From Brussels to Nordics, Strong Signals of Support on Eve of Obama Visit To Tallinn, Wales Summit
During a time of a quickly evolving defense posture in Europe, Tuesday brought many new signals and developments that were seen as positive by supporters of more robust NATO presence in Estonia and the Baltic region.
In Brussels, outgoing NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told The Guardian and several other European papers that NATO would permanently deploy troops in Eastern Europe - a departure from months of talk of temporary "rotations." Rasmussen explained that the word "permanent" was not being used to avoid being inflaming tensions, but that, in effect, that is what the new deployments would be.
He said NATO would deploy its forces at new bases in eastern Europe, in response to the crisis in Ukraine and as deterence measure in the Baltic states. The specifics of such a development are expected to be hammered out at the Wales summit on September 4 and 5.
"We will adopt what we call a readiness action plan with the aim to be able to act swiftly in this completely new security environment in Europe," Rasmussen told The Guardian. "We have something already called the NATO response force, whose purpose is to be able to be deployed rapidly if needed. Now it's our intention to develop what I would call a spearhead within that response force at very, very high readiness.
"In order to be able to provide such rapid reinforcements you also need some reception facilities in host nations. So it will involve the pre-positioning of supplies, of equipment, preparation of infrastructure, bases, headquarters. The bottom line is you will in the future see a more visible NATO presence in the east."
The former Danish PM Rasmussen's remarks contrasted to German Chancelor Angela Merkel's more cautious tone in Riga earlier in the month.
In the Latvian capital, Merkel had brought up the 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia as a reason against permanent bases. This morning, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said on his private Twitter account that agreement was off the table. Ilves pointed out that that agreement called for no changes "in the current and foreseeable security environment."
"In 2014 the whole security enivornment changed," Ilves tweeted, and the "onus is to prove that the security evironment of 1997 has NOT changed. That after Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea, we're still in lala-land."
Finland and Sweden as NATO Hosts
To the north of Estonia, Finnish Defense Minister Carl Haglund signed an agreement Tuesday that codifies a support and maintenance role for Finland for NATO military units. According to Helsingin Sanomat, Finland would also act as a host country for NATO exercises, and could also act as a base for a rapid reaction force in case of a regional crisis.
The Swedish government is also ready to sign a similar agreement, according to the magazine Svenska Dagbladet, and might sign the agreement as early as today.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö gave a speech to the country's ambassadors in Helsinki where he addressed Finland's defense policty. Niinistö, who met with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Belarus in recent days, said that he feels that Finland did not face a military threat, and that "the situation in our neighborhood is stable."
However, according to the Finnish public broadcaster Yle, he praised Finland's evolving alliances that support Finnish defenses, while saying that the responsibility for defending the country rests with its citizens.
"Finnish defense cannot be outsourced," Niinistö said. "If we don’t want to take responsibility ourselves, I doubt volunteers from elsewhere will be found. On the other hand there is no credible 'hermit defense' model. Technology already dictates that. International co-operation and the support networks around that are the natural, modern defense solution."
Finland will play host in Turku to an international exercise next week, dubbed Northern Coast 2014, which will hope to improve multinational interoperability between of naval, airborne, and special forces.
US Foreign Relations Committee Chair Visit
In Tallinn, the chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, Robert Menendez, met with members of the Estonian government on Tuesday, including President Ilves, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, and MP Marko Mihkelson, who chairs the parliament foreign affairs committee. The main topics of their discussion was energy security, along with developments in Ukraine and Russia.
Menendez is scheduled today to meet with members of the US 173rd airborne, stationed in Estonia since April, at Ämari air base in Estonia. After leaving Estonia, he will then meet with government officials in Poland and Ukraine.