NATO ENCIRCLEMENT OF RUSSIA. The Strategic Role of the “Visegrad Four”: Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia
by Vladislav Gulevich
April 27, 2012
Strategic Culture Foundation – 2012-04-26
In May 2012, Chicago is to host the NATO summit. The alliance is facing the task of improving the relations within the bloc and restructuring its strategy taking into account the current crisis tendencies, which have gripped the Western world and the global challenges the West is facing. With mass media focusing on the events on the Middle East and North Africa, a threat of war against Iran and Afghanistan, Libya’s post war instability, the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian crisis, Brussels has a lot to consider. In its turn, Poland is also preparing to submit its ideas and proposals at the coming summit in Chicago.
In particular, in its foreign policy for 2012-2016 Poland pays a special attention to the Visegrad Group or the Visegrad Four (V4) (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia), a military and political bloc, which was established in 1991. When V4 signed its joint declaration on striving for their European integration, they clearly defined the political and ideological border-line where they planned to “hold back” Russia. In May 2011, the group announced plans to set up a new combat unit under the command of Poland, which was to grow into a full-fledged military and political mechanism by 2016. Formally this mechanism is expected to have the authorities which are separate from NATO.
Already in 2013, the Visegrad Group plans to take part in the NATO Response Force military exercises. It is very important for Poland to unite the countries of the Four around itself, considering that in the second half of 2012 Poland will chair this organization. Warsaw wants to continue acting as the regional pole of power, consolidating the countries of the Eastern Europe and the Baltic region. Poland and the Baltic states have tight allied relations but Warsaw looks into the future and does not rule out that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will join the Visegrad Group (В 4+ format).
In April 2012, the Polish authorities organized a meeting with the Baltic allies in order to discuss this idea and to work out a common view of the strategic situation in the region. While Tallinn and Riga are willing to participate Vilnius with its attempts of “lithuanization” of Lithuanian Poles is spoiling the party. Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė ignored the meeting of her Baltic counterparts with the Polish president. Reportedly, Poland hinted to Lithuania quite directly that if the Lithuanian authorities did not reconsider their policy with regard to the Polish minority in Lithuania, Warsaw would revise its position regarding the support of NATO’s mission on protection of the Baltic States’ air space.
Meanwhile the Baltic States are eying Scandinavia to build a North-South geopolitical axis instead of an East-West axis. Polish experts regularly recommend the government not to forget about Scandinavia and to strive for the creation of a “geopolitical bridge” between Poland and Sweden. Poland is the regional leader in Eastern Europe. Sweden is the leading Scandinavian power. The Baltic States, sandwiched between Swedes and Poles, were destined to rely on Warsaw. But Lithuania wants to depend on Poland less than on anyone else. Vilnius and Warsaw look at the history of the Polish-Lithuanian relations from different positions. Poles regard the period of the unification of Lithuania and Poland as the peak of the geopolitical power of the Polish State, while Lithuanians consider that epoch to be the time of total Polish domination in everything from the language to the legislation.
For Poland Lithuania is the most important of all the Baltic States. In the 1920-s, the supporters of the Polish statesman Jozef Pilsudski tried to get control over Lithuania and to create a puppet state – the Republic of Central Lithuania (the rebellion of General Zeligowski). The Republic of Central Lithuania included also a part of Belarus and was to form a strong buffer state between Poland and the USSR. But today there is coolness between Lithuanians and Poles. Lithuanians are trying to make Lithuanian Poles forget their “Imperial ambitions”. In their turn, Lithuanian Poles consider Poland to be a stronger state than Lithuania and don’t want to give up their Polish ways. As a result the idea of “В 4+” is still only an idea.
As for V4, these countries do not have any serious contradictions. This is proved by a recent declaration (“Responsibility for a strong NATO”), in which members of the Vysegrad group pledged to contribute to the strengthening of NATO’s defense capacity. The four states have declared they would not withdraw their troops from Afghanistan earlier than the term which was officially set, sticking to the principle “together-in – together-out”. The group has also supported the plans of the US administration on deployment of the components of the anti-missile system and spoken for the expansion of the North-Atlantic alliance by admitting the states, which membership will contribute to a stronger defense capacity of the bloc.
It is not difficult to guess what those states are. First of all it is Ukraine. It is not a coincidence that the Visegrad group issued its joint declaration on the eve of the Chicago summit. Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich has already been invited to attend this event and Poland is acting as the main supporter of Ukraine in the EU and NATO. Warsaw does not mind Georgia’s entry to NATO either, but the problem of the republic’s “territorial integrity’ is a serious obstacle on the way to its dream of European integration. Moldova’s prospects are also vague due to the same reason.
