CEE leaders call for Nato troops to help deter Russian aggression

By bne IntelliNews November 5, 2015

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Central and Eastern European leaders blasted Russian "aggression" on November 4 and called for Nato to boost its presence in the region. The joint statement, issued at an informal summit in Bucharest of Central European heads of states from the military alliance, represents an opening gambit to  try to set the agenda for Nato's full summit in July - and prevent any backsliding on sanctions on Russia.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine has alarmed states in the region. The leaders blasted Russia's aggressive posturing and called  for Nato to create "a robust, credible and sustainable" allied military presence in the region.

"We will stand firm on the need for Russia to return to respect of international law as well as of its international obligations, responsibilities and commitments as a pre-condition for a Nato-Russia relationship based on trust and confidence," the leaders said in a joint declaration.

The meeting was chaired by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda - formerly a member of the Russophobic Law & Justice party that won power in elections last month. Other hawkish heads of state present included those from the three Baltic countries, which insist they are on the frontline of a "hybrid" war being waged by Moscow.

In the spring, the defense chiefs of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia demanded the US military alliance station a permanent battalion-sized unit in each of the three nations. Poland has also pushed for Nato troops and tanks, a call reiterated by Duda on November 3. Warsaw will host the alliance's next summit and hopes to push for strong committments for an increased Nato presence.

However, not all from across the region are as keen on hosting US troops. While Slovakia's President Andrej Kiska has often called for a stiff response to Moscow, he has limited powers, and faces a far more ambiguous stance from the Smer government at home.

Neighbouring Hungary's president was notably tight-lipped; he is seen as close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been blasted by Washington and Brussels for the support he has shown for President Putin.

Meanwhile, Milos Zeman, the outspoken president of the Czech Republic, didn't even bother to turn up, claiming his schedule wouldn't allow it. Although Prague has waivered throughout the Ukraine crisis, the Czech Republic’s official foreign policy has supported the line pushed by the West.

Zeman, long known for his Russian ties, has enjoyed provoking critics with his statements of support for the Kremlin. He has repeatedly criticised the sanctions regime aimed at Moscow, and stirred controversy by dismissing the Ukrainian conflict as a “civil war”. He was one of only two EU heads of state to visit Moscow in May for events commemorating the end of  World War II.

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