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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’Otan continue de tisser sa toile à la frontière russe

by Stéphane Aubouard

NATO Continues Weaving Its Web Along Russian Borders

Translated Sunday 3 May 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

There are more and more military incidents between Moscow and NATO, which is trying to involve as many partners as possible in the undertaking of isolating the country.

After an agitated month of March on the Black Sea, in which Bulgarian, U.S. and Turkish warships performed military maneuvers a few miles fror the coasts of Crimea (annexed by Moscow a year ago), NATO continues its work of closing in on Russia’s borders.

On April 11, the U.S. website Washington Freebeacon.com reported an incident that has drawn attention: On the morning of April 7, an American RC=135U reconnaissance plane, performing an ordinary flight in international airspace, was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter plane in a dangerous and unprofessional way.”

Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, immediately replied to the accusation, saying “on April 7 at 1:18 p.m. Moscow time, anti-aircraft defense forces detected an unidentified aerial target over the Baltic Sea, which was flying toward the Russian border.” Konstantin Kossachev, the head of the international affairs committee of the Council of the Federation (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament) took advantage of the incident to repeat that “Russia is a Baltic country whereas the U.S. is not.”

This short remark certainly hardly pleased the Estonian president. Interviewed by the British conservative daily newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Toomas Hendrik Ilves demanded permanent presence of NATO troops in all the Baltic countries. “We’ve seen a spectacular increase in the number of military flights and have observed big military exercises on our borders,” he stated. This is also a way of accelerating the arrival of NATO forces, which began deploying a few hundred of the 3,000 U.S. troops plus combat materiel, scheduled to arrive by this summer. War equipment and 750 vehicles have already reached Riga, the capital of neighboring Latvia. With 5,000 NATO soldiers establishing themselves soon in the East European countries, Moscow has something to worry about.

A poisoned atmosphere

And it is not the latest diplomatic sortie made by Sweden and Finland – which do not belong to NATO – which is likely to reassure the Kremlin. In a joint statement, signed at the beginning of the week with their Scandinavian counterparts, which are NATO members (Norway, Denmark and Iceland), the defense ministers of the two countries say that Northern Europe must “prepare itself for possible incidents and crises due to Russia’s attitude.”

This poisoned atmosphere, made up of declarations through the press and military intimidation, is spreading at the very time when French, German, Ukrainian and Russian diplomats are meeting again in Berlin on April 20 to relaunch the fragile peace process in the Ukraine, which began in Minsk in February (six Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the last 24 hours). In a press statement, the ministers of foreign affairs of the four countries called for “a withdrawal of heavy weapons” and “the withdrawal of tanks of all sorts.”

While Germany is backing the idea of the withdrawal of tanks on Ukrainian soil, it is the better to make them appear in Germany… The spokesman of the defense ministry stated at the beginning of the week of April 12 that the Bundeswehr (the German defense force) was soon to dispose of about 100 additional tanks (328 Leopard 2 tanks instead of 225 at present). “Obviously, NATO’s capacity to react plays a role. But many other factors also play a role in this decision,” he made a point of spelling out. We are quite willing to believe him.

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Germany promoting a more reactive NATO

Like the Estonian president, Ursula von der Leyen, the German defense minister, who is visiting Estonia, suggests rethinking NATO’s capacity to react. “The question of the speed of reaction and the appropriateness of the response to potential threats plays a major role,” she insisted, without naming the Russian “enemy.”

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