Leaders of nine NATO member states from the bloc’s eastern flank, held a virtual conference on Monday from the Romanian capital of Bucharest.
Leaders from the nations of Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria were also joined by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S President Joe Biden, and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in a summit designed to ‘consolidate views on issues of interest’ and to ‘support joint security projects’.
Named ‘The Bucharest Nine’, after their founding city, The initiative was launched by Poland and Romania in 2014, with all member states having joined NATO between 1999-2004, and all being former members of the Warsaw Pact.
Signed in Warsaw 1955, The collective partnership saw defence integration between socialist states of central and eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and was designed largely as a counterweight to NATO expansion, following West Germany’s addition to the bloc the same year.
Speaking ahead of NATO’s annual Summit in Brussels on 14th June, participants discussed the expected range of issues increasingly addressed at global and supranational levels. According to a White House Press Office statement, President Biden was seeking cooperative strategies on issues “including global health security, climate change, energy security, and global economic recovery”. But given the attendees collective history shared positioning on NATO’s eastern periphery, it comes as little surprise that Russia was the main point of focus.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was particularly outspoken on the need to “remain vigilant” in light of a build up of Russian Forces along Ukraine’s North-eastern borders, explaining he has “already argued, including in discussions with President Biden, for an increase of allied military presence in Romania and the south of the Eastern flank.”
With leaders seemingly emboldened by Biden’s presence, Polish Premier Andrzej Duda stated later in a press conference, that “The United States is the greatest guarantor of peace in the world,” and that his attendance “shows that the Euro-Atlantic bond is still alive.”
Perhaps not a direct as Iohannis, Secretary General Stoltenberg heaped praise upon Biden for “the U.S.’ commitment to rebuilding alliances”, made indistinct commitments toward “Broadening our approach to security”, and a recurring ironic devotion “to safeguard the rules-based international order”
As tensions and conflict remains between the Ukrainian military and Russian backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, Russian military forces have amassed on and since dissipated from Ukraine’s north-eastern border and the Crimean Peninsula, while the U.S. has sent military aviation hardware into Ukraine, yet stalled on plans to send war ships to black sea.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine were reignited following the Euromaidan revolution of 2014, in which the U.S. backed the nationalist overthrow of the Ukrainian government under Viktor Yanukovych. Seemingly aggravated by the latter’s reluctance to sign trade deals with the EU that would undermine relations with their biggest trade partner Russia, the dispute also resulted in Russia’s unilateral and contested annexation of Crimea the same year.
Since then, there have been increased efforts, through the Lublin Triangle pact between Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine adopted July last year, to accelerate Ukraine’s ‘Euro-atlantic integration’, namely EU and NATO membership.
Sitting just outside of the scope of the pact’s invitation, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, just last month, also offered “all forms of support” for Ukraine in its territorial dispute with Russia, and has pledged to build upon contracts for Turkish manufactured military drones, last supplied in 2019.
Whilst condemning Russian military activity within its own borders, NATO has since 2017, in simulation of a Russian invasion, been running war games on the Polish and Lithuanian borders that encircle the sandwiched Russian province of Kaliningrad.
Russia has denied any intention of planning to invade the Baltic’s, and has accused NATO’s exercises, which have since expanded across the Baltic states, Baltic Sea, North Sea and Scandinavia, involving thousands of military personnel from 19 NATO allied nations, as being the real threat to regional stability.
The recent Anonymous document leaks detailing the the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s (FCDO) clandestine media operations in the Baltic’s, also draws question over a western desire for regional stability.
The documents Detail a range of UK FCDO strategies to counter ‘Russian disinformation’, by operating though the FCDO’s Counter Disinformation & Media Development program, principally enlisting ‘BBC Media Action’ and the ‘Thomson Reuters Foundation’, along with media outlets and recruited journalists from Baltic states.
Declared goals in the documents include sowing “attitudinal change in the participants,” promote a “positive impact” on their “perception of the U.K.”, “weaken the Russian State’s influence on its near neighbors”, whilst “supporting participants making and receiving international payments without being registered as external sources of funding”. Such activities ordinarily classified as propaganda, might be considered to figure somewhat difficultly within Stoltenberg’s conception of a ‘rules based international order.’
Amid a recent deterioration of EU-Russo relations, NATO posturing is likely to continue under the familiarly transparent auspices of ‘regional stability’ and ‘transatlantic solidarity’. Though as Putin draws a ‘red line’ and assures an “asymmetrical, rapid and harsh” response in weariness of Europe’s neo-colonial flexing, the need for level headed diplomacy over euphemistic threats and simulated warfare fantasies, has perhaps never been greater.