“Eagle Guardian” and the Strange Case of the Leak Without Legs (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 9

As WikiLeaks exposed details concerning “Eagle Guardian,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was concluding the first such state visit to Poland in eight years. For most of that period relations between Warsaw and Moscow had progressively worsened. But over the last year dramatic improvements have occurred, which had not been side-tracked by the death of President Lech Kracynski and his entire entourage when their aircraft crashed near Smolensk. As Igor Kolchenko observed in the Belarusian press, Medvedev’s visit had been a symbolic success, highlighting areas of cooperation between Moscow and Warsaw. However Kolchenko noted that the visit was overshadowed by the NATO defense plans for Poland and the Baltic Republics, exposed by Wikileaks. Kolchenko stated that contingency plans for the defense of the Baltic States had been part of those government’s desire to ensure that Article Five of the NATO Charter did apply to them. Kolchenko further noted that concern among the Baltic States had increased after large-scale cyber attacks on Estonian computer networks in 2007, occurring at the same time as a dispute between Tallinn and Moscow over the movement of the monument to the Soviet “Soldier-Liberator” in Tallinn’s Central Square. Concerns increased again after August 2008, given the Russian military’s intervention in South Ossetia, in Abkhazia, and in Georgia. In short, both the development of the contingency plans and the fact that they were kept secret reflects the actual state of NATO-Russian relations and the continuing level of distrust between Warsaw and Moscow (Sovetskaya Belorussiya, December 9, 2010).
The timing of the release of the WikiLeaks materials brought into sharp relief the divided opinions in Moscow. The foreign ministry asked for clarification from NATO regarding its attitude towards Russia. Some, like Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, claimed that the leaks proved that NATO’s hostility was ongoing and that talk of a “reset” had been no more than camouflage. Others saw the NATO policy as a situational response to the Russia-Georgia War of August 2008 and the “reset” as a move to reduce tensions. Alexander Khramchikhin, the Deputy Director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, took this position and said that subsequent developments in NATO-Russian relations had made these documents nothing more than “an anachronism.” The author of the article concluded that “NATO’s eagles had sought to protect, but did not intend to provoke Russia” (Vremya i Dengi, December 9).
On December 11 Sovetskaya Rossiya published a long article on the dangers of NATO’s transformation and its risks to Russia in Central Asia under the banner of counter-terrorism. The article stressed the military power of the US and the keystone of NATO’s capacity for global intervention and then stated that, in fact, NATO had a military “sparring partner” with which to compete. The article, however, made no reference to the leaks about “Eagle Guardian” or NATO’s plans for the defense of Poland and the Baltic Republics. The author characterized NATO as the instrument of “imperialist globalization” seeking world domination with plans for control over Russia’s arctic region and even Siberia. The real design behind a Russian-NATO “reset” was nothing short of using Russia to prosecute a war against the People’s Republic of China, the emerging challenge to US hegemony in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian world. In short, NATO’s defense plans for the Baltic Republics and Poland were small change in this looming global confrontation. The author accused the current leaders of Russia of being blind to these plans (Sovetskaya Rossiya, December 11).
Indeed, the leaks about “Eagle Guardian” had left the Medvedev administration in a no-win situation, since they suggested that NATO had hoodwinked the Russians with platitudes while proceeding with plans that treated Russia as a potential aggressor (Novaya Gazeta, December 13). On the following day Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov, stated on Russian television that he hoped the WikiLeaks revelation about “Eagle Guardian” proved to be a fake: “We still hope that these publications have nothing to do with reality.” Serdyukov stated that if they proved accurate, then Russia would have to respond. Serdyukov commented that he expected NATO to deny the existence of any such plans. Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, treated the leaks as credible and hinted at NATO’s hypocrisy during the Lisbon summit. The impression left by these conflicting public statements from senior Russian officials was one of confusion among the state leadership regarding how to respond to the leaks (The Moscow Times, December 14).
These circumstances led to positive actions in the public diplomacy realm in order to deal with the consequences of the leaks. In Brussels, the Russian Permanent Representative to the NATO-Russia Council, Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, demanded from NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen clarification of the Alliance’s position in light of the leaks. Rogozin stated flatly that it was apparent from the leaks that NATO’s plans were directed against a Russian threat and “not from Sweden, Finland, or any polar bears.” He accused NATO of a two-faced policy of talking about strategic partnership while it kept in its pocket the “fig” of Russia as a potential aggressor, threat, and enemy. Rasmussen reiterated his unwillingness as a matter of policy to comment on the content of “alleged leaked classified documents,” but did state that NATO as an alliance for collective defense would have such defensive plans and that NATO did not consider Russia a threat to its security and was not itself a threat to Russian security (Novaya Gazeta, December 13).
It fell to the US Ambassador in Moscow, John Beyrle, and the Director of the NATO Information Center in Moscow, Robert Pszczel, to engage the Russian mass media and to mitigate any damage done by the leaks. Ambassador Beyrle granted an extended interview to Aleksandr Gabuev, which touched upon many aspects of the WikiLeaks’ affair and underscored the damaged done to diplomatic relations by such disclosures. The US Department of Justice was preparing a case against WikiLeaks for the release of the classified materials. As to the direction of US-Russian relations, Beyrle was optimistic that the positive gains in the last few years would not be harmed because Russia’s leaders, as Lavrov had stated, would focus on deeds and not words. Listing those accomplishments, the Ambassador concluded: “We must look forward and continue the ‘reset’ because it is clear to all that it has brought about concrete positive results for both countries” (Kommersant, December 14). On the same day Robert Pszczel, the newly arrived Director of the NATO Information Center in Moscow, granted an interview to Boris Zolotarev in which he reviewed the development of NATO-Russian cooperation in ballistic missile defense and in support of NATO operations to stabilize Afghanistan. When asked about NATO’s response to WikiLeaks materials relating to “the plan for defense of the Baltic republics from Russia” and their impact on NATO-Russian relations, Pszczel, an experienced Polish diplomat with ten years service in the International Secretariat at NATO HQ in Brussels, stated that:
“NATO has a policy of not commenting on the publications similar to WikiLeaks. I can only say that defense plans have been, are and will be because NATO is a collective defense organization. There are such plans in your country too and hardly anyone in the defense ministry would tell you details of these plans. The reality is that neither Russia, nor NATO considers themselves enemies and sources of threats” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, December 14).
The debate about “Eagle Guardian” had almost run its course by December 20. US and NATO public diplomacy had mostly defused the issue for Russian mass media. Then German Napolskiy added one more point to the Russian debate that did not generate any further comment, but left a vital question unanswered. Napolskiy pointed out that NATO’s supposed defense of Poland and the Baltic Republics from Russian aggression amounted to an operation to surround, neutralize and then occupy Kaliningrad Oblast, i.e., the former German territories of East Prussia. What was talked about as a defensive operation had an implicit offensive content involving the conquest of the Russian territory, Kaliningrad, isolated from direct land lines of communication with Russia and facing a Baltic dominated by NATO naval power was more like an isolated island than an easily-defended part of Russia. How Russia would defend that territory was unquestionably a key topic for the Russian General Staff with implications for the use of both conventional and nuclear forces. But these plans would be kept within the safes of the General Staff and its operational headquarters. Napolskiy then accused NATO’s leadership of paranoia in its treatment of Russia (Nizhegorodskie Novosti, December 21).