New steps for NATO in Eastern Europe. Indeed, following the decisions taken at Warsaw summit last July, NATO will deploy a force of 4000 troops in Latvia, adding it to the other troops already present in the other Baltic Countries and in Eastern Poland. This battle group, led by Canada with about 450 men, will be also composed of an Italian battalion of 140 men, defined by Claudio Bisogniero, Italian Ambassador to NATO, as a «significant contribution», and other battalions made available by Poland, Slovenia and Spain. The reason for the increase of personnel and equipment descends from the determination of NATO to reinforce the eastern borders of the Countries participating in the Atlantic Pact, while also increasing air and sea patrols, in the light of Russian increasingly aggressive foreign policy, as demonstrated by the crisis in Ukraine which was followed by the annexation of Crimea, a major role in Syria and the deployment of a missile system (which could have nuclear warheads) towards Europe.
Canada Defence Chief Gen. Jonathan Vance said that «the more NATO members that contribute to the four battle groups the more likely they are to dissuade Russia from taking any aggressive action in the region». After all, similar forces are already present in Lithuania, led by Germany, in Poland, led by the United States, and in Estonia, led by the United Kingdom. According to RAND Corporation, a US think tank, «as currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the Baltic States. Russian forces would reach the edge of Riga, Latvia, and Tallinn, Estonia, in 60 hours or less». Indeed, Eastern Europe allies would have asked NATO to bolster its presence in the region as a deterrent against Russia, since they fear some forms of destabilisation as happened in Ukraine, with crossing into their territory, inciting Russian speakers within their borders and cyber attacks. On the contrary, Russia has denied such warlike intentions, and instead accused NATO of instigating the current standoff by expanding into former Soviet territory and trying to undermine its sphere of influence. Furthermore, Moscow has also warned against any military build-up on its borders. Even so, according to Vance, the increasing NATO military presence is intended to send a «firm signal» to make Russia think twice before taking any aggressive action, while the increase would actually be «modest» to prevent any provocation or escalation in tensions between Russia and NATO.
The firs troops should reach Latvia in the spring 2017, while most of the troops will be deployed not earlier than next fall. Italy would contribute with an ultra-rapid action task force, which will be equipped to intervene within five days in an emergency. Roberta Pinotti, Italian Defence Minister, admitted that «Canada asked if Italy could contribute and we said yes», while «Italy is always convinced of the need to dialogue with Russia». Paolo Gentiloni, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that sending Italian troops at the Russian border «is not part of a policy of aggression towards Russia, but one of reassurance and defence of our borders as an Atlantic Alliance. Those decisions do not impact on the policy of dialogue which Italy has always proposed and shared with NATO, at the same time assuring our allies which feel at risk». NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, admitted we are in «an uncharted territory», as «we have never seen relations with Moscow like this before», considering that Putin «has demonstrated his will to use military force against his neighbours», while he as declared that the message sent to Russia is that of «defence and dialogue» and not that e of «defence or dialogue».
However, fears towards Russia have different gradations in Europe, as demonstrated by the vote of the European Parliament, on November 23, which passed (with 304 votes “For”, 179 “Against” and 208 abstentions) a resolution aiming at contrasting the propaganda against the European Union, which focuses on Russia, but not exclusively (e.g. referring also to the Islamic State). Then, observing the votes expressed by the MEPs, specifically the ones in favour of the resolution, those coming from the eastern European Countries, once after the Soviet influence and afraid of Russian aggressiveness, clearly prevail.
After the recent Russian military exercises in the Baltic Sea, the latest move on the chessboard has been made a few days ago by Moscow still, while in Lithuania NATO military exercises were ongoing, deploying Bastion anti-ship missiles in its Kaliningrad Baltic enclave, bordering Poland and Lithuania. Furthermore, as stated by the President of the Defence Committee of the high chamber of the Russian parliament, Viktor Ozerov, Russia is preparing to deploy in Kaliningrad also Iskander and S-400 air defence missiles in response to US missile defence plans. Nonetheless, in an interview with the Italian daily “La Stampa", Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, stated that «the burden of mutual mistrust limits our ability to find effective responses to the challenges and the concrete threats that the world is facing today», ensuring that he does not aspire «to either the global dominance, neither expansion nor the clash with anyone», but rather to «identify problems and work together to unite the efforts of the States to resolve them».
The scenario has also been complicated by the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States or, conversely, it could be simplified. Actually, Trump seems willing to be more pragmatic in the relations with Russia and in the approach to the Syrian crisis. Moreover, during the campaign, Trump was critical towards the low defence spending of the European Countries, signalling an expectation that Europe should contribute more to the cost of its security. Surely, most European NATO members have a spending well below the 2% of GDP target that NATO membership entails. According to a report of Bruegel, a European think tank, reaching this target could cost the EU27 NATO members 96 billion USD per year.