NATO-Russia relations: An escalation?

From the statement by NATO Defence Ministers: Russia is challenging Euro-Atlantic security through military action, coercion and intimidation of its neighbours.


1. The US just announced that it will position heavy weapons especially in the Eastern Europe. It is a bilateral initiative, but how complimentary is it in your opinion with what NATO is doing in terms of assurance measures?

2. Do you expect any reaction from Russia on this?


Konrad MuzykaEurope and CIS Armed Forces Analyst, IHS Jane’s

1. This move kills two birds with one stone. On the one hand it serves as a deterrent and on the other it reassures allies in the region that the article 5 is still valid. However, should there be war these troops would be stretched too thin to have any meaningful impact on the situation on the ground. As a result, deployment of US armour should be seen as a political move only.

2. Russia is very likely to respond to the US decision. This could involve deployment of additional aircraft to airbases in Belarus and Kaliningrad. The latter could also be reinforced with additional personnel. Some troops could also be moved closer to NATO borders in the Baltic. Russia’s response will be key in gauging how high up we are in the escalation ladder.

Tomas JaneliūnasAssociate Professor at Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University

1. The U.S. not the first time show a lead providing military support for the NATO countries in Eastern/Central Europe. Last year, just after the Crimea crisis the U.S. sent additional military airplanes to the Baltic States also as a sign of bilateral assurance. After that others NATO members also contributed with more fighters to the Baltic air-policing mission in Lithuania. We all understand that other NATO states are reluctant to deploy on a permanent basis their military units in Central and Eastern Europe – it is not easy to change a tradition of being passive and feeling safe. But on the other hand, NATO increased military drills radically during the last year and lot of NATO members increased a participation in such a military exercises. So, in general, this deployment of heavy weapons is just another step in increasing of a broader assurance strategy and prevention strategy towards Russia.

2. There was already some rhetorical objections and critical reaction from the Russia side – Russian politicians is using this decision as an argument that “NATO is threatening Russia”. But this is first of all directed toward domestic audience and in line with a general propaganda like “West is evil and want to destroy Russia”. In the military sense Russia has already a huge superiority in conventional arms in the region (especially in Kaliningrad and Western Military District), so, this deployment of the US weapons will not change the objective balance. But it can affect the psychological balance. Russia should acknowledge that any provocation towards NATO country would have a risk of direct clash with American military.

Todor TagarevHead, Centre for Security and Defence Management, Frm. Bulgaria’s Defense Minister

1. I see the US declared readiness to deploy heavy equipment for a brigade-size formation in Eastern Europe as fully in line with the decisions at the NATO 2014 summit to enhance readiness, in particular via the NATO Response Force and the creation of VJTF. Ideally, other NATO allies will also do that, but given force reductions in recent years, only the US can be expected to participate in exercises on the territories of Eastern European members on a continuous basis.

2. Russia already reacted, we can say Mr. Putin even over-reacted to the “Noble Jump” and other recent NATO exercises by declaring increase of its nuclear potential by 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2015. Earlier this year Russia withdrew from the CFE Treaty. Hence, there will be a diplomatic reaction and/or a political statement, but it seems to me that Russia is running out of options. Overall, Russia’s actions may raise concerns, but hardly scare anyone in NATO.

Martin Michelot, Non-Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States

The U.S. decision to position heavy weapons in the region is perfectly complimentary with NATO carrying out the measures decided at the Wales Summit and beyond. As a matter of fact, such a decision takes a certain amount of political pressure off of NATO to provide the immediate reinforcements that are requested by frontline states, while at the same time sending a very strong message about U.S. engagement in the region, one which some Allies had started to doubt in. It is clear from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s speech that such reassurance measure does in no way prevent any further reinforcement of NATO presence, whether that may consist in pre-positioning more Alliance troops or equipment closer to Alliance borders.

This decision by the U.S. creates a real impression that both NATO and the U.S. as an individual state can be counted upon to ensure territorial defense, while at the same time putting the right amount of pressure on the European block of NATO to green light continued reassurance measures for the region; as of such, the timing of this announcement, the day before NATO’s ministers of defense are planned to meet, was not chosen lightly. It serves a two-fold purpose for the U.S.: reminding its partners and also Russia that they have not in any way given up on the region, but also making Europeans face with the reality of the efforts that need to be made in the region.

Sven Biscop, Director of the Europe in the World Programme, Egmont – Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels

My feeling is that this fits into the Readiness Action Plan agreed at NATO’s Wales Summit, where the pre-positioning of equipment along the eastern borders of the Alliance was announced. As such, there are no surprises here, though that will not necessarily preclude further military posturing on the Russian side. The key is not to over-react to this, for it is but posturing, which betrays a nervousness in Moscow about the state of their economy. The most important is that the EU continues to be united and has prolonged the sanctions.


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