Russia has insisted that it has no designs on eastern Ukraine, and that its troops massing on the border are for Russian security only and would be recalled. They’re still poised on the border, however, and NATO has finally taken its first steps to recognize the new paradigm in eastern Europe. Yesterday, the alliance suspended all of its outreach programs to Russia, military and civilian, warning Moscow that its aggression meant an end to “business as usual”:
NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia on Tuesday in protest at its annexation of Crimea, and ordered military planners to draft measures to strengthen its defenses and reassure nervous Eastern European countries.
Foreign ministers from the 28-nation, U.S.-led alliance were meeting for the first time since the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region touched off the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia’s actions meant there could be no “business as usual”.
“So today, we are suspending all practical cooperation with Russia, military and civilian,” he told a news conference.
Instead, NATO has now begun to look at measures to strengthen its eastern frontiers. That would put the focus on the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary, and perhaps even Bulgaria as a Black Sea defense. Finland might eventually be another point of concern, although it doesn’t belong to NATO. At least, Finland isn’t a member state yet, but Russia is giving them reason to think about it:
Russian military drills near neighboring Finland have provoked concern that northern Europe may be the next focus of Moscow’s seemingly renewed appetite for redrawing its borders.
Troops and jet fighters from all four military regions of Russia were deployed Sunday about 150 miles east of the Finnish border, according to the English-language newspaper Finnbay. The Russian defense ministry said in a statement that the exercises were pre-planned and that more than 50 fighter pilots took part.
Finland was part of the Russian empire for 108 years, from 1809 until Russia’s withdrawal from World War I in 1917. The Karelia region, where the war games are taking place, straddles the Finnish border and has historically been a heavily militarized zone for Moscow.
But experts say that while Moscow appears to have seized another opportunity to flex its muscles, the threat of an armed invasion is very low.
Tell that to the Finns, who are less sanguine about their national security these days. If Putin is out to reconstruct the Russian empire, then Finland has to feel at least a little nervous — and these military drills seem designed to send a message. That would be the same message that Putin sent with military drills just before seizing Crimea from Ukraine.
The West finally seems to be waking up to the threat from Putin. They may still be able to harden their eastern frontier, but they’d better be prepared to harden their resolve on economic sanctions first. Moving tanks, planes, and troops is relatively simple, but getting natural gas and energy isn’t — unless Europe starts producing more of its own. This new Cold War may get very literal next winter.