Over the last few weeks—since Russia was accused of poisoning former Russian double spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salsbury, UK—a large number of Western countries, predominantly Britain and the U.S., have developed a strong anti-Russian rhetoric. They even ordered the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats, which reminds us of Cold War practices. Due to the lack of sufficient evidence and the British refusal to co-operate with the Russians in order to clarify the whole case, many have wondered about the causes of such an over-reaction. I believe that an assessment of the facts and the status quo in global politics and geostrategy could answer that question.
• The Confrontation Between the West and Russia Over Energy Resources
In the last five years, there has been a particular upsurge in the confrontation between the Western countries (NATO-EU) and Russia over the exploitation of the vital energy sources, infrastructures and transit routes to Europe for oil and gas from Central Asia, the Middle East, and the populous, prosperous and energy-rich (even for the next century) Eurasian region.
• Surrounding Russia as Part of a Strategy
The recent developments have definitively and irreversibly put an end to the famous promise given to Russian President Gorbachev back in 1990 by Western leaders that NATO would neither expand “one inch” to the East nor permanently deploy any significant military forces or units close to Russia. We have come a long way since then. NATO has welcomed in 13 new countries bordering Russia and, in the wake of the civil war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, NATO gradually did deploy forces and units, and did carry out military exercises near the Russian border. It is noteworthy that, since 1990, Russia has withdrawn its troops from Eastern and Central Europe and the Baltic States, while it has reduced the fighting power of the military bases located near its western border.
Today in Romania, NATO has deployed a Romanian Brigade of 4,000 soldiers, plus a 900-strong U.S. force. Given that Russia shares no borders with any NATO country in the region of the Black Sea, these forces are probably ready to move or to be quickly transferred into another area.
Besides, there is a full-fledged U.S. Brigade and a U.S.-led multinational Battalion in Poland, and a multinational Battalion in each Baltic State. These four battalions are the spearheads of NATO’s presence on the Russian border, co-ordinated by the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
In order to protect these forces and create the famous “Ballistic Missile Defence,” NATO has developed the US-based Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD) in Romania and Poland. With its 200-km range, THAAD is reinforcing the PATRIOT (PAC 2/3) system set up in NATO countries already. These two systems are combined with NATO’s naval presence in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the North Atlantic, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean.
• The Naval Presence of NATO in the Black Sea
Geographically speaking, the Black Sea is for Russia what the Mexican Gulf is for the U.S. About two months ago, the American destroyer USS Carney entered the region to meet the USS Ross that was already there.
The two destroyers, docked in the Naval Station of Rota, Spain, often carry patrols in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, in order to give the impression that the American and Russian forces can safely operate at short distance between each other, like it used to happen during the Cold War. These two warships are both equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System (Aegis BMD) and their presence is seen by the Russians as a threat; they rushed to send the Russian frigate Admiral Essen and two patrol vessels for exercises in the same area. What’s more, Russian fighters often intercept U.S. reconnaissance and research aircraft operating in the Black and the Baltic Sea.
• The Presence of NATO in the Middle East
In the Middle East, the U.S. never withdrew its forces from Syria as it had originally announced. According to released information, the U.S. is going to set up two military bases in the area of Manbij. In an effort to confront Russia and Iran, and prevent their influence in Iraq, NATO has decided to launch a mission and help train the Iraqi forces by building some special schools and military academies. In this way, the United States is covering the gap created by the transfer of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where the situation is getting worse. According to the Secretary General of NATO, the priorities of the Alliance “in the South” include acquiring the ability to cope with local crises in the future.
• NATO Defence Ministers’ Conference
During the NATO Defence Ministers’ Conference in Brussels, it was essentially decided to revise NATO’s Strategic Perspective and to adapt its Administration Structure so as to meet its new goals. According to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Alliance should act swiftly and decisively to protect maritime communications between North America and Europe, as well as vital infrastructure.
