Echoes of Cold War as Nato leaders pledge to boost strength
The spectre of a new Cold War between the West and Russia loomed on Friday as Nato leaders agreed at a summit in Warsaw to mobilise thousands of troops at the borders of eastern European countries that were formerly part of the Soviet bloc.
The Kremlin bitterly denounced “anti-Russian hysteria” after the US president Barack Obama, attending his last Nato summit before completing his second and final term of office, called for firm resistance to what the 28-state military alliance sees as an increasingly assertive and belligerent Moscow.
Nato leaders insist they want “meaningful and constructive dialogue” with Russia, emphasising attempts to reach out to Moscow dating from 1990. New talks between the alliance and Russia will take place when the Nato-Russian Council convenes in Brussels next week but the atmosphere is certain to be clouded by mutual suspicion.
The process of forging friendlier relations has been put under massive strain by Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and its involvement in the wider Ukraine civil conflict, as well as by the controversial scale of its intervention in support of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad.
The menace of ISIL was also on the summit agenda and Nato leaders pledged increased support for the international coalition fighting the extremist group.
At the start of the summit, taking place in the city that gave its name to Soviet-backed Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War, Nato’s secretary general and a former prime minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, said the important decisions taken would increase “forward presence” in the eastern part of Nato-aligned territory with four new “multinational, robust” battalions.
This will translate into 3,000-4,000 troops sent on a rotational basis to the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and Poland.
The clear intended message, Mr Stoltenberg said, was that an attack on one ally would be treated as an attack on the whole alliance. “Nato doesn’t seek confrontation,” he insisted. “We don’t want a new Cold War. The Cold War is history, and it should remain history. But we have to be able also in a more challenging security environment to defend and protect all our allies.”
These words were reinforced in his joint declaration with the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, pledging a series of broad initiatives to strengthen the region’s security.
Their statement stressed the need for “new impetus and new substance to the Nato-EU strategic partnership” and said concrete plans for implementation should be presented by December.
Among areas identified as requiring attention, the declaration called for concerted action to expand cyber security, boost operational cooperation – “including at sea and on migration” – and strengthening defence industries and research.
“We call on both organisations [Nato and the EU] to invest the necessary political capital and resources to make this reinforced partnership a success,” said the three signatories. Mr Obama had said in an interview with the Financial Times before arriving at the summit that Britain’s referendum vote to leave the EU should not affect its role as “one of Nato’s most capable members”.
But talk of Russian aggression, and measures to counter it, left Moscow furious.
“It is absurd to talk about any threat coming from Russia at a time when dozens of people are dying in the centre of Europe and when hundreds of people are dying in the Middle East daily,” said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman.
“You have to be an absolutely short-sighted organisation to twist things in that way.”
Mr Peskov said he had no wish to cast Nato as Russia’s enemy and insisted Russia was happy to have talks and encourage cooperation. But he said the fact alliance soldiers and aircraft were operating close to Russia showed “we aren’t the ones getting closer to Nato’s borders”.
When Nato and Russian envoys meet in Brussels next Wednesday, hopes of easing tension will inevitably be affected by decisions taken, and words spoken, on Friday and Saturday in the two-day Warsaw gathering.
Russian intervention in Ukraine has plunged relations to their lowest level more than quarter of a century. Moscow counters with claims that peace in central Europe has been put at risk by Nato’s commitment of additional military resources.
For activists attending a “counter-Nato” meeting held simultaneously with the Nato summit in Warsaw, even the alliance’s professed wish to engage in dialogue with Russia is a mere “play on words”. One organiser, Reiner Braun, co-president of the International Peace Bureau, quoted by the Russian government-controlled Sputnik news agency, said Nato’s actions showed it wished to move in the direction of confrontation
The UAE, though not a member of Nato, is present at the summit, as it was in 2014, with the status of observer. Its delegation is headed by Mohammed Al Bowardi, Minister of State for Defence Affairs, and its participation reflects the nation’s key role in combating terrorism and regional instability.
On Friday, Mr Al Bowardi discussed ways to promote the UAE’s cooperation with the alliance during a meeting with the Nato deputy secretary general Alexander Vershbow.
Their discussions included security issues, developments in the region and their wider impact, efforts to fight terrorism and ways to enhance cooperation in training forces, the state news agency Wam reported.
A number of senior Nato and UAE defence ministry officials also attended the meeting.
* Additional reporting from Reuters
Updated: July 9, 2016 04:00 AM