a bitter melon

Towards the NATO summit: the EU and Russia

Coming Friday and Saturday the 2016 NATO summit will take place in Warsaw. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg had a phone call with Polish President Andrzej Duda last Friday in preparation for the summit:

Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- President Andrzej Duda discusses NATO summit with Stoltenberg

“On Thursday, President Andrzej Duda spoke by telephone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the state of preparations for the NATO summit, the agenda and the content of each session,” Presidential Minister Krzysztof Szczerski told PAP.

Chaired by Mr Stoltenberg, the NATO summit will be held in Warsaw on 8-9 July.

What to expect? There are signs of willingness to reduce tension. For example, the result of Putin's meeting with Finnish President Niinistö on Friday:

Yle -- Putin agrees to Finnish proposal on aircraft transponders

In his remarks following their talks, President Niinistö spoke about small steps that would help improve trust and referred to both Ukraine and the Baltic Sea region. Trust, he said, would reduce mutual fears in the Baltic Sea region.

According to President Niinistö, one step would be for aircraft to use their transponders over the Baltic Sea so that flights can be monitored.

"We agree to the proposal of the Finnish president. I will give instructions that this matter is to be put on the agenda of a meeting between NATO and Russia," Putin told the media. According to the Russian president, the meeting in question is supposed to take place in Brussels following NATO's Warsaw gathering.

If the meeting between NATO and Russia does go ahead (Reuters puts it at July 13), it will be the second meeting since the NATO-Russian Council suspended cooperation with Russia in April 2014. The last time, on April 20, 2016, wasn't a great success:

The Guardian -- Nato-Russia Council talks fail to iron out differences (Apr 20, 2016)

Nato and Russian officials held the first meeting for nearly two years of a joint council on Wednesday but failed to make any apparent progress in resolving increasingly dangerous military tensions.

But French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's remarks last Wednesday have been conciliatory:

Reuters -- Russia agrees to talks with NATO after Warsaw summit: France

Ayrault said France wanted the summit to show solidarity among allies but also transparency towards Russia through dialogue.

"We don't want the Warsaw summit to be a confrontational summit," he said.

Ayrault's statements come after the French Senate has adopted a resolution, on June 8, calling for the government to re-evaluate the sanctions against Russia (and in particular to lift the sanctions on travel for Russian members of parliament) with 301 votes in favor and 16 against:

Sénat -- Sanctions UE-Russie : pour une levée progressive et partielle, dans le respect du droit international (Jun 8, 2016)

Dans la lignée de ce rapport, le texte de la résolution adoptée par le Sénat, tout en réaffirmant son attachement à la souveraineté de l’Ukraine, en condamnant l’annexion de la Crimée et en appelant à la mise en œuvre des accords de Minsk, invite à travailler à la levée des sanctions contre les parlementaires russes, appelle à la réévaluation des sanctions diplomatiques en vue d’une reprise des sommets bilatéraux et souhaite un "allègement progressif et partiel" des sanctions économiques si des "progrès significatifs" sont faits dans la mise en œuvre des accords de Minsk.

Meanwhile in Germany Merkel and Stoltenberg met in Berlin on June 2 to prepare for the Warsaw summit. Merkel noted Germany's support for strenghtening NATO presence in the Baltics and Poland and at the same time underlined the importance of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, which frowns on the "permanent stationing of substantial combat forces":

Bundesregierung -- Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und Nato-Generalsekretär Stoltenberg (Jun 2, 2016)

Merkel: Was die Nato im Osten anbelangt, so haben wir von Anfang an sehr stark und substanziell zu dem Anpassungsprozess beigetragen, durch verstärkte Präsenz in der Ostsee, durch die Luftwaffe im Rahmen des Air Policing. Wir sind beim Multinationalen Korps Nordost in Stettin dabei und haben bereits jetzt eine Kompanie im Baltikum und in Polen.

Wir wollen uns bei dem zukünftigen Engagement noch weiter einbringen, insbesondere mit Blick auf Litauen. Wir haben allerdings auch darüber gesprochen, wie wir unser Engagement im Osten verstehen. Deutschland ist immer ein Land gewesen - und bleibt es auch -, das die Nato-Russland-Grundakte für ein wichtiges Dokument hält, das wir immer wieder mit Leben erfüllen sollten. Wir verletzen diese Grundakte nicht. Wir sind innerhalb dieser Nato-Russland-Grundakte.

