By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Starting June 7th 2016 the largest NATO manoeuver (“Anaconda 16”) since the end of the Cold War was held in Poland. Participants included the three Baltic states, Poland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Germany, Great Britain, Albania, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria as well as some non-member states such as Finland, Macedonia, Ukraine, Georgia and even the Kosovo. The manoeuver, which ended 17th of June, involved 31.000 soldiers from 24 countries, 3000 vehicles, 105 airplanes and helicopters, 12 ships. Participating was also a 400 member strong paramilitary group which is part of Poland’s 35.000 volunteer militia which Poland is deploying against Russia under the cover of “Defense of its fatherland”.
The media coverage of the manoeuver was quite bellicose, exemplified by the German Mass Tabloid “Bild” which carried the banner headline “Anakonda 16: Here NATO trains war against Putin”. During a press conference in Berlin with German Defense Minister von der Leyen, German Foreign Minister F.W. Steinmeier, Chancellor Merkel and NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, the General Secretary underlined that NATO reacts to the “will of Russia” which wants to apply violence on the Crimean peninsula and that it reacts to “Moscow’s readiness to change borders in Europe.” At the same time he reiterated that “NATO doesn’t seek confrontation but a constructive dialogue with Russia.”
Moscow has responded to the present political hype by stating that it didn’t represent a threat neither for Poland nor for the Baltic states. Stability in Europe would be best served by a collective security partnership, as the NATO-Russia Council offers it.
NATO summit in Warsaw
Following the NATO manoeuver, a NATO summit gathering the heads of state and state leaders of the Alliance countries will take place in Warsaw July 8th and 9th in order to discuss the future NATO concept. The aim is to show that the Alliance is capable to react to challenges at their eastern / south eastern and southern borders. A major concern in respect to the Eastern flank is the fact that the Minsk II agreement for peace settlement in Ukraine has not yet been fulfilled. At the South and South eastern flank the stability in Libya and its neighboring countries is at stake; given the civil wars in Syria and Iraq NATO sees the need to take a more active role. Stoltenberg wants more AWACs surveillance flights in the Mideast as well as fight against the smuggling of people and weapons in the Mediterranean.
According to the magazine of the German Armed Forces (“Bundeswehr aktuell”) the aims of the Alliance is to strengthen its reaction capability in respect to Russia. Of central significance is the very “High Readiness Joint Task Force” (NRF), the rapid deployment force of NATO which got created during the NATO summit in Wales 2014 against Russia. In the future, NRF is supposed to have 40.000 soldiers and in Eastern Europe eight basis called “NATO Force Integration Units” (NFIU) will facilitate the deployment of reaction forces. In addition an air brigade of 5000 soldiers will be deployed from the US to Eastern Europe and NATO missile defense mechanisms will be established in Poland and Rumania. In other words the NATO summit will decide about a stronger military presence in the East. This includes particularly the deployment of between 800 and 1000 men strong multinational battalions in three Baltic States as well as in Poland. Germany will play a leading role by taking the command for the Battalion to be stationed in Lithuania. Other nations in line for the command could be Canada, U.S. and Great Britain.
German Foreign Minister: “We don’t need sabre rattling”
While the mainstream media in Germany have switched again to a Russia- bashing line (may be to divert attention from the fact that Great Britain has voted in favor of “Brexit”, i.e. leaving the EU?), German Foreign Minister F.W. Steinmeier gave an interview to the German tabloid “Bild am Sonntag” (19th June), in which he warned not to provoke at the Russian border with “Sabre rattling and shrill war cries.” Instead one should discuss with Russia about disarmament.
His statement immediately provoked a storm of protest among some hard core “Atlanticists” in Germany, who hit back together with silly commentaries in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), that has become notorious for its Russia bashing line. Steinmeier told “Bild am Sonntag”, “that we should not heat up the situation through loud sabre rattling and shrill war cries and whoever thinks that he can create more security at the Eastern border of the Alliance, is wrong.” He further underlined that it should be in the interest of the NATO states to include and integrate “Russia into an international partnership responsibility. The preventing of an Iranian nuclear bomb, the fight against radical Islam in the Mideast or the stabilization of the Libyan state are actual examples for this.” History would teach that aside a common defense readiness, there must always be the readiness for dialogue and cooperation.
A very interesting response to Steinmeier was given by Theo Sommer, former editor of the German Weekly “Die Zeit”, former member of the Bilderberger group and well connected Atlanticist, who wrote in a commentary in the weekly “Die Zeit (21st of June), that “Steinmeier used strong words, but that “he is right.”
