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?
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“The exchange of intelligence between countries was previously passive and limited. Now this gap will be filled, and at a fundamentally different technological level.”
“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.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The names of the sites were not indicated. But a source close to Roskomnadzor told RBC that srywwyborow.blogspot.ru (“disrupt elections”) and activism.win were blocked, as were individual pages on the sites openrussia.org maintained by businessman and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and politforums.org.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.