Stoltenberg emphasized the need to avoid conflict:

Stoltenberg: Was die Nato tut, ist von defensiver Natur, ist angemessen und bedeutet, dass wir einen Beitrag für unsere gemeinsame Verteidigung leisten - nicht etwa, um einen Konflikt zu provozieren, sondern um einen Konflikt zu verhindern. Wir wollen keinen Konflikt mit Russland.

A few weeks later, on June 17, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was reported criticizing recent NATO exercises in the Baltics (part of the NATO Readiness Action Plan which was approved at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales):

Spiegel Online -- Steinmeier kritisiert Nato-Manöver: "Säbelrasseln und Kriegsgeheul" (Jun 18, 2016)

Mehr Dialog und Kooperation mit Russland - das fordert Bundesaußenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) in der "Bild am Sonntag" (BamS). Die Nato-Manöver in Osteuropa hat er scharf kritisiert: "Was wir jetzt nicht tun sollten, ist durch lautes Säbelrasseln und Kriegsgeheul die Lage weiter anzuheizen", sagte er dem Blatt laut einer Vorabmeldung.

Am vergangenen Dienstag hatte im Baltikum ein internationales Manöver mit rund 10.000 Soldaten aus 13 Staaten begonnen - knapp einen Monat vor dem Nato-Gipfel in Warschau. Die Militärübung namens "Saber Strike" soll bis 21. Juni dauern und auf verschiedenen Truppenübungsplätzen in Estland, Lettland und Litauen stattfinden.

Retired Italian General Tricarico also commented negatively on NATO policy last week:

Euronews -- General Leonardo Tricarico: NATO “not prepared for real dangers” (Jun 27, 2016)

General Leonardo Tricarico: “You listen to Stoltenberg, and you hear Obama. Or vice versa. I have the impression that Stoltenberg is a mouthpiece for US influence on NATO’s behaviour in general.

“Instead of taking their foot off the gas towards a vision modeled on the US perspective, there is a clear accelleration in this direction, which allows me to observe that the US’s influence over NATO has increased to a level which is unacceptable.”


General Leonardo Tricarico: “The Baltic countries have this reaction, which is largely understandable, and that’s why they’re speaking to the gut instincts of these countries. They’re former members [of the Soviet Union] or countries which always saw Russia as a danger, and in this case they’re the useful idiots – not in the offensive meaning – they’re just the instruments used by the United States, or at least the US are encouraging their fears, in order to justify this danger represented by the Russian bear. But that’s not the reality of the situation.

While Italian Prime Minister Renzi, at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 17, was outright charming:

The Financial Times -- Renzi lifts spirits at Russia’s ‘Davos’ (Jun 17, 2016)

“We need Europe and Russia to become wonderful neighbours again,” Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister told a hall packed with business executives and government officials in St Petersburg on Friday.

Mr Renzi’s speech was infused with eloquent praise for Russian culture. Together with humorous exchanges onstage with President Vladimir Putin and the mere presence of other senior European figures, it lit up the mood at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia’s Davos-like business conference.


Mr Putin certainly appeared assuaged by the show of understanding from Renzi and Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president who was also present. The Russian president dropped his customary bitterness when discussing European sanctions on Russia, and instead blamed the US for forcing them on to the EU. “Matteo, why? Why are you enduring this?” he joked.

Now Putin can joke all he wants, but even if there is a thawing of sentiment, it has done nothing to lift sanctions against Russia:

Council of the EU -- Russia: EU prolongs economic sanctions by six months (Jul 1, 2016)

On 1 July 2016, the Council prolonged the economic sanctions targeting specific sectors of the Russian economy until 31 January 2017.

So it remains to be seen whether Russia will fare any better in the NATO-Russia Council.

Will NATO reciprocate and enable transponders on NATO aircraft? On the one hand, it needs to be clear that NATO will go to war over any infraction by Russia on Baltic terrain, because this is a war that NATO will win. On the other hand, enabling transponders seems a small price to pay if it prevents such a war.

Then on that basis considering the third hand, it seems that Russia has done itself a disservice by enabling anti-EU forces in the UK (Brexit) and elsewhere. If the EU is perceived to be weak, NATO and its military logic must prevail.