NATO must therefore be able to face the threat in advance, at sea and under the sea, in order to confront the Russian submarines. Stoltenberg also referred to preserving NATO’s nuclear forces. This is obviously the reason why, a few days later, on March 7, 2018, Russian President Putin emphasised on his country’s readiness to deploy its nuclear weapons if need be, and to repay a possible blow, even if that would mean the end of the world. Based on the cruciality of this situation, the above statement was made to prevent any attempt to push Russia into a corner.
Whether in peacetime, in times of crisis, or when carrying out collective defence operations (Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty), the Alliance has cerain defensive needs to fulfil. Consequently, the new Administration Structure includes the establishment of headquarters in the following places:
a. A Joint Force Command in Norfolk, USA, similar to the existing ones in Naples, Italy, and Brunswick, the Netherlands. This will be a mostly naval command post.
b . A wider Logistics Headquarters in either Ulm or Berlin, Germany.
c. Two Land Component Commands meant to be in charge of Army Corps, and based on the northern and the southern arm of the Alliance respectively, depending on the availability of national headquarters.
• A Military “Schengen” Treaty
Now, the most important decision of the Conference was to accept the facilitation of a so-called “military mobility,” i.e. the ability to deploy troops, materials and supplies quickly through European territory to the Russian border. This will be achieved by sidestepping bureaucratic procedures and border controls. In other words, a military “Schengen” Treaty was agreed on. This strategy is in line with the new U.S. Defence Strategy, according to which the Armed Forces should be prepared to engage in conflict in a very short period of time. The required moves will be planned, controlled and co-ordinated by the German Headquarters, called either “Rear Area Operations Command” or “Joint Support Command.”
In order to acquire military mobility, the Military “Schengen” Treaty will have to upgrade the infrastructure of each country (roads, tunnels, bridges) and consider it as part of the overall military needs. However, such a goal requires significant funding. This prospect, combined with U.S. pressure on the Allies to increase their military expenditure so as to spend 2% of each country’s GDP on defence, and the EU’s policy to increase the Union’s military capabilities, will place a heavy financial burden on the member states. In a period of economic crisis, reduction of social benefits, excessive taxation, real estate and personal property auctions, unemployment, and the state of impoverishment that European citizens find themselves in, the endorsement of the requirements that will be laid down by the new Strategic Perspective and Military Structure to be established at the NATO Summit in July 2018 is bound to cause sharp reactions.
With a time frame stretching till July 2018, NATO and the EU governments are trying to pave the way and appease their citizens’ indignation by somehow lightening the financial burdens imposed on them. Besides, a stitch in time saves nine. The “best” way to do this is to constantly demonise Russia. The European citizens are supposed to be in perpetual danger and therefore, in order to face the Russian threat, they have to suffer and make sacrifices. Apart from the accusations brought against Russia regarding cyber attacks, its interference in the U.S. elections, its involvement in Syria, its support for President Assad—who, although victorious in the battlefield, is allegedly using chemical weapons against civilians in his own country!—and apart from the financial sanctions already imposed on Russia, some new tools are now being used to create the negative image of a grave danger: the scandal poisoning of the Skripals, the recent war mobilisation in the Middle East, the bombing of Syria, and Putin’s own reference to the power of the conventional and nuclear weapons of the Russian Armed Forces. Now, the question is who would ever accept these claims so as to be willing to suffer again from excessive taxation and the violation of personal rights.
Finally, let me conclude in brief, due to the absence of space, that the Greek government has to address the following issues:
Does it have the political will to take advantage of the country’s important geographic location and infrastructure in order to derive political benefits, given that it w i l l be called by NATO to make itself available? Is there any intention to include the Thessaloniki NATO Rapid Deployable Corps (NRDC-GR) into the new Military Structure? Has the Greek government prepared itself in case Turkey seeks to prevent the implementation of the new NATO Military Structure at the July Summit, using the right of veto as a means to obtain compensational benefits against us before it lifts its reservations? Are we willing to do anything similar if NATO succumbs to Turkey’s extortions?
Retired Army Lieutenant General
Member of the European Parliament
for the Popular Association “Golden Dawn”