Nato may beef up presence in eastern Europe

August 14, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

WARSAW: Nato member states are close to reaching consensus over steps to beef up the alliance’s military presence in eastern Europe in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said yesterday in an interview.

Sikorski said he believed the Kremlin could still invade eastern Ukraine, though he said the possibility of Russian troops entering under cover of a humanitarian aid convoy now heading towards the Ukrainian border had receded somewhat in the past few days.

Poland, the biggest of the former Communist states to join Nato after the end of the Cold War, has been a leading voice in calling for sanctions on Russia and for Nato to shift troops and equipment eastwards to reassure members on Russia’s flanks.

Nato’s leadership has proposed pre-positioning supplies and equipment at bases in the east in readiness for sending troops if needed, and said one option was to enhance an existing Nato regional headquarters in north-western Poland.

“Until this year we did not have war between two of our neighbours, and now we do. So our perception of the need for reassurance is even higher,” Sikorski said in the interview.

“We’ve welcomed the proposals by the military authorities of the alliance who have formulated what they think a reasonable reassurance package is, and we believe that’s a good proposal.”

He said he did not want to go into details about what the likely options were, because diplomats and military officials needed more time to prepare a consensus view that can be approved at a September 4 Nato summit in Wales.

Asked how close alliance members were to reaching that consensus, Sikorski said: “I think we’re quite close,” and that it should be achieved in time for the summit.

The proposals under consideration by Nato fall well short of what Sikorski himself had earlier proposed, for the alliance to permanently station two brigades in eastern member states.

Some Nato members have resisted increasing the alliance’s military presence in the east.

Sikorski, who is Poland’s nominee for the soon-to-be-vacant post of the European Union’s chief diplomat, said it was a positive sign that Moscow has been negotiating with Kiev and the Red Cross over sending aid into eastern Ukraine.