NATO Summit Opens in Warsaw, Overshadowed by Brexit, Russian Threat with Plans to Beef up Baltic Defense

July 8, 2016
Preparations for 28th NATO summit in Warsaw. Photo by

LIVE UPDATES: The 28th summit of the 28 members of NATO, dubbed by its leadership as a “landmark” meeting, opened today in Warsaw with worries about Brexit and overshadowed by Russia.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

NATO Got Nothing From Conceding To Russia In the Past, Why Should It Cave To The Kremlin Now?
Who is Hacking the Russian Opposition and State Media Officials — and How?
Does it Matter if the Russian Opposition Stays United?


NATO Could Invoke Art. 5 Over Cyberattacks; New Drone System to Track Troop Movements, Migration

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the NATO summit so far, aside from the news of the deployment of the Baltic battalions which was already known, was the indication that NATO is prepared to invoke Article 5 over cyberattacks, says New Times, one of the last independent news sites in Russia, which sent a correspondent to the summit.
On the eve of the summit, President Barack Obama reaffirmed US dedication to NATO and mentioned specifically Article 5, which stipulates that all members will come to the defense of any member under attack, although he fell shy of explicitly linking it to cyber defense:

“In Warsaw, we must reaffirm our determination — our duty under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty — to defend every NATO ally. 

We need to bolster the defense of our allies in central and eastern Europe, strengthen deterrence and boost our resilience against new threats, including cyber attacks.”

As we reported, there was diplomatic talk about “dialogue with Russia” and even contradictory statements, as the Pentagon has clearly identified Russia as a threat multiple times, but France’s President Francois Holland said today, “NATO has no role at all to be saying what Europe’s relations with Russia should be. For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat.”
The head of NATO’s military committee, Czech General Petr Pavel, tried to bridge the differences:

“We must accept that Russia can be a competitor, adversary, peer or partner and probably all four at the same time,” Reuters quoted him as saying.”

New Times said “the main sensation” at the summit as people commented in the hallways was the statement by Amb. Douglas Lute on July 7, saying that NATO could invoke Article 5 over a massive cyber attack.
New Times reported that James Appathurai, deputy assistant secretary general for political affairs and security policy as well as special representative on Central Asia and the Caucasus, said today that cyber attacks can cause as much potential damage as a conventional attack by land, air or sea.
New Times also noted that Amb. Lute didn’t mention the country “Russia” in his statements, but Russia is widely recognized as a source of many cyberattacks on Europe and the US.

In March 2016, Estonian intelligence accused Russia of making cyberattacks on its state institutions and attempting to infect the whole electronic network of the country.

Recently Russian state hackers were identified as the cyberattackers behind the breach of the Democratic National Committee’s files. Russian hackers have also been said to pose as ISIS hackers in attacking the Syrian opposition and human rights groups.

New Times also reported about a new unified intelligence system called the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS), developed by Northrop Grumman with participation by the Italian Leonardo-Finmeccanica, tested two weeks ago in Germany and demonstrated for the first time at the NATO summit. It involves a multi-targeting drone called Global Home, the size of a passenger plane which will track “sudden” movements of forces among NATO’s neighbours and also warn of terrorist “creep” and “migration crises,” and will be deployed “not accidentally,” said New Times, in Sicily. As NATO experts said:

“The exchange of intelligence between countries was previously passive and limited. Now this gap will be filled, and at a fundamentally different technological level.”

New Times noted that while NATO speaks euphemistically of “multi-national” defense, in reality it comes down to four countries: the US, Canada, Germany and the UK. Secretary General Stoltenberg thanked these four countries separately for their “efforts in strengthening the eastern borders of NATO.”
Asked by New Times if this mission was entrusted to “the most seasoned” NATO members, an official laughed and said “no, it’s something else.”

“They have established logistics better than anyone else. Not over years but decades. If suddenly a decision has to be made about an emergency deployment of tactical weapons troops, for example Abrams tanks from a base in Germany to somewhere in Latvia, this could have a critical significance.”

Another NATO official told New Times that the four additional battalions in the Baltics and Poland would ensure the ability to have full-fledged tactical exercises “as often as needed.”
“You [in the sense of “Russia”–NT] have taken a fashion in the last two years of holding suddening exercises in the European theater. We decided not to lag behind you,” the official said “with sarcasm,” adding that “our [NATO] figures are always transparent and correct.”
Under the a past agreement of 2011, Russia and NATO are obliged to warn each other of military exercises if the divisions taking part in them have more than 9,000 troops. But the document has a loophole not covering snap exercises which Russia “abuses,” says the NATO official. NATO believes that under cover of exercises, Russia is secretly increasing its group of forces on the Western borders.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian State Censor Blocks 4 Web Sites Calling for Boycott of Elections
Roskomnadzor, the Russian state censor, has blocked four sites that call for boycotting the September elections to the State Duma, report, citing a notice on the censor’s site.
The Prosecutor General’s Office ordered the sites closed because they contained “material of an agitational nature with the purpose of popularizing among the population the idea of boycotting elections.”

