Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 134

A NATO naval squadron, the strongest to visit any of the three Baltic states since 1991, laid anchor at Klaipeda on July 6 and conducted exercises in Lithuania’s territorial waters through July 12. Seven frigates–one each from the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Holland, Spain and Portugal–as well as a Norwegian submarine, a giant British tanker, and helicopters borne by some of the frigates, participated in the exercise, joined by Lithuania’s frigate Zemaitis.

The participating ships, with crews totaling more than 1,500, form part of a NATO force permanently on call for combat. The exercise, Cooperative Ocean 2001, featured inter alia the detection and inspection of potentially hostile ships, relief of friendly ships in distress, antisubmarine warfare, search and destroy operations, and exchanges of crews among allied ships. The Zemaitis demonstrated its antisubmarine capabilities using reactive depth charges. On July 12 the squadron headed for Gdynia to continue exercising in Poland’s territorial waters.

The command of the joint naval squadron, Baltron, passed meanwhile from Latvia’s Commander Andrejs Zvaigzne to Estonia’s Lieutenant Commander Igor Schvede in accordance with the annual rotation procedure. On the occasion of the handover on July 10, Baltron officers and naval advisers from NATO countries favorably rated Baltron’s progress in the three years since its creation. The successive annual plans focus on augmenting Baltron’s capabilities and on ensuring the compatibility of its Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian elements with one another and with NATO’s forces.

Concurrently, Russia’s Baltic Fleet conducted a large-scale command-and-staff exercise in the Kaliningrad Region. Staffs of naval, ground, air force, air defense and border troop units–all forming part of that fleet’s command structure–as well as unit staffs from the Leningrad military district participated in the war games. General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, commanded the culminating phase of the exercise at the Fleet’s headquarters in Baltiisk, Kaliningrad Region on July 8. That phase involved some fire practice. The scenario envisaged that Russian forces stop and destroy two NATO brigades that supposedly cross into that Russian exclave from Poland.

On the political front, Russian military officials and propagandists are moving to exploit an opening offered by Western critics of NATO’s Baltic enlargement. That dwindling group of critics has lately emphasized the argument that the alliance’s Baltic enlargement could destabilize, rather than stabilize the region, and that it would moreover undermine the “overall security in Europe” by antagonizing Russia. This thesis is in fact traceable to Moscow’s own, early response to NATO’s enlargement intentions a few years ago during Yevgeny Primakov’s tenure in the Russian government. Subsequently, the Russian line sought on the whole to de-emphasize the threat implied in that early response. But the reappearance of that old thesis–albeit less crudely formulated–in the Western debate would seem to encourage Russian spokesmen to revert to old-style warnings.

That Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Department for International Military Cooperation, should issue such warnings in an Estonian press interview this week is hardly surprising. The reputed hardliner Ivashov, in fact, often articulates the official line. That has just been summed up as follows by Sergei Oznobishchev, director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments, in the governmental Rossiiskaya Gazeta: “Taking the Baltic states into the [NATO] Alliance would bring a landslide-like deterioration in relations between Russia and the West. It would also lead to such relations between the Baltic states and Russia as to prevent the Baltic states themselves from integrating with European structures. All Russian analysts are aware of this paradox. NATO membership will not enhance the Baltic states’ security. On the contrary, it would generate additional problems through the deterioration in their relations with neighboring Russia.”

Warnings of this type look like textbook cases of an insolvent threat. Their chief purpose is probably that of fueling objections within the West to the admission of the Baltic states into NATO–or even into the hypothetical security organization of the European Union, as the Moscow line also suggests. A dynamic can develop in which Moscow plays back its version of the Western Russia-Firsters’ thesis, hoping to vindicate that thesis. Because Moscow’s version involves warnings and threats, it can only inject unnecessary acrimony in the relations between the West and Russia. That result would be opposite to the one that Western critics of NATO’s Baltic enlargement say they want to achieve (BNS, ELTA, July 6-12; Rossiiskaya Gazeta, July 7; Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, July 8-9; Eesti Ekspress cited by BNS, July 12; see the Monitor, March 16, April 11, May 14, June 11, 20, July 5; Fortnight in Review, April 13, June 22, July 6).