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NATO expansion

There was a big ceremony in Brussels today to mark the latest phase of NATO’s eastward expansion. Lots of flags being raised and much excitement, I’m sure.

But not in Russia. Although it doesn’t have a major problem with Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joining, the inclusion of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who all share borders with Russia has made the bear a little grumpy.

NATO planes are already patrolling the Baltic states’ airspace…

F16 multi-role fighters serving with the Belgian air force landed at Lithuania’s air-force base near Siauliai March 29, taking off on their first trial flight March 31. Three out of four Belgian warplanes patrolled Estonian air space near Rakvere and Kunda for 60 minutes.

And when you consider that St Petersburg is only 5 minutes flight time away, it’s not hard to see why Russia isn’t all that thrilled at this new development. Although NATO has had borders with the Soviet Union before (via Turkey) and the US has bordered Russia for a long long time (it’s only across the Bering Strait) these weren’t such a big problem for Moscow as they were nowhere near the two major population centers.

Russia predictably is doing a little sabre rattling. The most alarming comment I found came from Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov, who had this to say…

“If we feel that this expansion poses a threat to us that demands a military response, this response will follow,”

Charming. A more restrained view came from Sergei Ivanov

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Wednesday Russia would continue to cooperate with NATO, but the conciliatory tone came after an earlier warning by Ivanov that Moscow may reassess its military planning in view of what he called NATO’s aggressive strategy.

Putin so far seems to be keeping his own counsel.

Still, expect to see Russia complain bitterly about NATO expansion for a while, even if there is nothing it can do about it.

Update: Putin is playing it cool

“We are not expressing any concerns about NATO’s expansion, but modern threats are such that with NATO’s expansion, they are not going away.

“On our part, we firmly state, that we have no concerns touching Russia’s security linked to NATO expansion.

“But the encroachment of NATO military infrastructure to our borders is being carefully studied by our specialists,” Putin said. “And we will build our military position from these conclusions.”

Also, check out Baltic Blog for more news of how NATO expansion was received in the Baltics. Generally positively it seems – peace of mind that Russian dominance won’t return seems to be the main reaction. Although the Belgian fighter pilots seem to have got a slightly warmer reception than were expecting…

The night before the four Belgian fighter jocks were to start their first air patrol, they went to one of the bars in Vilnius and got the crap kicked out of them by the Lithuanian locals. Two had to go to the hospital for stitches.

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