The names of the sites were not indicated. But a source close to Roskomnadzor told RBC that (“disrupt elections”) and were blocked, as were individual pages on the sites maintained by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and

When the site administration of Open Russia removed the page, the entire site was then not blocked, although it will continue to be monitored, said the source.

But Veronika Kutsyllo, a representative of Open Russia, said that in fact the site was not blocked “even for a minute.” She explained that the site is open for people to post blogs, and if the writers “violate the rules for bloggers,” their posts are removed by the manager. She did not specify whether the rules were under the “Blogger’s Law” or other press law of Russia or the organization’s own code, but reiterated that Open Russia as an organization has never called for the boycott of elections.

Leading opposition parties such as Parnas and Party of Progress are in fact fielding candidates to the ballot and no major opposition group has called for a boycott. Some smaller groups have called for boycotts because of the failure to register opposition parties, harassment of alternative candidates, registration fraud and other violations that make the elections inherently unfair. 

Under Russia’s Information Law, grounds for an appeal by the Prosecutor General to Roskomnadzor to block a web site may be made for “calls for mass disorders,” “extremist activity,” and “participation in unauthorized events.”
Roskomnadzor will also blocked sites for “coordination of actions of citizens of organization of protest actions conducted with violation of established procedure.” The call by the boycott organizations “undermines the foundation of the constitution order” or Russia since the “direct expression of the power of the multi-national people of the Russian Federation are referenda and free elections.”

The sites have been added to a list of banned information. Aside from Open Russia, one other site was said to remove objectionable information, said RBC’s source.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Francois Hollande Says Russia ‘Partner’ Not Threat, While Push Against Sanctions Grows In EU

French President Francois Hollande has said that Russia is a “partner” not a threat.

Al-Arabiya reports, citing AP and AFP, that at the NATO summit in Warsaw today, Hollande said:

“NATO has no role at all to be saying what Europe’s relations with Russia should be. For France, Russia is not an adversary, not a threat.

“Russia is a partner which, it is true, may sometimes, and we have seen that in Ukraine, use force which we have condemned when it annexed Crimea.”

That Russia has “sometimes” used force seems an understatement when the last three years have also seen the invasion of the Donbass, with two major offensives conducted by Russian regular troops, and the horrific air campaign waged on rebel-held areas of Syria.

While Hollande’s Socialist government has previously stood firm on sanctions against Russia and has also been highly critical of Russia’s support for the Assad regime, it is now under increasing pressure at home to drop sanctions.

Furthermore, with less than a year until what are expected to be tough presidential elections, both the leader and some members of the main opposition party, Les Républicains, have come out as strident supporters of Russia.

But agitation against sanctions is growing elsewhere in Europe too.

Earlier this week the Regional Council of Lombardy followed those in Veneto and Liguria in calling for the Italian government to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea and to push for dropping EU sanctions.

And yesterday, as Le Figaro reports, the Cypriot parliament voted to call on the EU to lift sanctions against Russia.

33 out of 56 MPs voted for the resolution, which declared that the sanctions were “counter-productive and have in now way helped resolve the crisis in Ukraine.”

There were 17 abstentions but no dissenting votes.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, issued a statement praising the resolution.

TASS reports:

“It is noteworthy that none of the deputies spoke against,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Certainly the provisions of that document are of a recommending nature. But such outcome of the vote reflects the urge of the overwhelming part of the Cypriot people to restore the mutually beneficial trade and economic ties with Russia,” the statement said.

“The resolution adopted by Cypriot parliamentarians, just like similar resolutions approved in France by the National Assembly on April 28 and Senate on June 8, as well as regional parliaments of four Italian regions testify to the growing understanding in EU member countries of the real state of affairs around anti-Russian sanctions and their negative consequences for national economies and European security on the whole,” it said.

The state-owned news agency also quoted Alexey Pushkov, chairman of the Duma international affairs committee, as saying: 

“I am absolutely convinced that such resolutions will emerge in other national parliaments as well. The French resolution gave it a start, Italian regional parliaments continued, and as of today, Cyprus is adopting such a resolution on the national level,” Pushkov told TASS.

He said “other resolutions will follow as the policy of sanctions has exhausted itself both economically and financially.”

Meanwhile Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, told CNBC today that Western governments should not consider dropping sanctions:

“We are also worried about the tone that is already existing these days that says ‘oh, well but maybe this is the last time we roll over the sanctions’. I do hope that if Russia does not show any progress in fulfilling any commitments under the Minsk accord nothing of that type will be coming to the political leaders of the EU leaders,” she added.

The EU approved another six months of sanctions against Russia in early June which Klympush-Tsintsadze said was a “mature, sober and responsible decision.” She told CNBC that the Kremlin is looking for ways to return to a “business as usual” type of relationship with the EU.

