Δευτέρα, 11 Ιουλίου 2016

Nato show of unity masks domestic divisions


By Sam Jones and Henry Foy

Growing signs of discord over relations with Moscow

Nato leaders sat down for dinner in Warsaw’s presidential palace on Friday, capping a day of tough talks on Russia and the need to send a strong signal to the Kremlin over eastern Europe’s place in the Atlantic fold.

One by one, the leaders of the world’s most powerful military alliance reiterated carefully phrased pledges of unity — until Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, spoke.

Mr Tsipras, in contrast to the others, said it was time to end the stand-off with Russia. Under the same glittering chandeliers that illuminated the signing of the Warsaw Pact 61 years ago, he broke from the official consensus and argued for partnership with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. His position was quickly slapped down by US President Barack Obama.

Amid the dozens of public pledges of unity that punctuated the Warsaw summit — the first full gathering of Nato leaders since 2014 — there have been growing signs of division over relations with Moscow.

Two days of formal meetings in the Polish capital have produced a range of technical documents and policies setting out Nato’s new military posture, but the real effort here from diplomats has been to try and hold the 29-state bloc firm amid a bewildering array of security threats and political shifts that are shaking the foundations of the European order.

In the run-up to the summit, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, accused the alliance of “warmongering” with Russia as it conducted defensive exercises in Poland. And on the very eve of the gathering, President François Hollande of France said Russia should be treated as a “partner” not an adversary.

Nato officials and several other senior members of the alliance dismissed both positions this weekend as political ploys intended for domestic audiences. Behind the closed doors of the North Atlantic Council, said one Nato official, “President Hollande was like a completely different person.”

Not everyone takes that line, however. One senior Nato official outlined their concerns: it is easy to regard the growing number of calls for rapprochement with Russia as pure domestic politicking, but across Europe — as Britain’s EU referendum result laid bare — domestic politics is increasingly forcing the international agenda.

Nato’s eastern members, who have long held the most hawkish positions when it comes to dealing with Moscow, are becoming more agitated.

“The French have been the most objectionable in this whole reinforcement process,” said a defence minister from a Nato state in east Europe. “Right up to the summit they were trying to dilute all aspects of it.”

The minister, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Paris had sought to reduce the numbers of troops that would be deployed in the new battle groups and strike out references to Russia in public statements. Paris had also suggested Poland had no need for air missile defences, the minister said.

“Paris is a bigger problem for us than Berlin,” said the minister. “Unlike the Germans, they are not really interested in promoting a close transatlantic partnership or building up relations with eastern European countries.”

Others are less strident in their tone, but equally concerned about the challenges to Nato’s unity. “We have had a lot of stress tests recently,” says Lithuanian foreign minister and former defence minister Linas Linkevicius, “The environment is not very stable … we have to be consistent and we have to respect our own decisions.”

When it comes to Russia, says Mr Linkevicius, “the eyes-opening exercise is still taking place. I don’t know how many wake-up calls are needed to wake up — it depends on individual countries but its obviously not enough so far.”

Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU has also become a particular cause for concern because it will remove one of the clearest advocates of a firm line against Russia from the bloc. Even though the UK’s exit will take two years, many fear when it comes to the next decision to roll sanctions against Russia, which will require unanimity and is due in late January, the UK’s voice will count for less.

“In this process [Brexit], there are no winners,” said Estonian foreign minister Marina Kaljurand. “Everybody will lose. The EU will lose, Estonia will lose, Great Britain will lose. And we will lose in a real sense of the word. We will lose a very close ally in the EU who shares our positions and views more than some other countries concerning security.”

According to Philip Hammond, the British foreign minister, Brexit was the “[only] subject on the table” in his discussions with counterparts in Warsaw this weekend. Mr Hammond said he was also concerned that as the UK withdraws from Europe, the EU position when it comes to Russia may shift.

“Britain has always been at the forefront of seeking to maintain EU unity and robustness of purpose in response to Russian aggression,” he said. “And I am very concerned that the EU maintains its robust approach way into the future long after the UK is not a member. We have always had people in the EU who have been less clear about this and as we all understand there are political process under way in France and Germany which are exposing nuances of view, shall we say, between people of different political opinions.”

It was left to Mr Obama, at the close of meetings on Saturday evening, to strike a final tone of unity. At times of great change, the US president said, “hyperbole” could often take hold. “We are united that there can be no business as usual with Russia,” he said. “In good times and in bad, Europe can count on the United States. Always.”


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