Act, 1997, an agreement that limits the deployment of a permanent alliance with Germany in exchange for Russia’s commitment to peace. Most coalition officials agreed that the agreement was reached not only because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also because the Kremlin had deployed Russian troops in Belarus within easy distance of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
But some officials in Western Europe and the United States have been vocal in their opposition to the deal, saying it is a useful tool for future coordination between NATO and Russia, and that the bloc is already strong enough to prevent Russia from targeting NATO. They also believe that it strengthens stability because it reflects NATO’s intention to never have a nuclear weapon in Eastern Europe.
They also expressed concern that the alliance would move away from other threats in recent years, including terrorism and irregular migration across the Mediterranean, which is a matter of greater pressure for countries far from Russia but closer to North Africa, such as Spain. And Italy.
“We do not see that the war in Ukraine is something that needs to be addressed in Russia’s defense and resistance,” said one Westerner. European officials said. “Will we have a strong Russia? Weak Russia?
Ivo Dalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and now head of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said joining Finland and Sweden could significantly increase the alliance’s security in Northern Europe, injecting a new element into the negotiations with the Baltic states and other former members. Europe pressed for their resistance.
Dalder said he thought a meeting of NATO leaders in Madrid would likely issue a more general statement promising to strengthen defense and defense infrastructure in Eastern Europe, which would then be debated in detail and specific troop allocations.
He noted that even the promise of improved rail connectivity and other infrastructure that would enable NATO to respond quickly to emergencies would be an important step.
“I think there is going to be a fundamental commitment to significantly increase NATO’s presence in the East,” he said, including air, land and sea resources. “It’s important because NATO never said that. This is a huge shift in NATO policy. “
Ryan reports from Washington.