In the declaration the Visegrad Group pledges to stick to NATO’s strategy adopted in Lisbon in 2010. According to V4, during the Chicago summit it is desirable to adopt a “defense package”. In particular, the Four urges the intensification of cooperation within NATO in the field of joint military exercises in particular on the territory of the V4 countries.
According to NATO’s plans, which are to be discussed at the summit in Chicago in May, the countries of the former USSR, which surround Russia, must play the role of an “anaconda ring” pressing Russia and pushing it farther from its navigation routes: the Baltic States would block the access to the Baltic Sea, the scale of Russia’s presence on the Black Sea depends on Ukraine and Georgia; on land the Western direction would be blocked by Moldova and Ukraine and by Muscovites’ eternal opponent, which is Poland.
The essence of the North-Atlantic alliance as a military and political bloc has not changed since its establishment in 1949. NATO has not changed its goals regarding historical Russia which were set back in the beginning of the Cold War. These are only means of achieving these goals which are changing.
by Rick Rozoff
April 21, 2012
The defense ministers of Belarus and Russia, jointly the Union State, met in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on April 18 and underlined the need for the two countries to strengthen military cooperation in response to the qualitative intensification of North Atlantic Treaty Organization deployments and operations on and near their borders.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Serdyukov stated, “We are troubled both by an increase in NATO’s activity near the borders of the Union and plans of the U.S. and other members of the alliance to deploy elements of a missile defense shield in Europe.”
The Belarusian defense minister, Major-General Yuri Zhadobin, issued a comparable and complementary warning; he was paraphrased by the state-run Belarusian Telegraph Agency as commenting: “Preparations of international troops near Belarusian borders have been stepped up in recent years: plans of neighboring countries, which are NATO members, to modernize their military forces are being implemented, including ten military airfields and four seaports meant to receive foreign troops. There are plans to station US air forces in Poland in Q4 2012, with a modern air defense system deployed in the immediate vicinity of the Union State borders. All these factors force one to seek effective military and technical solutions to these threats.”
To believe that NATO has shifted its focus entirely away from its Cold War-era target, the now former Soviet Union, in favor of waging neo-colonial wars in the Balkans, Asia, Africa and the Middle East is both inaccurate and dangerous. Sophisticated, next-generation interceptor missiles slated for deployment in Poland, which borders both Belarus and Russian territory, no later than six years from now are assuredly not directed toward Iran, much less North Korea, and have no conceivable role in such standard NATO casus belli ruses as combating terrorism and piracy, fending off computer hacking or enforcing the Responsibility to Protect.
As the Russian and Belarusian defense chiefs noted, the most menacing moves by NATO are in Europe, most particularly in the Baltic Sea region, where any military conflict would immediately, inevitably, escalate into a confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers and the only nations with a triad of strategic delivery systems: NATO mainstay the U.S. and Russia. In particular, military aggression against Belarus, linked to Russia both through the Union State and the Collective Treaty Security Organization, could not avoid triggering a clash between NATO and the Pentagon on the one hand and Russia on the other.
At the end of February the European Union, in conjunction with the United States – collectively NATO – enforced new sanctions and travel bans against Belarus and recalled all its member states’ ambassadors from Minsk in an escalation of “regime change” measures alarmingly evocative of similar ongoing actions against Syria and those against Libya in 2011.
That NATO, emboldened by what it has celebrated as an unprecedented victory in Libya last year and avidly seeking a new mission after (if there is an after) Afghanistan could take military action against Belarus – or in the South Caucasus or against nations like Zimbabwe or even Venezuela – is not an unimaginable possibility. The bloc certainly arrogates to itself the option of doing so.
As mentioned above, the Western alliance is preparing the military infrastructure for doing just that: Air and naval bases, training and command-and-control centers, missile and radar sites, cyber defense (read warfare) and airlift capabilities, and integration of the armed forces of regional and NATO-wide armed forces in the Baltic region.
In March of 2004, three months before the three countries were inducted into the alliance, NATO began air patrols over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based in the air base at the Šiauliai International Airport in Lithuania. Conducted under the deceptively innocuous name of Baltic Air Policing, three-month rotations of four warplanes supplied by the U.S., Germany, Britain, France, Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Portugal the Czech Republic and Romania have flown near the borders of Russia and Belarus for over eight years. Estonia and Latvia border the Russian mainland and Lithuania (as well as Poland) abut its non-contiguous Kaliningrad district. Latvia, Lithuania and Poland border Belarus.
Before the patrols were instituted, the Russian defense minister at the time, Sergei Ivanov, warned that they would entail the deployment of NATO, including American, warplanes “a three-minute flight away from St. Petersburg,” Russia’s second largest city.
This February NATO announced it was extending the air mission until 2018, fourteen years after it commenced. Early this month U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cited the Baltic operation as an example of NATO capabilities to be discussed at the bloc’s summit in Chicago next month.
