Baltic states need NATO help, US says
September 3, 2008

NATO should show Russia it would defend the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – in the event of attack, the US has said, as Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia continues to send ripples through European security arrangements.

“They are feeling a little rattled by seeing Russia use military force to invade a sovereign, small neighbouring country. We need to send signals to shore them up a little bit,” US ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, told the Financial Times in an interview on Tuesday (2 September).

Latvia and Estonia have large ethnic-Russian minorities (Photo: European Commission)

The “signals” could come in the form of military “planning and exercising” and “not in a provocative way,” he explained.

“We will have to make sure … that the Article 5 commitment is realisable not just as a political matter but as a military matter too,” Mr Volker added. “NATO being credible is what’s important.”

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are EU and NATO members. But while the EU does not offer any hard security guarantee, Article 5 of the NATO treaty says that “an armed attack against one or more [members] shall be considered an attack against them all.”

Like Georgia, the three former Soviet republics gained independence in the early 1990s and have become vocal critics of the new Russia. Latvia and Estonia also have large ethnic-Russian minorities: one of Russia’s reasons for its assault on Georgia last month was to allegedly protect Russian passport-holders.

Temperature rising

Russia’s action in the South Caucasus has also raised the temperature in EU- and NATO-aspirant Moldova, where Russophone rebels in the Transniestria region held military parades on Tuesday and called on Moscow to triple the number of Russian soldiers in the territory.

Transniestria broke away from Moldova in 1992 and houses 1,300 Russian troops, which Moscow says are needed to guard a huge, Cold War-era arms dump.

A few days after the Georgia incursion, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged Moldova to accept a plan that would give Russia the right to garrison soldiers in Transniestria indefinitely and hand the Kremlin-influenced Transniestria authorities sweeping powers in a re-unified Moldova.

“We request that Russia remove its ammunition and withdraw its troops from Transniestria because they have no mandate for their presence in the territory,” Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said after meeting the Moldovan prime minister in Prague on Tuesday, AP reports.

“The truth is that after the conflict in [Georgia], we are worried about its implications in solving other frozen conflicts,” he added, with the EU’s special envoy to Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, in Moldova and Transniestria this week to calm tensions.

Turkish initiative

The EU has in the light of Georgia also given its “green light” to EU candidate and NATO member Turkey to pursue its “Caucasian Stability and Co-operation Platform” an EU official told EUobserver.

The initiative aims to foster better relations between Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, with the European Commission hoping that Turkey’s weight as a regional player could help end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“Take note, [Turkish president] Gul is to visit Armenia this month. I think it’s the first visit at such a high level since the genocide,” the EU official said. “If they can get the Armenians to pull back their forces out of Azerbaijan proper, that would be a big step.”

Russian-backed Armenian forces have occupied Azerbijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region since 1994, making it harder for the pro-Western regime in Baku to ship oil and gas to the EU via the South Caucasus, bypassing Russia.
But Turkish-Armenian relations have stayed all-but-frozen since the Turkish killing of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.

Black Sea riposte

Meanwhile, Russia has suggested it plans to send counter-signals of its own to NATO after US warships brought aid to Georgia via Black Sea ports following the cessation of Russia-Georgia hostilities last month.

“Why is it necessary to deliver humanitarian aid on military vessels … and on ships that are armed with modern missile systems?” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Interfax while on a visit to Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
“There will be an answer,” he added, saying Russia’s reaction will be “calm, without any sort of hysteria … you’ll see.”