NATO chief eyes more bases in E. Europe to confront Russia
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the 28-nation military bloc, which meets next week in Cardiff, Wales, would attempt to overcome internal opposition and agree to the deployment of military bases near the Russian border.
Amid the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, which is fracturing the
country along east-west ideological lines, NATO is preparing to
install for the first time military “reception
facilities” in Eastern European countries, including Poland
and the three Baltic countries: Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
"We have something already called the NATO response force, whose purpose is to be able to be deployed rapidly if needed,” Rasmussen said in an interview with several European newspapers. “Now it's our intention to develop what I would call a spearhead within that response force at very, very, high readiness. In order to be able to provide such rapid reinforcements you also need some reception facilities in host nations. So it will involve the pre-positioning of supplies, of equipment, preparation of infrastructure, bases, headquarters.”
The bottom line, according to the NATO chief, is that there will
be “a more visible NATO presence in the east.”
Asked whether there would be permanent NATO presence in Eastern Europe, he said, "The brief answer is ‘yes’. To prevent misunderstanding, I use the phrase 'for as long as necessary'. Our eastern allies will be satisfied when they see what is actually in the readiness action plan."
Rasmussen, whose term expires on September 30, said the new NATO forces in Eastern Europe could be “deployed within hours.”
Needless to say, NATO's militarization of the region will not sit well with Moscow, which has watched with increasing alarm since the collapse of the Soviet Union - despite pledges from the Western military bloc not to expand further east - as NATO continues its march towards Russia's western border.
Currently, the Polish port city of Szczecin, which military experts anticipate will serve as one of NATO’s new “reception facilities,” represents NATO’s easternmost military presence.
Ironically, NATO’s latest enlargement plans are being opposed not just by Russia, but by its very members, some of whom do not see the point in aggravating tensions with Moscow.
It should come as no surprise that the United States and the United Kingdom, distant as they are from any potential fireworks on the European-Russian border, favor a military escalation in Eastern Europe. Other major NATO members, however, including France, Spain and Italy, have expressed serious reservations to the plans.
Meanwhile, Germany, NATO’s second strongest member, remains uncommitted to the expansion plans.
This should come as no surprise considering the recent deterioration in relations between Washington and Berlin.
Germany was forced to take a critical new look at its powerful
American partner following Edward Snowden’s shocking NSA
revelations, which showed massive US and UK spying on German
citizens. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal mobile phone
was caught up in the international surveillance net.
Remarkably, Rasmussen asserted that Russia “does not consider NATO a partner,” when it was NATO that flat-out refused Russian participation in the controversial US missile defense system, also planned for Eastern Europe. Such cooperation, had it been given the green light, would have sealed the so-called reset between the two Cold War-era foes, bringing to end years of mutual suspicion and antagonism. Instead, the US and NATO opted to keep Russia on the sidelines, ensuring nothing less than another full-blown arms race.
Speaking on the subject of Crimea’s decision to hold a referendum to join the Russian Federation under the threat of military attack by pro-Kiev forces, Rasmussen commented that “nobody had expected Russia to grab land by force.”
At the same time, the outgoing NATO chief reiterated claims – surprisingly without providing any sort of unassailable proof, in this age of advanced surveillance equipment - that Russia is actively participating in the Ukrainian upheaval.
"We have seen artillery firing across the border and also inside Ukraine. We have seen a Russian military buildup along the border. Quite clearly, Russia is involved in destabilizing eastern Ukraine … You see a sophisticated combination of traditional conventional warfare mixed up with information and primarily disinformation operations. It will take more than NATO to counter such hybrid warfare effectively," Rasmussen was quoted as saying.
NATO officials, however, have admitted their intelligence is not perfect.
"We can only watch from 23 miles (37km) up," one official told the Guardian.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko is to attend the NATO
summit, where the 28-member bloc has prepared four ‘trust funds’
to finance Ukraine's military logistics, command structures, and
cyber defense forces, and to pay overdue military pensions.
Yet somehow Rasmussen was able to say of Russia’s embattled neighbor.
"Ukraine follows its own path…It is actually what we will decide to do at the summit, to help them build the capacity of their security sector, modernize it," he said.
Meanwhile, it looks as if Rasmussen will be passing around the proverbial hat during next week’s summit, looking to collect more money from NATO members, even as their own countries are facing economic turmoil amid IMF-enforced austerity measures.
— UK Delegation, NATO (@UKNATO) August 27, 2014
"Since the end of the Cold War we have lived in relatively good weather. Now we are faced with a profound climate change. That requires more investment," said the NATO chief.
It will be interesting to see how many member states take up this latest challenge, which threatens to ratchet up European-Russian tensions to levels not seen since the Cold War.
Meanwhile, there is no question as to how Russia views NATO's relentless eastward encroachment.
“No matter what our Western counterparts tell us, we can see what’s going on," President Putin said in July at an emergency Security Council meeting in Moscow. "As it stands, NATO is blatantly building up its forces in Eastern Europe, including the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea areas. Its operational and combat training activities are gaining in scale.”
Putin stated that NATO’s military build-up near Russia’s border, which includes the US-built missile defense system, is not just for defensive purposes, but is an “offensive weapon” and an “element of the US offensive system deployed outside the mainland.”