Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the NATO’s summit in Brussels that the Alliance would improve its ability to facilitate the movement of forces in Europe, but did not plan to deploy additional units to the Baltic countries and Poland.
It should be noted that the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw was Baltic-centric, highly concentrated only on the Nordic part of the Eastern Flank.
Earlier in response to Russia’s aggressive activity in the Baltic Sea region, last year NATO deployed a 1,000-strong multinational battalion to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland each.
“We have increased our military presence in the Baltic countries and Poland already. We have four battlegroups, one in each of the Baltic countries and one in Poland. There is also some bilateral presence of the US,” Stoltenberg said when asked about the possible permanent stationing of units in the Baltic countries and Poland. “So this shows that NATO is adapting, NATO is responding,” he said.
At the same time, the NATO summit in Brussels provided an opportunity for the Alliance to focus on the Black Sea region that has been increasing in geopolitical importance. Since Crimea became part of Russia in 2014, the Black Sea has essentially become Russian. This is a direct threat to U.S. and NATO interests.
The U.S. used the July summit to lead the Alliance in developing meaningful ways to work with the Black Sea littoral states to start the process of developing a strategy for regional security.
In the opinion of high-ranking representatives of the Alliance the Black Sea region is in need of more NATO capabilities and allied presence.
However, allied presence in the Black Sea remains scarce: since the annexation of Crimea, the UK, Canada and Italy have agreed to assist Romania and Bulgaria in the NATO framework with air policing, military exercises have increased in size and occurrence, and the Black Sea Functional Center, which has been established within the framework of the NATO Maritime Command. Romania has since also managed to scrap together a multinational brigade under its command to which ten member states are contributing. Nevertheless, these remain less-than-symbolic measures in light of the growing hybrid challenges the Alliance is facing in the region.
According to general Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca, the Chief of the General Staff of the Romanian Armed Forces, there is a risk to turn the Black Sea into the “soft belly” of NATO, if the leadership of the Alliance ignores the existing imbalance of forces in the region.
I really want to believe that the escalation of the situation and attempts to escalate tensions in the Baltic region by some politicians of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will be ineffectual. Perhaps this will allow to remove “a high degree“ of tension with the eastern neighbour.