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In this week’s edition: Post-EUCO hangover, Western Balkans fury and NATO summit preview.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a fundamental rethink of how NATO perceives threats in its east and how it plans to deter them.
When NATO leaders meet for a landmark summit in Madrid this week, they are set to agree on the most significant overhaul of defences since the Cold War.
Plans to increase the alliance’s presence in its east are likely to include an expansion and rebranding of the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force (NRF), possibly by as much as six-fold or higher.
This would be reflected in a new force model for NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks, dubbed Allied Reaction Force (ARF), with thousands more troops based in their home countries but ready to deploy if needed.
Each NATO member, except for Iceland, is understood to be looking at placing more of its own forces in a greater state of readiness to defend a particular area of NATO territory under so-called “regional plans”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also suggested earlier this week that allies could agree “to strengthen battlegroups in the east up to brigade level”, which would bring up some of the existing missions in the three Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria from 1,000 to between 3,000-5,000 troops.
As a bottom line for all of this: NATO plans to move away from relying on the threat of punishment and moving toward what military officials call “deterrence by denial”, not allowing anyone to enter the territory in the first place.
“For us, it is very clear: We cannot allow ourselves to be occupied, not even for a short period of time until NATO reinforcements arrive,” a Baltic defence official has told EURACTIV, on condition of anonymity, during a recent visit to the region, which braces for the new security reality.
“We’ve all seen what it means when a territory is liberated,” the defence official said in reference to Bucha.
Alliance leaders will also sign off the alliance’s new Strategic Concept, a blueprint document on the threats and challenges the alliance faces, which is meant to guide the next 10 years.
The old concept from 2010, which is still officially valid, reads more like a tale from a different time since it states “there is peace in the Euro-Atlantic area”, “the threat of a conventional attack on NATO territory is low,” and one of the goals is to have “real strategic partnership” with Russia.
Those hopes became obsolete four years later when Russia annexed Crimea and forcibly shifted borders in Europe for the first time in decades. They seem even further away after Moscow decided to invade Ukraine, a partner country that the alliance had promised membership in the past, with full force.
The new strategy document will likely include the designation of Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” to NATO’s security.
And then there’s the matter of China.
Last year, NATO leaders, in a historic shift, stressed that China posed challenges that must be answered, partly at the urging of the US.
EURACTIV understands that most members, including France and Germany, are apprehensive of using the same threat description for China as for Russia and are more comfortable designating Moscow a security ‘threat’, while Beijing is dubbed a security ‘challenge’.
While Americans and Europeans are still split on whether to treat China as a security ‘threat’ or ‘challenge’, the gap is closing as allies try to agree on NATO’s new long-term strategic document, set for the first time to mention Beijing.
However, even designating China as a ‘challenge’ would present harsher language than in NATO’s current strategic concept, released in 2010, which does not mention the country at all.
What a brave new world we live in.
- Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, shift focus to Lysychansk. Russia’s army has “fully occupied” the key Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fighting, its mayor said, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to send nuclear-capable missiles to Belarus within months.
- EU leaders grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. In a bold geopolitical move dubbed a “historic moment” for the bloc, EU leaders approved granting EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, following a European Commission recommendation. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared it as a victory and promised not to rest until Russia’s defeat and full membership had been secured.
- EU says Lithuania acted ‘by the book’ in Kaliningrad standoff with Russia. Lithuania was not acting unilaterally and was only applying EU sanctions when it decided to ban the transit of some goods to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said earlier this week, backing up Vilnius in its new row with Moscow.
BALKAN FRUSTRATIONS | On the sidelines of the triumphant rhetoric over Ukraine and Moldova’s granting of EU candidate status, EU leaders in Brussels also faced furious Western Balkan counterparts, highly frustrated about the lack of their own progress and the long delay encountered in their membership bids.
Slovenia had urged member states to send a strong political signal to the Western Balkans, specifically pushing hard to secure Bosnia’s EU candidacy status.
While the decision to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova was “very cheap” and with little practical value, talks with the Western Balkan leaders were “a complete failure” only to benefit Russia’s Vladimir Putin, MEP Viola Von Cramon-Taubadel told EURACTIV in a summit debrief.
BULGARIAN TURMOIL | Albania and North Macedonia have been in the waiting room for several years. Dethroned Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov hinted a solution could be imminent in the coming days, while the Bulgarian parliament handed a mandate to his outgoing cabinet to approve a French proposal allowing Sofia to lift its veto on the start of North Macedonia’s EU accession talks.
WIDER EUROPE | France has its own silver bullet to stabilise the EU’s neighbourhood, and it’s not necessarily enlargement in the first place. French President Emmanuel Macron’s words on Ukraine’s and Moldova’s ‘European perspective’ after the granting of EU candidate status to both countries sounded in parts like a warning to be careful with the concept of EU enlargement in general.
ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…
- G7 Summit, largely to focus on Ukraine fallout
| Su-Tue, 26-28 June 2022 | Elmau, Germany
- EU energy ministers meet on gas crisis
| Monday, 27 June 2022 | Luxembourg
- Finish President Niinisto meets US Senators of the NATO Observer Group
| Monday, 27 June 2022 | Helsinki, Finland
- Amnesty on French jurisdiction to try war crimes in Ukraine
| Monday, 27 June 2022 | Paris, France
- UN Security Council meet on Israel, Palestinian Territories
| Monday, 27 June 2022 | New York, United States
- NATO Summit on Strategic Concept, eastern defence, Ukraine
| Tue-Thu, 28-30 June 2022 | Madrid, Spain
- Caspian Summit
| Wednesday, 29 June 2022 | Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
- Czech Republic takes over rotating EU presidency
| Friday, 1 July 2022 | Prague, Czech Republic
- Ban on access to the border with Belarus to be lifted
| Friday, 1 July 2022 | Polish border with Belarus