“It is certainly necessary that the Europeans should modernize their old military apparatus as well as increase the arms budget”, Sommer wrote. On the other side he judged that as important as it is to take the security concerns of the Baltic countries and Poland seriously, “we should be careful not to take their historically understandable, but exaggerated fears of a threat as basis for a further confrontationist policy and not give in to their pressure to further and permanently strengthen the Eastern European NATO presence. “The deterrence of Russia does not depend from some battalions in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland, Sommer stated, but “from the nuclear deterrence potential of the Americans and the credibility that they would use it.”
Sommer made reference to an article which was written by Dimitrij Trenin from the Carnegie Moscow Center in the new edition of “Foreign Affairs”. Trenin conceded that Russia “will deepen its footprint in the Baltic enclave Kaliningrad, that however Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are “safe”, even if they may not feel this way. ‘The Kremlin will not risk a nuclear war by attacking a NATO state and the sphere of influence which Putin has in mind definitely excludes those countries.’ Profound concern was also expressed by Sommer about NATOs “pinprick” tactic against Russia, exemplified by the invitation of Montenegro to join NATO or by the strategic mongering of U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter who keeps reiterating the line of “Russian aggression and coercion, especially in Europe”, while using ten times the words “winning” and “victory”. He also criticized Stoltenberg’s demand that there must be “dialogue with Russia” as “empty words” with no practical policy implications. A clear indication for this was that after the annexation of the Crimea the discussions within the NATO- Russia council were “interrupted”, whereas in reality the contrary should have happened in such a crisis. What is lacking at the moment, according to Sommer is “diplomatic initiatives” that could stop the escalating spiral: “Where is the diplomatic initiative which goes against further escalation and creates new structures like the 1815 Vienna Congress, the 1975 Helsinki Conference and the 1990 Charta of Paris for a new Europe?”
Sommer demands that one should at least “examine” whether Putin would not accept such a “Grand Deal” and pointed out that also the West has a trump card: “It could recognize the annexation of the Crimea if Putin would offer something against this.” Such diplomatic initiatives should be taken into account in line with a full knowledge about Russian history: “The Kremlin, no matter who governs there, will never give back the Crimea. When Putin annexed it, he without any doubt formally violated international law. But he had two things on his side: history and strategic logic. Since the time that the Crimea under Katherine the Great got incorporated, it has been Russian. The fact that Khrushchev under strong alcoholic influence in 1954 gave the Crimea to the Soviet Republic Ukraine, was a historic blunder. And there was a reason why Putin began to worry about the Russian naval base Sevastopol, namely when the US in 2008 began to push the Ukraine to join NATO (which as Sommer noted, the German Chancellor prevented). After the Maidan Revolution the Russians were facing a government in Kiev whose cabinet members in their majority had voted against the prolongation of the Sevastopol leasing treaty to extend till 2042.When there was the occasion to secure what was from Russia’s standpoint an indispensable naval base, Putin did not waver, but seized the occasion, irrespective of the international law. No matter who will rule in the Kremlin, he will never give it (Crimea) back to the West, even if the West were to impose sanctions for 50 years. Rather than trying to grudgingly agree in a diplomatic way and secure the status quo in the rest of Europe, we would be better off if we looked for a more complex solution, which does not jeopardize our own defense capability but lays the ground for a long term policy of détente, balance and cooperation”, Sommer wrote. He then cautioned that Steinmeier has not yet reached this point and that the “time is not yet ripe for this.”
Flanking support from former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
An interesting flanking support for Steinmeier was also given by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) in an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung (SDZ19th June). Schröder reminded that 75 years ago Nazi Germany “committed an epochal crime against the S.U. by invading it with the aim to annihilate the people and enslave them. And it is a miracle that despite the fact that the Soviet Union is ready for reconciliation. This moves me. In the Soviet Union 20 Mio people lost their lives and we Germans are not allowed to forget that this is the reason why we Germans have a special responsibility towards Russia”, Schröder stated. He deplored the fact that in the Russian- German history Germany has again and again “rejected” Russia; an example being that the German Kaiser William II used Lenin “to ignite a revolution in Russia in order to win the war in the East” (1.World War 1914-17 e.h.) Similarly the so called “Peace of Brest Litovsk 1917 was forced upon the S.U. It was more humiliating for the Russians than the Versailles treaty was for Germany.” Schröder stated. He expressed his concern about the recent NATO scenarios which chose Germany 75 years after the war to take a command position in the stationing of NATO battalions in the East. What will be the effect on Russia? According to him it is unrealistic to think that Russia would invade Eastern Europe and he sees -with a few exceptions, like former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, -there is a “lack of sensitivity” within the German Christian Democratic parties in respect to Russia. “Germany should pay attention not to lose its privileged political and economic partnership with Russia. We can’t play around with Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik (policy of détente vis- a- vis Moscow created in the seventies under former Chancellor Willy Brandt e.h.). What is important is that we make a new approach towards Moscow, but if the EU is prolonging sanctions in an undifferentiated ways, this is endangered”.
June 24 2016