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25/09/2016

Merkel sceptical of NATO deployments in Eastern Europe

Europe's East

Merkel sceptical of NATO deployments in Eastern Europe

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at her residence in Berlin. [NATO]

During a visit by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with caution to calls for permanent deployment of allied troops in Eastern European countries, amid fears of Russian retaliation in several member states. EurActiv Germany reports.

Numerous NATO member states feel threatened or even unsafe in light of the developments in Ukraine and the violation of territorial integrity, said Angela Merkel after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Berlin on Wednesday (2 July).

This pertains most of all to “the Baltic states but also to Poland”, the Chancellor said.

“We are responsible for each other’s security,” Merkel explained, referring to Article 5 of the NATO treaty.

“We spoke about the fact that there is no doubt the NATO-Russia Act should remain valid,” said Merkel, responding to a question regarding a permanent deployment of NATO troops in Eastern European countries.

NATO’s post-Soviet promises

The 1997 NATO-Russia Act formally ended the rivalry between Russia and NATO. But Moscow insists that the West promised not to set up any military bases in the former Eastern Bloc countries that have joined NATO after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“This also provides a framework for the kind of support we can give our partners when they ask for more support”, Merkel said. The military specifications are being prepared at the moment, the centre-right leader said, after which they can then be discussed.

Germany already contributes to “air policing”, for example, Merkel pointed out. “We will also discuss how we can contribute further to improve security among our member states as an alliance,” the Chancellor said .

While in Berlin, Rasmussen indicated that NATO has increased the number of manoeuvres in countries that feel threatened by Russia. In this way, the NATO presence in these states is already visible, he said.

Poland, in particular, has sought to receive permanent NATO bases since the start of the Ukraine crisis, he said. Russia warned against this.

“We are considering possible new steps that can strengthen our collective security in the long-term,” Rasmussen explained. “This will then lead to existing defence plans potentially being revised, new defence plans needing to be developed, manoeuvres being reinforced and then deployments could also take place within reasonable limits,” he explained. Such a “Readiness Action Plan” will then be presented and discussed at the NATO Summit, said Rasmussen.

Russian violation

Russia has violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act on many points, according to Andreas Schockenhoff and Karl-Georg Wellmann. The two German parliamentarians have co-signed a position paper at the Bundestag, the first as deputy chairman of the centre-right political faction and the second as a member of German-Ukrainian Parliamentary Group.

“But that is no reason for NATO to denounce this agreement. For this reason, it was right to discontinue concrete military cooperation but maintain the NATO-Russia Council as a discussion forum, keeping the path toward cooperation,” the pair wrote.

However, it is just as necessary, the two MPs write, that NATO take into account the threatened feelings of Baltic and Polish partners. “Whether existing temporary deployments should be consolidated, must be assessed before the NATO Summit in September.” The answer depends on whether Russia “continues its aggressive behaviour towards its neighbours, particularly towards Ukraine,” Schockenhoff and Wellmann argue.

The NATO Summit will take place from 4-5 September in Newport, Wales. The current conflict with Russia will one of the main areas discussed at the summit. For the time being, cooperation between NATO and Russia has been suspended. “We have already been ahead on this before,” said the Chancellor Merkel said she regrets this because NATO always desired constructive cooperation with Russia.

Rasmussen has been NATO Secretary General since 2009. His term of office will end after the summit in late September 2014. Former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will succeed him.

Background

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.