Russia objects to NATO plan to defend Baltics
Leaked memo reveals strategy
BRUSSELS — Russia will demand that NATO drop its secret agreement to defend three Baltic states against any military attack, Russia’s envoy to the alliance said yesterday.
According to confidential US cables released by WikiLeaks, NATO privately decided in January to expand a defense plan for Poland to also cover NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which border Russia.
The release of the cables is an embarrassment for both Russia and the alliance because it comes at a time of reconciliation between the former Cold War rivals, when both sides have been emphasizing how close their relations have become.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was meeting with top European Union officials yesterday in Brussels, where both parties signed an agreement helping clear the way for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization next year.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, said he would bring up the NATO agreement to defend the Baltic states during today’s meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve ties between the former Cold War rivals.
“We must get some assurances that such plans will be dropped, and that Russia is not an enemy for NATO,’’ he said. “I expect my colleagues from the NATO-Russia Council to confirm that Lisbon has made all the difference.’’
Rogozin said that despite official denials by NATO officials, the plan was clearly aimed at his country. “Against whom else could such a defense be intended? Against Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, against polar bears, or against the Russian bear?’’ said the envoy.
NATO’s core obligation is to defend all its member states, but the alliance had initially not prepared detailed military plans for the defense of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania since they joined in 2004. But after Russia’s quick victory in the 2008 war with Georgia, the three nations began pressing for a greater US and NATO presence.
In a cable posted on the WikiLeaks website, the US State Department told its embassies to keep the NATO plan secret because “a public discussion of contingency planning would also likely lead to an unnecessary increase in NATO-Russia tensions.’’
Russia cooperates closely with NATO in the Afghan war, and in counter-narcotics and maritime anti-piracy operations. Medvedev attended the alliance’s summit last month in Lisbon, where NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that NATO and Russia pose no threat to each other.
At that meeting, the alliance adopted its new official doctrine, which states that NATO-Russia cooperation is of crucial importance since it contributes to creating “a common space of peace, stability, and security.’’
Speaking after his meeting yesterday with EU leaders, Medvedev avoided the controversy over NATO’s Baltic defense plans. He only noted that the atmosphere at the NATO-Russia summit was friendly, adding that “we need to preserve that spirit.’’
Still, the cables indicated that some nations remained wary of Moscow’s intentions.