Poland and Baltics to seek extra Russia deterrence at Nato summit

Poland and Baltics to seek extra Russia deterrence at Nato summit
Poland and the Baltics insist they need increased Nato presence to deter Russia's imperial ambitions
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw July 7, 2016

As Western world leaders descend on Warsaw to attend the Nato summit on July 8-9, Poland has locked down virtually the entire city centre. That was the easy part. Now it needs to convince the alliance to pour more resources into the region.

Despite Nato having announced plans to step up its military presence in Central & Eastern Europe, Poland and the Baltic states still hope the alliance will agree to a further build up to deter what they claim is Russia's renewed imperial ambitions. Tensions have been running high in the region since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014.

Nowhere have jitters been felt more intensely than in Poland and the Baltic states, which for the most time since 1990 - when the Baltics left the Soviet camp – have never bought into the story of Russia becoming the West’s partner. Poland and Lithuania in particular have been direct in talking about the renewed threat from Russia.

In the lead up to the Warsaw summit, which opens on July 8, Poland and the Baltic trio have intensified lobbying for Nato to step up its military presence in the region as best possible means to keep Russia at bay. The strategy has borne some fruit, as the alliance is now certain to confirm it will send four extra battalions to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

“We will agree to deploy by rotation four robust multinational battalions in the Baltic states and in Poland,” Nato’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on June 13. The troops are part of a shift in Nato’s “defence and deterrence posture” in the region, he added. That includes expanding the region's Nato Response Force, as well as establishing a new Spearhead Force and eight new small headquarters in the eastern part of the alliance.

“All together this strikes the right balance between a greater ability to reinforce, and a boost to our forward presence,” he declared.

Earlier, in February, the US, announced a budgetary boost of $3.4bn (€3.11bn) to send extra heavy weapons, armoured vehicles and other equipment to CEE. The following month, an additional armoured brigade for the region was detailed.

However, Moscow has not taken the build up lying down. Russia has boosted military drills on its western flank, while announcing the deployment of three divisions closer to CEE and Ukraine in response. In response, Poland will seek to press Nato for further Nato committments.

Bases, bases, bases

But it's not at all clear whether Warsaw will secure any extra promises during the summit; and it may only have itself to blame.

Poland’s repeated calls for Nato to establish a permanent base in the country were given cold shoulder in April by officials. “Nato’s not talking about establishing bases … we support an enhanced presence, but we can do it without bases, bases, bases,” James Townsend, a senior Pentagon official, said during the Globsec conference in Slovak capital Bratislava.

The message was clearly aimed at Poland, mimicking as it did the rhetoric of Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski who had demanded the “presence, presence, presence and once again presence [of Nato troops].”

Indeed, ironically, Poland’s position has been weakened since the vehemently anti-Russian Law and Justice (PiS) government took power in late 2015.

It is no coincidence, the White House said prior to the Nato summit on July 7, that when President Barack Obama meets Polish peer Andrzej Duda in Warsaw he will discuss "a number of topics". The controversy surrounding the nationalist PiS' efforts to rapidly consolidate power - and in particular the controversy centred on the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) - are understood to be on that list.

Duda will likely tell the US president Poland has just fixed the problem. Parliament passed a new law on the TK on July 7, rushing through the vote in a clear bid to clear the decks. However, the White House is unlikely to let the issue - which has stirred up a bitter confrontation with Brussels - lie, some hope.

“President Obama won’t be fooled. Don’t insult his intelligence,” one opposition MP quipped.