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July 8, 2016

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Last year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization held its summit in Warsaw on July 8-9 and the NATO-Russian Council met in Brussels on July 13 at the ambassador level. Pavel Felgenhauer offered his analysis of the 2016 meetings.

Noting the lack of progress from the meetings, Mr. Felgenhauer cited the statements of Secretary General Jens Stoltenburg and Alexander Grushko, ambassador of Russia at NATO headquarters, who agreed that the discussions were “frank” but that disagreements persisted.

Mr. Grushko was critical of NATO’s decision to deploy an additional four reinforced army battalions (of approximately 1,000 soldiers each) in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

However, NATO insisted that the move was made in response to Russia’s increased military activity in the region, as well as its aggressive actions in Ukraine that compelled NATO to reinforce its Eastern flank.

Although the 4,000 troops did not pose a serious threat to Russia’s military if it were to invade the Baltic states, of greater concern for Russia was the U.S.’s ballistic missile defense bases in Poland and Romania, which Mr. Grushko said, “undermine strategic stability.” Mr. Grushko warned that if there was no change in the current moves by NATO and the U.S., Moscow was prepared to deploy additional forces in response.

The lone positive outcome of the NATO-Russian Council meeting, according to Mr. Grushko, was Moscow’s tentative agreement to implement additional transparency measures regarding flights over the Baltic Sea, so that Russian planes flew with identifying transponders switched on. Technical issues for Russian planes included the claim by Russian Aerospace Forces commander Gen. Viktor Bondarev, that Russian military aircraft were not equipped with transponders.

The move was seen as a way to prevent Finland and Sweden from seeking NATO membership.

In Warsaw, NATO pursued Russian deterrence while engaging in dialogue to avoid a new Cold War. Moscow was pursuing a similar course, but preferably not with NATO, but with separate member countries to try to split the alliance and promote a new “joint security architecture.”

At the time, Moscow was expecting elections in Germany and France to install Moscow-friendly governments, and that U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump would undermine NATO unity, resulting in Ukraine falling into the Kremlin’s lap.

Poland enraged Russia with its calls to work with Ukraine to bring it into NATO. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Relations Committee, accused “enemies of Russia,” including Poland, of “trying to pull Georgia, Ukraine and even Belarus into NATO, since they know how this irritates Russia.” Mr. Kosachev warned that if Ukraine was to begin the accession process, Russia in turn would form a military alliance with China.

Source: “Russia and the West engage in mutual deterrence,” by Pavel Felgenhauer (Eurasia Daily Monitor), The Ukrainian Weekly, July 24, 2016.

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