President Duda Visits Estonia For The First Time. Struggle For The NATO Bases Begins.

Polish President Andrzej Duda is going to visit Estonia. His intention is to ask the Estonian authorities to endorse the expanded scope of NATO presence in the Mid-Eastern Europe. Estonian government, together with Latvia and Lithuania, submitted a formal request, the aim of which is to ask NATO to maintain permanent presence of battalion-sized units of the land forces within the territories of the Baltic states. Andrzej Duda is also going to visit Germany and the United Kingdom, both of which are the European opponents of permanent NATO presence in the Mid-Eastern European states. Moreover, Duda will take part in the regional meeting of the presidents of the NATO member states. The said meeting is planned to happen in November.

According to the office of the President, Andrzej Duda is going to visit Estonia on 23rd August – which is the anniversary of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact. President Andrzej Duda is going to ask the Estonian authorities to endorse the increased NATO presence in Mid-Eastern Europe.

Duda stated, in one of his recent interviews for the Financial Times, that NATO treats Poland as if it was a buffer zone (due to the lack of permanent presence of significant military forces). Polish President announced it many times that he is going to go towards implementation of changes within that scope, the result of which would be seen in reinforcement of the NATO presence in the Mid-Eastern European region. 

Subsequent visits – on 25th and 28th August – have been also scheduled. The former one is a visit to Germany, while the latter one – to the United Kingdom. As we know, Berlin is unwilling to grant consent for permanent NATO presence in Mid-Eastern Europe. This is important, both from the political, as well as from the operational point of view. If the reinforcement was realized via a permanent rotational presence of the combat units (e.g. battalion sized, as it is postulated by the Baltic states – see below), then execution of this type of operations without the Bundeswehr would be at least difficult, due to the fact that the remaining European states would have to deploy their forces in a continuous manner, without the support granted by the Germans.

One should also remember about the apparent lack of willingness of the Southern European nations (Italy, Spain), when it comes to reinforcement of the NATO Eastern flank, with the use of the land forces; even within the Newport-adopted framework. The United States have been maintaining rotational presence of company-sized elements in Europe (ca. 150-200 soldiers) since 2014, in a permanent manner. Meanwhile, the European states, armed forces of which are quantitatively larger than the units of US Army Europe, only participated in exercises periodically. It is hard to expect that Washington would increase its involvement, while the European contribution is still very limited.

On the other hand, London still has units that maintain their permanent presence in the European mainland – in Germany. Potential suspension of the plans in force, the aim of which is to withdraw the units to the UK (which would mean that the existing infrastructure would have to be expanded) would have an impact on improved reaction capabilities of the British Army – and transfer of the bases to the Eastern European territories in the future.

From a purely political point of view, the above could turn out to be easier than relocation of bases from own territory, for example due to the political protests related to local loss of jobs. Finally, Great Britain was actively involved in rotational presence operations. The British were among the first nations to send armoured units to Poland, within the framework of the Black Eagle 2014 exercise.  

President Duda is also going to take part in a meeting of the leaders of the Mid-Eastern European states (Baltic republics, V4 Group, Romania and Bulgaria). The meeting is scheduled to happen in November 2015, as a prelude to the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Most probably, the aim of the meeting would be to create a joint stance for the NATO summit, in order to increase the chances of realizing the statements related to reinforcement of the NATO eastern flank.

What profile of NATO presence is expected by the Baltic republics?

According to the information provided by Delfi in may this year, Estonia, together with Latvia and Estonia, filed in a formal request addressed to the European NATO commander, asking for deployment of a battalion sized units of land forces within the territory of each of the Baltic states. Altogether, the stationed elements would be quantitatively equal to a size of brigade. AFP outlet claimed, back in July, that the alliance has not made relevant decisions yet. However, the NATO authorities assured that training is going to be executed in a permanent manner. 

Currently, a company-sized force of the US Army is stationed in the Baltic states. These elements are participating in rotational exercises, in a permanent manner. The above-mentioned units are periodically reinforced by the European elements (e.g. Denmark, Portugal or Germany). Implementation of the request submitted by the Baltic states would – probably – make it possible to maintain permanent rotational presence of combat units (battalions, ranging from several hundred to one thousand troops) in each of the three states, even in the circumstances in which the periodical rotations of the units would be the case. The above would mean that NATO battalions would maintain their presence in the Baltic states, with rotations which would take place every few months.

Baltic Air Policing operation is similar in its shape, however its scope is going to be limited. On the other hand, it would still be larger, in comparison with the situation preceding the Ukrainian crisis. The recent decision, the aim of which was to decrease the number of aircraft involved in the NATO Baltic Air Policing was interpreted as a “bad signal for Moscow” by many analysts, due to the fact that limited involvement would be detrimental for the NATO presence in the region, as no alternative measures were implemented, which would make it possible to provide relevant reinforcement.

READ MORE: Will NATO Withdraw Its Aviation Assets From The Baltic Region? “Bad signal for Moscow”

Undertaking a decision, the aim of which is to deploy land forces could “Force” NATO to react by deployment of military forces, should a threat arise for the Baltic states. This would increase the deterrence potential, as well as the limited military capabilities of the Baltic republics. The statements made by the above-mentioned nations are placed well within the framework of reinforcement of the NATO presence in Mid-Eastern Europe, proposed by Duda, in order to “balance-out” the security guarantees provided for the states which joined NATO after 1997, in the light of the potential Russian threat.

Due to the Ukrainian crisis, Estonia (as well as the other Baltic states) decided to reinforce its defensive capabilities. As early as in 2013, Estonian government has decided to increase the military spending up to the level of 2% of GDP, in line with the recommendations made by NATO. Cyber-security capabilities are expanded, what is more, decisions have been made to acquire Javelin ATGW’s and CV-9035 IFV’s (these acquisitions were partially planned before the Ukrainian crisis).

Date of the first visit planned by Duda is selected by an accident, as it is related to the Soviet aggression against Poland and the Baltic republics. This may be interpreted as a struggle to look for “joint base” for the regional policy. We should recall the fact that after the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact was signed, and after Poland was invaded, the Baltic states were illegally (by breach of the prior memorandums) annexed by Moscow. Afterwards, a series of war crimes was committed within the territory of the above mentioned states, and the above events took place before the German invasion (e.g. deportations of the citizen of the states – they were transported deep into the Soviet territory).