Boots on the ground
The Russia-Ukraine crisis has raised the sombre spectre of a return to Cold War relations between NATO and the great bear, and the security situation in Eastern Europe has deteriorated so rapidly that the US-led defence alliance has barely had time to collect its wits.
NATO has been engrossed in preparations to finalise its withdrawal from an unsatisfying, unpopular, and prolonged overseas mission in Afghanistan. However, once again it must turn its eyes to the East and attempt to contain the threat – real or perceived – of its old nemesis and raison d’être, Russia.
The outbreak of civil war in the Ukraine, thanks to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and support for Russian-speaking separatists, has prompted the Eastern European nations bordering the conflict to seek reassurances from NATO that Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is worth more than the paper it’s written on.
Poland and other former Soviet bloc states, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are set to air their concerns about the security implications of the crisis at the upcoming NATO summit, scheduled to be held in Wales on September 4-5.
Poland, which has found itself smack bang in the middle of a potential confrontation between NATO and Russia, has in recent months accelerated its ten-year military modernisation plan, which is one of the largest military expenditures by any European NATO member.
Three tenders for 70 multirole helicopters, 30 attack helicopters, and a short and medium-range missile and air defence system have been given priority status in order to beef up the country’s immediate defensive and attack capabilities.
The overall shopping list for Poland’s modernisation effort is extensive, with air defence systems, UAVs and helicopters to be purchased for the country’s air, navy and ground forces at an estimated cost of 130 billion pln (€31.5 billion).
Poland is taking its security situation seriously, and has made no secret of the fact it would like to see more NATO and American troops and infrastructure stationed within its borders.
The issues of whether NATO will choose to permanently station its forces on the eastern borders of Russia, create a weapons cache there, modernise its existing air bases and ramp up joint exercises and air patrols will no doubt be hot topics at the upcoming summit in Wales.
For his part, UK prime minister David Cameron has advocated a schedule of joint-exercises, the establishment of new military infrastructure, pre-positioning of equipment and supplies, and enhancing the region’s NATO Response Force of up to 25,000 troops.
While the Eastern Europeans are pushing for US and NATO boots on the grounds to act as a visible deterrent to any future Russian aggression, Germany is said to oppose any permanent NATO bases in the territory of the alliance’s eastern member states.