In the last week of April I participated in three important conferences dedicated to security. The first in Tallinn was called The Security of Mare Nostrum and Beyond: The Return of Northern Europe to the World Scene?, which was organized by the International Center for Defence Studies (ICDS). Here the main emphasis was put on security in our region with Ukraine as the departure point. Security issues were viewed in a broad context, including energy, gas supplies, and so on. The main question was are we on the way to a new cold war?
The Northern Baltic region together with Poland has now returned to the center of attention, since by default we are geographically the „front states” vis a vis Russia. Hence it is now logical that both Finland and Sweden must join NATO.
I took the opportunity in a plenary sesssion to thank the USA for the quick deployment of units of the legendary 173. paratrooper brigade based in Italy to the Baltic states and Poland. This is in line with the decisions taken by the NATO military committee in the middle of April. The Estonian military representative expressed the opinion that also German soldiers would be welcome alongside the Americans.
The underlining primary question throughout the conference was whether the events in Ukraine mean a complete paradigm change between the West and Russia, or will relations return to „business as usual” at a later date. Future Russia’s actions in Ukraine apparently will give the answer, however at the next conference organized by the Free World Forum in Stockholm called Security in Northern and Eastern Europe Heather Conley from the CSIS in Washington partly sketched out what could be the answer.
According to her at the NATO summit in England in September NATO will return to the basics, i.e., the main function of NATO will be territorial defence and less resources will be allocated to crisis management. Relations with Partner countries will also be diminished. My views on the question of Finland and Sweden joining NATO are to be found at the end of this article.
Returning to Latvia I attended a seminar organized by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, European Leadership Network, and the Latvian Institute of International Affairs panel discussion open to the public titled The West and Russia: Charting (Un)known Waters? The original aim of the seminar planned six months ago was to evaluate nuclear security issues, however, Russian aggression in Ukraine dictated a change of focus toward this aggression.
At the Tallinn conference I heard that the „putinists” in Moscow had said that while it was nice that the Ukrainian soldiers had not fired on Russian soldiers in Crimea, such behaviour could not be viewed as carried out by „serious people” (serioznie lyudyi). It is quite possible that this behaviour encouraged the implementation of the same succesfull „active measures” in eastern and southern Ukraine.
I asked the panelists whether the West was guilty in advising Kiev not to order its soldiers to defend themselves in Crimea? The answer was probably yes, but that was only to save civilian lives.
But what is happening now in eastern Ukraine? It is my understanding that the Yanukovich administration had done everything possible to emasculate Ukraine’s defence capabilities – the minister of defence was a Russian citizen! The same could be said about the security services of Ukraine. For all intents and purposes Yanukovich can be viewed as a Russian agent.
The Polish analysts on the panel underlined that in our case we must have the capability to hit back immediately at „green men” if they appear in our territories. The same viewpoint was expressed by the commander of the Estonian forces at the Tallinn conference.
The Riga seminar panel discussion can be seen at this site:
Now for my participation at the Stockholm conference on the Nordics and NATO where I thanked Edward Lucas of The Economist from Great Britain who acknowledged that there was a certain…”tut, tut, tut” about “alarmist” Balts who warned about Russia’s intentions. He said that at the previous Stockholm conference in 2013 the then minister of defence of Latvia Mr. Artis Pabriks painted a gloomy picture of Russia which now has proved right.
Further in my remarks I referred to the visit by the Swedish parliament’s defence committee visit to the Latvian parliament last year, where the Swedish committee asked what Sweden could do to further military cooperation with Latvia. The Latvian side replied that the optimal step would be for Sweden to join NATO. This would maximise cooperation and would avert possible misunderstandings since a NATO Partnership state and a full NATO member state are not on an equal footing. The NATO secretary general Anders Fog Rasmussen said as much in Sweden that the difference between such states is that Article 5 does not cover partnership states.
Referring to the question of Swedish jet fighters participating in joint air policing patrols with NATO planes from the Baltic States I pointed out that there are a number of questions that pose difficulties. The main one is – would Sweden answer to the NATO chain of command or the Swedish government? What if an accident occurs with a Russian plane or even if shooting breaks out?
You can have a situation where the Swedish planes „flee from the scene” and hence there is no real point in joint patrols, since essential credibility is lacking. In February Swedish and Finnish war planes actually participated with Danish and Norwegian planes over Iceland, a NATO country, to demonstrate Nordic solidarity. However, in the event of a real threat they would disappear because they were not armed and fighters from Great Britain would be scrambled to aid the Norwegian and Danish planes.
However, I certainly would not be against joint patrolling if Sweden and Finland had a concrete vision of joining NATO soon and, in the mean time, their planes could take part in joint training flights so that pilots could gain the necessary experience in the air and landing skills in the Baltics. As I discovered from a Swedish journalist two Swedish Gripen fighters have already done this recently and landed on the NATO base in Šauliai, Lithuania.
One must remember that Finland has 63 USA F-18 Hornets while Sweden has 73 Gripen combat jets. Combined this is considerable power and such a force would augment considerably NATO fire power. This would be in our interests since the Baltic States cannot afford to buy jet fighters. However, as pointed out by a Polish researcher in Tallinn, Sweden should strive to build up her defences so that she could defend her territory before she joins NATO. Today the Swedish army is about as big as the Latvian and Estonian armies combined.
Sweden adopted the so-called Solidarity Declaration in 2009, whereby she undertook to assist the Baltics in case of attack – but with what? The Declaration has no credibility, which leads us back to the issue of „not serious people” (neserioznie lyudyi). In time, if Sweden and Finland do not join NATO, we can run into a public relations problem in the Baltics. People will ask, how is it that three Baltic sates, two of which were once part of the powerful Swedish empire, today actually protect a much bigger and richer Swedish state – which is hiding behind some kind of neutrality, which did not exist even in the Cold War. As is now well known then Sweden cooperated very closely with NATO.
Recognizing my debt to the previous Latvian speaker Mr. Artis Pabriks I feel an obligation to take a risk and make a prediction, i.e., Finland will be the first to be politically ready to join NATO. Already in May it will have adopted the Status of Forces Agreement and former president Martti Ahtisaari has openly stated that Finland must join NATO. Sweden has not come that far yet. Presently only two political parties firmly support Sweden joining NATO.