The current rotation consists of German F-4 Phantom II long-range supersonic jet interceptor fighter-bombers. Germany has been responsible for four of the past nine rotations. Only in a world without a sense of history – even a sense of irony – could the Luftwaffe deploy combat aircraft near Russian territory and the fact pass without notice.
On September 25, 2010 Lithuania’s near neighbor Estonia completed a three-year project to upgrade the Ämari Air Base to accommodate NATO warplanes. The government in Tallinn announced that the expanded, modernized Soviet-era base could accommodate 16 fighters, 20 transport planes and 2,000 personnel a day.
Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves – born in Sweden and raised in the U.S. where he worked for Radio Free Europe during the Reagan years of the 1980s – at the time stated, “NATO will have one of the most modern air force bases in the region at its disposal.”
Three years ago a Polish news source disclosed that NATO had allotted over one billion euros to upgrade and expand military capabilities in Poland and had modernized seven military airports, two seaports and five large fuel bases (12 in total were planned) and that six strategic long-range aerial radars had already been completed. The Atlantic bloc also equipped military airfields in Powidz, Lask and Minsk Mazowiecki with new installations to increase their logistical and defense capabilities.
NATO projects also include the establishment of air defence headquarters in Poznan, Warsaw and Bydgoszcz and a radio communications center in Wladyslawowo on the Baltic coast.
In June of 2009 then-Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich disclosed that NATO would inaugurate a Joint Battle Command Centre in the northern city of Bydgoszcz where NATO had run a Joint Force Training Centre since 2004, stating that “NATO has decided to heavily invest in Poland by modernizing military infrastructure including air and sea bases.”
Between 2006-2008 the U.S. delivered 48 F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters at a cost of $3.5 billion, which represented the largest defense contract by a former Warsaw Pact member state (except for Russia) since the end of the Cold War, the most expensive arm deal in Poland’s history and the first deployment of F-16s to Eastern Europe.
In addition to those F-16s, based near Poznan, last May the Pentagon announced that the U.S. will transfer 16 of its own F-16s from the Aviano Air Base in Italy to Poland along with Hercules C-130 military transport aircraft and special forces transferred from Special Operations Command Europe in Stuttgart, Germany.
A year before, the U.S. deployed a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missile battery with over 100 military personnel to the Polish city of Morag, only 35 miles from Russian territory, in the first long-term stationing of missile interceptors in Europe.
In the third stage of the U.S.-NATO Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense program, to be implemented no later than 2018, 24 third-generation Standard Missile-3 interceptors – SM-3 Block IIAs – will be based in Poland.
In August 2008 the U.S. signed an agreement with Poland which includes a “commitment for both states to come to each other’s assistance in case of military threats.” It was the honoring of an analogous treaty with Poland by Britain and France in September 1939 that, the initial phony war notwithstanding, marked the beginning of World War II.
As part of regular exercises conducted by the U.S. and its NATO allies in the Baltic Sea, the latest Baltic Region Training Event (BRTE XI) wrapped up this March 28 at Lithuania’s Šiauliai air base after German, Finnish and Swedish warplanes – Phantom, Hornet and Gripen fighter jets – participated in aerial exercises in support of the NATO air patrol operation. Finland and Sweden are being dragged into full NATO membership, first in Afghanistan and now in the Baltic, behind the backs of their populations.
Also last month, a planning conference for this summer’s Baltic Host 2012 exercises was held in Lithuania. The drills will be part of host nation support obligations in relation to NATO forces and conducted simultaneously in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The U.S. Marines Corps last month released details of its role in the upcoming BALTOPS 2012 war games in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the latest in annual Baltic Operations exercises, by quoting an officer with the Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO:
“This year the exercise includes land, air, and at sea activities all coordinated under a maritime-based Combined Joint Task Force led by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (Strike Force NATO). Having performed the CJTF role in 2010 and leveraging recent Libyan crisis experience as part of Operation Unified Protector, Strike Force NATO is looking to achieve a much higher degree of interaction amongst subordinate air, land, and sea components spread across the 1,000 km wide training area.”
The U.S. Marine Corps website added that the exercises “will bring Marines and sailors from Black Sea Rotational Force 12, stationed in Romania, to conduct amphibious/land operations with Lithuania Army Forces, to include counter-insurgency and peace keeping training.”
A planning conference was held by U.S. European Command’s Naval and Marine Forces Europe and the Lithuanian armed forces at the General Adolfas Ramanauskas Warfare Training Center in Vilnius, Lithuania from February 27-March 2 for the purpose.
The U.S. and NATO have turned the Baltic Sea into a powder keg that can be set aflame by a single carelessly tossed match, and “leveraging recent Libyan crisis experience” will not permit the resultant conflagration to be contained.
Source – http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/nato-baltic-buildup-threatens-belarus-and-russia/