Leaders in most Eastern European nations are just short of jubilant after NATO created a rapid-reaction “spearhead” force to protect the region from Russian bullying. They have long sought a commitment to allay their fears, especially following Russia’s recent aggression in Ukraine.
But not all share in the joy. Some who spent decades under the Soviet yoke — politicians and ordinary people — think that the move could enrage Moscow and undermine the sense of security they have felt since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the expansion of NATO in the 1990s.
The region’s long-standing distrust of Russia became more acute following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula and its role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Poland, the region’s largest country and most potent speaker, has pushed for a large, permanent deployment of at least two divisions of NATO troops on its territory as a deterrent to any such activity in Russia’s west.
The NATO summit in Newport, Wales this week settled for less, after Germany and some other major members insisted they want to keep a dialogue open with Moscow. The summit decided on a new, rapid-reaction force of some 5,000 troops, a “spearhead” ready to deploy to any conflict zone in a matter of hours. The command and key infrastructure is to be located near the Russian border. In Poland, many presume.
“We would have liked more but let’s be happy with the decisions taken in Newport,” Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk said. “We still have a lot of work to do to make this quantitative change satisfying.”
But, he insisted: “This signal is very strong and our Eastern neighbor (Russia) cannot ignore it.”
As the summit deliberated on Friday, Ukraine, Russia and the Kremlin-backed separatists signed a cease-fire and the months-long fighting in Eastern Ukraine seemed to be held back.