German Chancellor Angela Merkel is resisting NATO calls for permanent deployment of allied troops in former Soviet bloc countries, amid fears of retaliation by Russia.
During a visit to Berlin yesterday by NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Merkel acknowledged that many former Soviet bloc states feel unsafe because of developments in Ukraine, but according to Euractiv Germany she said: “There is no doubt the NATO-Russia Act should remain valid.”
The 1997 NATO-Russia Act formally ended the rivalry between Russia and NATO. Moscow insists that the West promised not to set up any military bases in the former Eastern Bloc countries that have joined NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The establishment of NATO bases in former Soviet bloc countries was an important issue in the negotiations in 1990 for the re-unification of Germany, which British prime minister Margaret Thatcher opposed.
In particular, the then-president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev agreed that Germany could join NATO, but only if there would be no NATO troops or nuclear weapons based in the former East Germany.
An opinion poll released on Wednesday showed that nearly three-quarters of Germans would oppose NATO having permanent military bases in eastern Europe, despite requests by Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who fear an attempt by Russia to assert its former Soviet power.
Poland in particular has sought to have permanent NATO bases since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Rasmussen told Merkel. Russia has warned against this.
According to a Reuters report, NATO has tripled the number of fighter jets based in the Baltics. NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said last month NATO would have to consider permanently stationing troops in eastern Europe. NATO manoeuvres have been increased across the countries that feel threatened.
Russian permanent representative to NATO Alexander Grushko has accused NATO of using the situation in Ukraine “to breathe new life” into the alliance whose purpose is now “unclear.”
In an interview with the Russian news agency Itar-Tass Grushko said: “For 20 years, the Article 5 of North Atlantic Treaty was applied only once, in 2001, after the events of September 11, and the purpose of the alliance in the new security environment is unclear.”
“Our assessment on what NATO is doing around the Russian borders is well known.” NATO’s play-war near the Russian border can only cause “tensions, destabilize the situation in some regions and destabilize the situation in Ukraine.”
“Nobody is threatening the NATO countries.”
“If we talk about the essence of the processes, taking place in NATO, I am sure that in many ways, some member countries of the North Atlantic bloc took advantage of the situation in Ukraine in order to breathe new life into the alliance. In fact, NATO has a serious system crisis.”