Set as default press image

Ukraine urges NATO to concede nothing against Russian threat

Western nations should not consider revoking tough economic sanctions against Russia, according to the deputy prime minister of Ukraine, who has told CNBC that the conflict in the eastern region of the country is escalating once again.

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Jul 08, 2016 15:05 (GMT)

— Pierre Vaux
NATO To Boost Presence In Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland And Romania

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has announced that the military alliance will bolster its forces in eastern and southeastern Europe.

Opening the NATO summit in Warsaw today, Stoltenberg said:

“Today, we will agree to enhance our forward presence in the east of the Alliance. In Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and here in Poland. We will deploy, by rotation, a robust, multinational battalion in each of the countries. Making clear that an attack against one Ally will be met by forces from across the Alliance.

Let me thank Canada, Germany, the UK and the US, for deciding to lead these battalions.

And let me thank Poland, and the three Baltic states, for hosting and supporting these NATO forces, and for strengthening their own.

We will also transform a Romanian brigade into a multinational brigade to strengthen our posture in the south-eastern part of the Alliance.”

CBC News reports that each multi-national battle group will consist of roughly 1,000 soldiers.

While “framework nations” will provide “headquarters oversight, leadership and other essential support units that allow the battalion to function and fight,” they do not have to provide all of the troops. The UK, for example, is reported by the BBC to be providing around 500 soldiers to their battle group in Estonia, with other states contributing the remainder. An additional 150 British troops will be deployed in Poland.

Canada will also provide six CF-18 fighter jets to join the Baltic air policing mission, which is currently conducted by Eurofighter Typhoons and F-16s from the British and Portuguese air forces.

— Pierre Vaux

NATO Summit Opens in Warsaw, Overshadowed by Brexit, Russian Threat

The 28th summit of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), dubbed by NATO leadership as a “landmark” meeting, opened today in Warsaw and will run through tomorrow, July 9.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the agenda for the next day will include discussion of plans for permanent deployment Baltic defense and strengthening military as well as civil defense:

The Secretary General said that Allied leaders will agree to deploy four robust, multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Further efforts to strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and defence include a tailored presence in the south-east, based on a multinational brigade in Romania and steps to improve cyber-defence, civil preparedness and the ability to defend against ballistic missile attacks.

Yet NATO’s  press release on its web site was mute about the reasons for this increased defense: Russian provocations, encroachment on air and sea space and other aggressive actions against NATO countries, increase in defense spending and combat exercises and of course the wars in Ukraine and Syria. Instead, NATO referred to the troubled NATO-Russian Council, noting, “We remain open to dialogue with Russia.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday on the eve of the summit, stopping short of asking if Ukraine could join NATO, but offering Ukraine’s experience in a “deep partnership,” condemning what he termed a “reactive strategy” of the West which only imposes sanctions after violations.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created to defend the peace and global order that emerged out of the chaos of World War II. As world leaders gather in Warsaw for the NATO summit on Friday, it will be important to remember these origins. Appeasement is not a solution. Russia has been deliberately inciting instability wherever it can, hoping to divide the West and advance its own geopolitical agenda.

In the two years since the last NATO summit, Ukraine has witnessed firsthand this agenda unfold. We have suffered under the guns of Russian aggression in Crimea and Donbas.

NATO’s collective security could likewise benefit from Ukraine’s experience and intelligence. Russia’s aggression on the eastern flank of NATO territory is an aggression not only against Ukraine, but the Western world. Yet no NATO member state has actual battlefield experience engaging with the modern Russian army. Ukraine does.

World media focused on the deployment of the Baltic battalions but also discussions of the implications of Brexit, and the response to the challenge of Russian aggression. 
Russia has complained about NATO’s plans for the Baltics and joint exercises, but Germany and the US have taken the lead in justifying the moves.
Also to be discussed is the effectiveness of even a more robust response by NATO to Russia and ISIS, as well as the issue of how much of the defense spending burden America’s allies will take on. NATO published figures indicating in the years leading up to the war in Ukraine in 2014, NATO members reduced their expenditures then began to raise them.

Russian propaganda on the eve of the summit has been predictable — attempts to highlight splits within the EU and the West in general, and an implication that failure to cooperate with Russia on its terms escalates wars in Afghanistan — and Syria.

Although Russia annexed Crimea unlawfully in 2014 and was condemned by a majority of UN General Assembly members who upheld Ukraine’s territorial integrity; although Russia backs separatist warfare with its own tanks and troops and controls a large part of Donbass territory; and although Russia notoriously bombs forces fighting dictator Bashar al Assad far more than it does ISIS, we’re to be reminded of “Western imperialism” and an “iron curtain” supposedly on the West’s side now.
Perhaps the account @SovietSergey that parodies Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov summed it up best with a simple map showing the “correlation of forces,” as the Soviet term defined it — overwhelming advantage on the Russian side.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick