Tag: Europe

Russia readies troops for Zapad war games with Belarus

Russia and Belarus are set to stage the Zapad 2017 war games, and the operation’s size is causing concern among Western observers. Moscow’s heavy troop presence has some worrying whether Minsk’s sovereignty is at risk.

Russian troops have been gathering in Belarus since Monday. The Zapad 2017 (West 2017) war games are slated to begin in September, with roughly 12,700 Russian soldiers officially participating, according to Moscow. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg thanked Russian officials for providing them with troop information, but said the games will nonetheless be closely monitored.

Read more: What are Russia’s Zapad war games?

War games exceeding 13,000 troops require the presence of external observers, as stipulated by the Vienna Document, a security agreement among the participating states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia. Western observers fear Russia will break the agreed limit on troop participation. Opposition voices in Belarus, a Russian ally, worry that Russian troops will remain in the country following the exercises to de facto occupy the country.

Regional concern grows

Russia’s military build up to its West is worrying Belarus’ neighbors – Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states – which were all under Moscow’s control during the Soviet era. Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said there are 100,000 Russian troops that President Vladimir Putin wants to use to “put NATO to the test.”

The Zapad military exercises were previously held in 2013 and 2009

That number may refer to Russia’s total troop presence in the larger region for the exercises, Margarete Klein of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told DW. The military exercises are taking place both in Russia and Belarus, she said, however a lot of speculation surrounds the operation.

“We just have to wait to see what happens,” Klein said. “It’s difficult to talk in advance about what the numbers may mean.”

Doubting the numbers

Russian military expert Alexander Golz pointed out that the Zapad war games extend beyond Belarus, as the Belarusian military announced they are to stretch from Russia’s Kola Peninsula near Finland to the western exclave of Kaliningrad in the Baltic region. Thus troops are being amassed not just in Belarus, but in Russia as well, he said, adding that Moscow has a history of playing fast and loose with troop numbers.

“Russia had a curious interpretation of the Vienna Document during the conflict in the Donbass,” Golz told DW, explaining that Moscow’s troop deployment to the country’s border with eastern Ukraine was said to be part of a military exercise so that the Kremlin could claim its soldiers’ presence did not exceed the Vienna Document’s limit.

Lukashenko, Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu coordinated for Zapad 2013

Everything above board?

Russia’s Defense Ministry has ordered about 4,000 rail cars, according to media reports, for troop transports to Belarus – more than previous exercises, including 1,000 more than for Zapad 2013, Alexander Alessin, a Belarusian military expert, told DW. Zapad 2017 would remain within the permissible limits, he said, calculating for up to 30 tons of equipment per soldier.

Prospects for Belarusian sovereignty

A post-operation occupation of Belarus is unlikely, Alessin said, because “occupying [Russia’s] only ally would undermine faith in the Kremlin, including with its potential partners.” It would also undermine Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s credibility – at home and abroad, which is in neither side’s interest. Alessin cited Belarus’ denial of Russia’s 2013 request to maintain airbases there.

Lukashenko is unlikely to allow Russian troops to remain in the country following the September maneuvers, Alexander Golz said. For 20 years, Lukashenko has been receiving money from Russia, he said, and therefore has always underscored Belarus’ strategic importance to Russia as an outpost. “As far as Russian military bases in Belarus go,” Golz added, “Lukashenko turned 180 degrees. Interestingly, Putin had to swallow that.”

 

 

 

German foreign minister warns New START and INF Treaties termination will affect Europe

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP

The termination of the Treaties on missile armament cuts and liquidation will affect Europe’s security, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Wednesday.

Germany’s top diplomat made this statement after a meeting with experts of the Commission on Challenges to Deep Nuclear Weapons Cuts from Russia, the United States and Germany.

“The possible termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the non-prolongation of the New START Treaty [the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms] are what will eventually threaten Europe, in the first place,” Gabriel said.

The German foreign minister also said he shared the experts’ opinion that “the worst Cold War mistakes are repeated” and the world is at the stage of “Cold War 2.0.”

According to him, European countries should become active participants in the disarmament discussion.

“Germany should speak more actively with the United States, with Russia about this within the NATO framework,” the foreign minister said.

At the same time, Social Democrat Gabriel again lashed at the Conservatives in the German government who advocated a sharp increase in defense spending.

“In this regard, it is more important to double the efficiency of expenditures rather than their volume,” he said.

“I expect that the political leadership in [the Christian Democratic/Christian Social] Union won’t yield to the militarist logic [of US President Donald Trump] and this is what exactly is taking place now,” the German foreign minister said, noting that such policy could become a problem for Berlin.

 

 

 

 

Tarja Halonen, the former President of Finland says that Estonia has no reason to fear Russia

Tarja Halonen, president of Finland from 2000-2012

There is no reason for Estonia to panically fear Russia, Tarja Halonen, president of Finland from 2000-2012, told Eesti Paevaleht daily in an interview.

“You are in the European Union, NATO, and you use the euro. In this manner you are not only in a safe house, but have become an independent mature country,” Halonen said. “That is why we say to you sometimes that calm down now and there is no reason to panic. Which does not mean, however, that we say that there’s no reason to be worried looking at Russia,” she added.

In the words of Halonen, Finns know Russians better than Americans do.

“Rule of law, human rights and democracy, they haven’t had very much of them ever and therefore it is difficult to build them up too. They are attempting to achieve it somehow, but it’s difficult work,” Halonen said.

“It was difficult even in Germany when East and West Germany were brought together, but it was only for 50 years that East Germany had been out of the system. Just like Estonia,” she added.

“You forget it easily that we had our one hundred years under the Russian tsar too, we had the Winter War and the Continuation War. We lost a large portion of our country and had to resettle a large number of residents. We paid the Soviets a big amount of money in damages of war. But what I always say is that we were on the easier side,” Halonen said.

“You had your very difficult time – the occupation. That is difficult for us to understand too. So, yes, in my opinion we should be tolerant in the criticism that we level against each other. Our mutual relations have a strong base and we criticize each other not for being there, but just certain things,” the former president of Finland added.

Halonen took part in the festival of opinion culture held in the central Estonian regional capital Paide on Friday and Saturday, where she read the keynote of a discussion titled “How to stand against populism and extremism?”

 

 

Angela Merkel has put herself forward for a fourth-term in office

Angela Merkel begins her campaign today to secure her fourth term as German Chancellor with a 50 stop tour across the country. Voters head to the polls on September 24th to elect their new government.

All that stands between Angela Merkel and a fourth term is six weeks of campaigning.

The German chancellor goes into the Sept. 24 election with strong personal approval ratings and a party lead of some 15 percentage points over her main challenger, Martin Schulz. Barring unforeseen upsets, her campaign team’s main worry is a repeat of her first bid for the chancellery, when a commanding poll lead was reduced to a single percentage point on Election Day.

As she returns from vacation in the Italian Alps, Merkel, 63, is intent on avoiding any sense of complacency: On Saturday, she’ll kick start a 50-stop campaign tour across the country. After 12 years in office that have made her a pillar of the global stability valued by German voters, the election looks like Merkel’s to lose.

“She’s definitely benefiting from all the international crises,” including nuclear sparring between North Korea and the U.S., Andrea Roemmele, a political scientist at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said in an interview. As the incumbent, Merkel is in risk-averse mode, and with just six weeks to go, “time is working in her favor,” Roemmele said.

Election Calendar

Germany’s federal vote is the culmination of an electoral calendar in Europe that has seen a surge in support for anti-immigration, European Union-skeptic populists in the Netherlands and France, only for them to be defeated as the center held. In the U.K., Theresa May’s campaign on a platform of an abrupt break from the EU led to the loss of her majority.

The outcome in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and dominant power, will influence everything from European relations with the U.S., China, Russia and Turkey to the success of French President Emmanuel Macron’s drive to remake the euro zone. Yet even as polls point to a victory for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, “the implications for fiscal policy and Germany’s relationship with its EU partners will likely depend on who the CDU picks as its junior partner,” according to BI Economics research led by Jamie Murray.

Merkel’s talent for occupying the political middle ground is crowding out opponents including Schulz, 61, who leads her current coalition partner, the Social Democrats. In turn, he is evoking the comeback fight by Gerhard Schroeder, the SPD chancellor who almost overturned a lead of more than 20 percentage points Merkel held at the same stage of the 2005 campaign.

“We’ll make clear what sort of differences there are between the CDU and the SPD on pensions, on health policy, on tax policy,” Thomas Oppermann, the SPD caucus leader in parliament, told reporters on Thursday. “For me, the Bundestag election is wide open.”

Approval Ratings

Still, Schulz didn’t benefit much even when Merkel dropped off the grid during an almost three-week summer vacation, which produced only scattered media photos of the chancellor and her physicist husband hiking in the Italian Alps. While Merkel’s approval rating fell 10 points during her absence to 59 percent, Schulz’s score also declined, by 4 points to 33 percent, according to a monthly Infratest Dimap poll published Wednesday.

He’s not helped by a steady economy that boasts the lowest unemployment in a quarter-century, a balanced budget and the prospect of modest tax cuts if Merkel is returned.

Latest polls suggest that Merkel holds the best coalition options while Schulz’s possibilities of forming a government are fast disappearing.

Support for Merkel’s CDU-CSU bloc was steady at 40 percent, while the SPD held at 24 percent in an FG Wahlen poll for ZDF television published Friday. The Free Democrats and the Greens, both potential coalition partners for either of the two big parties, had 8 percent each. The anti-capitalist Left party and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany also had 8 percent apiece.

The chancellor’s party isn’t calling the outcome just yet. Many staffers at CDU headquarters in Berlin still recall how Merkel almost squandered her first bid for the chancellorship. Apart from policy gaffes, the likes of a terrorist attack, hacker leaks or a return of the refugee crisis are potential wild cards that could upset the race, according to party officials.

Schulz’s Struggle

Merkel starts her tour in the western city of Dortmund, an SPD bastion in the Ruhr Valley industrial heartland. Much of the campaign will take her to smaller towns, where she plans to focus on themes that helped her party win three state elections this year: jobs, families and public safety.

Schulz, a former European Parliament president, initially lifted the Social Democrats to near parity with Merkel’s bloc in February and March immediately after his nomination, only to see that surge fizzle. “This makes an SPD-led coalition unlikely,” HSBC economists Rainer Sartoris and Stefan Schilbe said in a note to clients.

“Overall, we think there is likely to be some readiness of the newly elected German government to push the European process forward,” they said. “But this does not mean that any new CDU-led government is likely to sacrifice its current values.”

 

HMCS Charlottetown supports NATO assurance and deterrence measures on Operation REASSURANCE

HMCS Charlottestown

News Release (UPDATE)

August 8, 2017 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Charlottetown joins Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) today on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic Ocean, and Baltic Sea as part of Canada’s support to NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe.

On its second deployment under Op REASSURANCE, HMCS Charlottetown replaces HMCS St. John’s, which arrived in its home port of Halifax on July 17, 2017, after a six-month deployment.

The deployment of HMCS Charlottetown demonstrates Canada’s ongoing commitment to international security and cooperation as part of NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe.

“Canada’s participation in regional maritime security operations as part of NATO assurance activities is another demonstration of Canada’s ongoing commitment to international security and cooperation. The excellent crew of the HMCS Charlottetown is demonstrating our continued leadership on the world stage by making meaningful and enduring contributions to NATO activities in Eastern and Central Europe.”

—    Harjit S. Sajjan, Defence Minister 

“The highly trained and professional ship’s company is well prepared to meet the challenges of this mission. HMCS Charlottetown is committed to further increase the Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to work alongside our Allies, contribute to enhancing NATO readiness, and help strengthen international and regional stability.”

—    Commander Jeff Hutt, Commanding Officer, HMCS Charlottetown

Quick Facts

  • HMCS Charlottetown is a Halifax-class frigate with a crew of approximately 240 personnel of all ranks, including an Enhanced Naval Boarding Party and a CH-124 Sea King helicopter air detachment.
  • The Enhanced Naval Boarding Party provides a relatively new capability for the Royal Canadian Navy that is used in support of maritime interdiction operations.
  • HMCS Charlottetown’s deployment is part of a range of military activities undertaken by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to support NATO assurance and deterrence measures through the provision of military capabilities for training, exercises, demonstrations, and assigned NATO tasks and demonstrates Canada’s commitment to promote security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • During its first deployment in support of Op REASSURANCE, HMCS Charlottetown conducted maritime security operations and joint NATO training exercises between June 2016 and January 2017, in the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean, Aegean and Baltic Seas, as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2).
  • The Standing NATO Maritime Groups are multinational, integrated maritime forces made up of vessels from various Allied countries. These vessels are made available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from exercises to operational missions. They also help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits to different countries, support partner engagement, and provide a variety of maritime military capabilities to ongoing missions.
  • Commander Jeff Hutt, from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, has served in the CAF since 1998. After his initial naval training, he was assigned to HMCS Charlottetown and was twice deployed with the ship to the Arabian Sea. On board HMCS Athabaskan, he served in Operation HESTIA, Canada’s response to the earthquake in Haiti. He was Chief of Staff to the Commander of Naval Reserves in Quebec City from July 2015 to December 2016.
  • Operation REASSURANCE refers to the military activities undertaken by the CAF since 2014 to support NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Eastern and Central Europe, aimed at reinforcing NATO’s collective defence and demonstrating the strength of Allied solidarity.

Contacts

Media Relations
Department of National Defence
Phone: 613-996-2353
Toll-Free: 1-866-377-0811
Email: mlo-blm@forces.gc.ca

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Noble Partner 2017 – Georgia Army National Guard works with British 2 Para for Airborne Insertion [VIDEO]

Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard Company H, 121st Infantry (Airborne) Long Range Surveillance Unit conducted an airborne insertion with British ‘C’ Coy, 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment as part of Exercise Noble Partner 2017. Noble Partner 2017 is a U.S. Army Europe-led exercise designed to support the training, progression, and eventual certification of Georgia’s 2nd Light Infantry Company’s contribution to the NATO Response Force.

By SGT. Josh Joyner.

 

Germany, France and Poland – The EU and NATO, a contradiction? or an opportunity for cooperation?

 

Germany is increasing it’s combat readiness in the face of increasing Russian and terrorist threats.

Germany is emerging as a major defense player in Europe. With the UK leaving the EU, Germany and France are now leading Europe’s efforts to secure the continent. The Cipher Brief’s Kaitlin Lavinder talked with Stephen Szabo, a senior fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, about Franco-German defense coordination and Germany’s new heightened role in European defense.

The Cipher Brief: At this year’s Aspen security conference, German Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Wittig talked about how Europe can get a lot more bang for its buck if it synchronizes its defenses in support of NATO, and he also mentioned that Germany and France recently decided that common defense procurement is the way to go. Are there any concrete plans or examples of recent defense procurements between Germany and France?

Stephen Szabo: Last month, Germany and France unveiled plans to develop a European fighter jet, although they haven’t decided on joint procurement yet.

TCB: And would that be the first of this kind of agreement between these two countries?

Szabo: I’m not sure about this specific kind of Franco-German project, but the Europeans have the Eurofighter, for example. The Eurofighter aircraft began with a multinational collaboration program between France, Germany, the UK, Italy, and Spain and was designed and manufactured by a consortium of European defense companies.

Royal Air Force Eurofighter EF.2000 Typhoon FGR.4

TCB: So is this idea not really new, but rather it’s being discussed more now because of the Trump administration and concerns over Trump’s policy toward Europe and NATO?

Szabo: Exactly. The Europeans have been talking about this for 20 years. They set up a common procurement agency, the European Defence Agency, in Brussels in 2004 to supposedly enhance European defense because of the reasons that Ambassador Wittig pointed out: they’re wasting their money on duplication of assets. So they’ve been talking about this for a long time, but it never goes very far, partly because people want to protect their own defense industries to the extent that they can, so they try to buy German or buy French, for example. And that makes it more difficult to get common procurement.

A couple years back there was a discussion about having a merger between Britain’s BAE Systems and Airbus parent EADS, but that fell apart because German Chancellor Angela Merkel basically vetoed it because she was afraid of losing jobs in Germany if they went through with this. The big player has been the UK; BAE is still the biggest player by far because they are one of the few European contractors that can do business with the U.S. and with the Pentagon.

That has hindered a joint European procurement effort because the American market is much bigger than the European market on defense. That might change a little bit if people actually start spending more on defense; but I think the problem has been that the biggest player is the UK. With Brexit, the UK’s role in European security is now questionable, which will have implications for European defense.

Another issue with the Germans is that they’re losing out on technology and technological spinoffs that come with developing your own systems. They’re way behind the U.S. in a lot of respects. The Transatlantic Academy just came out with a report, where we had an idea in there that the Germans ought to create a DARPA within the Germany defense ministry. We were trying to make the case that there is a lot of positive development and spinoffs from defense spending; it’s not a zero-sum game. You get not only technological spinoffs, but also you create jobs.

This is an old story that has not gone very far over the many years the Europeans have talked about it. Of course, there are different factors now that are new. I already mentioned Brexit. Another new factor is Russia and the shock with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And the final new factor is the election of President Donald Trump in the United States. With these three developments, the Europeans are talking more seriously now about this.

TCB: Do you think that this confluence of factors – the UK leaving the EU, Russian aggression, Trump’s election – is going to provide the necessary impetus to actually move procurement and other defense cooperation forward?

Szabo: It should, but it probably won’t. Recently, the head of the French defense forces resigned because President Macron made substantial cuts in the defense budget in France, which is of course the biggest European military player now with the UK leaving the EU. The Germans are talking about doing more, but they are so far behind in terms of equipment and capabilities that it’ll take them a decade, even if they’re serious about this. And I don’t see a lot of support for this among either leaders or publics in Europe.

After a public spat with the new president, the head of the French armed forces has resigned Credit: REUTERS/Etienne Laurent/Pool

You’re right, this is a new strategic situation. But the kinds of security issues the Europeans are looking at go beyond Russia, which is still not a direct threat to core Europe, neither Germany nor France nor Italy.

The big issue for Europe is terrorism and securing the borders. There we’re already seeing the Europeans trying to do more and reinforce their borders. In the Mediterranean, for example, they’re trying to intercept boats that carry migrants coming over from Libya.

That’s where the EU does have to play a role, because NATO is not really equipped to do that, and even though NATO has tried to do a little bit in that area, they’re not the organization for the job. So in that area, we’ll see more action, but it’s not the kind of big ticket defense spending that people talk about.

Cyber is another big area. The Germans are investing a lot more in cyber now, and the Europeans are investing a lot more in cyber capabilities as well.

TCB:How much does Germany’s history still play into its ability or inability to take more of a leading role on defense?

Szabo: If you go to a place like Poland or Estonia and ask if they’re worried about the Germans becoming a stronger military power, they will say no; they’re happy that the Germans are now becoming a more powerful defense force. In Lithuania, the Germans are part of an enhanced forward presence force that NATO put together for the Baltics. So externally, it’s not a big issue.

Inside of Germany, it’s an issue the Germans like to bring up because a substantial portion of the public does not want to spend more on defense or do more militarily; they don’t trust the military, and so they use that as one argument not to do more.

TCB:When you say “they” inside of Germany, do you mean “they” the policy-makers and people working in defense, or “they” the general population?

Szabo: Both, though there has been a slight shift in public opinion in the last two years toward a readiness for more defense spending. The polls show close to a plurality that’s wiling to at least think about more defense spending. But there’s still an awful lot of resistance to it. The Social Democratic leadership has now made this a campaign issue, claiming the increases are being made to please Trump.

TCB:The defense conversation in Europe often revolves around Germany, France, and the UK. Discounting the UK, since it’s likely soon leaving the EU, are there other countries beyond Germany and France that we should be looking at to take more of a leading role in defense?

Szabo: Absolutely. Poland is number one because of the eastern front issues. Poland is spending substantial amounts of money on defense. They want to be a defense player, but they want to do that within NATO and they don’t trust the EU on Russia and on providing security – they still rely on the U.S. for defense against Russia. This is what complicates things. The Poles would definitely be a player in this, but they want to go the NATO route rather than the EU route, and that’s a big issue.

There are other countries that can play niche roles, like the Netherlands and Spain. But of course there are different strategic perspectives with the Spanish, the Italians, and the French to some extent, looking south at the migration problem, and with the Germans, the Poles, and the Baltic states looking more east toward Russia. So that’s another problem.

The different factor here is that the Scandinavians are now much more constricted by Russia. The Swedes in particular, the Finns, to some extent the Norwegians, and the Danes are all concerned about the Baltic area now – and they see NATO as the most reliable deterrent, not the EU.

TCB:Are there any signs of closer defense cooperation between Germany and Poland either within NATO or bilaterally?

Szabo: The fact that the Germans have put this battalion in Lithuania has been welcomed by the Poles. The Germans have also been doing some exercises with NATO in Poland, so there’s been limited defense cooperation there. There is a political problem between an increasingly conservative and authoritarian Polish government and liberal democratic Germany, but I still think we should expect to see more German-Polish military cooperation – as long as the Poles think the U.S. will remain engaged with them, even as Germany increases its engagement.

TCB: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Szabo: There are certain defense issues that the EU is very equipped to deal with: counterterrorism and cooperation between intelligence agencies and police agencies within Europe and on border controls. But on Russia and broader issues, they still need the United States.

The EU, particularly Germany and France will increasingly need to rely on Poland with the UK leaving the EU, and they are still reliant on the United States and NATO for their security in the face of threats posed by Russia

Also, there’s better infrastructure at this point for defense cooperation within NATO than within the EU. You can create coalitions within NATO that are more effective than EU coalitions because they have better capabilities. You can then plug these into than the EU, which has been limited to small operations in Africa or little crisis reaction operations. NATO has been looked at as an American dominated organization, but actually the Europeans could do a lot with it if they want to.

The Author is Stephen F. Szabo

Dr. Stephen F. Szabo is currently a Senior Fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and a Professorial Lecturer in European Studies at SAIS. He served as the Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy and was Interim Dean and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and taught European Studies at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University. He has published widely on European and German politics and foreign policies, including most recently, Germany, Russia and the Rise of Geo-Economics.

NATO could take new decisions if Russia ups military activity: Polish FM

Russian T-90 Main Battle Tanks

NATO will likely respond with new decisions – further to those taken to bolster its eastern flank last year – should Russia increase military activity, Poland’s foreign minister told the wPolityce portal.

At a summit in Warsaw last year, NATO decided to send four multinational battle battalion groups, each around 1,000 strong, to Poland and three Baltic countries which feared Russian aggression following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

“For today that number is enough,” Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski was cited by wPolityce as saying. He added: “It is a (military) presence … to deter any conflict similar in intensity … to what we dealt with in Crimea”.

“But if there is an escalation in Russia’s behaviour then NATO will probably take new decisions”.

The article in wPolityce came after a detailed interview with Waszczykowski was publishied in Russian daily Kommersant.

Waszczykowski told the Russian paper that “neighbouring Russia is difficult because of military threat, provocation in the Baltic and Black Seas”.

Witold Waszczykowski

“But on the other hand it is a promising neighbour, Russia is a huge market,” he told Kommersant.

“If a democratic government ready to work with the European Union were in power in Russia, it would be ideal for us. But, unfortunately, the current rulers in Moscow have imperial ambitions, are undermining international order, questioning the need for NATOs existence, and trying to build new security architecture”.

In the interview for Kommersant, which a number of Russian media outlets commented on, Waszczykowski also discussed gas, as Warsaw seeks to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, a new Polish law to remove monuments to Soviet soldiers from public spaces, and a possible meeting with his Russian counterpart. (vb/pk)

 

The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary’s relations with Ukraine

The Ukrainian-Russian war has prompted Bratislava, Prague and Budapest to take a new look at their eastern neighbourhood. Cooperation with Ukraine is gaining momentum, although relations with Russia are still the top priority for the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Diplomatic contacts with Kyiv have been rekindled, and the Visegrad Group has intensified its political support for Ukraine within the EU. The big success in the relationship between the V4 countries and Ukraine has been their booming energy cooperation.

However, the pro-Russian gestures made by some leading politicians from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary remain a challenge for relations between Bratislava, Budapest, Prague and Kyiv. Co-operation between Budapest and Kyiv is further complicated by the dispute over the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

Kyiv’s top priority in foreign policy has traditionally been cooperation with wealthier countries, as well as those states seen as the key players in NATO and the EU (especially the US, Germany and France).

Kyiv treats the Visegrad Group primarily as a useful forum for lobbying for Ukraine’s interests in the EU and NATO. On the other hand, it is less interested in using the V4 as a platform for strengthening regional and bilateral cooperation with the countries of Central Europe.

 

Jakub Groszkowski, Tadeusz Iwański, Andrzej Sadecki

Cooperation: Tomasz Dąborowski

PDF icon Full text in PDF 741.83 KB

Poland is ready to buy Russian gas only on competitive basis – Polish Foreign Minister

The construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany has become one of the most controversial topics in European energy policy.

Poland is ready to continue buying Russian natural gas on condition that the price is competitive, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said in an interview with Kommersant business daily.

Poland will extend the contract for the transit of Russian gas to Germany via the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, which expires on January 1, 2020, if “Russia offers a much lower price than today”, the Polish minister said.

“We are ready, however, to continue buying gas from Russia, but at a competitive price,” he said.

Waszczykowski also noted that in the near future Poland’s dependence on Russian gas may decrease.

“In five years we will be at least less dependent on Russian gas, and maybe even independent of it, we can cover a third of our needs with our own production, another third we expect to receive through the LNG terminal (LNG) The remaining volume we expect to receive through a gas pipeline from Norway,” the Polish Foreign Minister said.

In July, Higher Regional Court of Dusseldorf lifted provisional measures which limited Russia’s Gazprom’s access to the OPAL gas pipeline following Poland’s claim.

Earlier in July, the European Court of Justice lifted the provisional measures that were taken as part of Poland’s claim.

In October 2016, Gazprom managed to agree with the European Commission on using 100% of OPAL capacity. Before that, the Russian company was allowed to use it only by 50%.

Exclusion of 50% OPAL capacities from the Third Energy Package gave Gazprom the right to get quotas for another 40%. In December 2016, Gazprom began to increase the pipeline throughput by purchasing capacities at auctions.

However, Polish energy company PGNiG and the Polish government appealed against the decision of the European Commission to the European Court. As a result the decision to expand the access of Gazprom to OPAL pipeline was suspended.

The auction for gas shipments was held in January but the auction in February was cancelled due to the court’s ban.

Before that, the European Commission stated that its decision to allow Gazprom to use 100% of OPAL capacity was legitimate and in full compliance with the norms of the EU Third Energy Package.

Earlier PGNiG President Piotr Wozniak said that the European court had banned auctions for additional capacities of OPAL pipeline until March 2018. He added that the court in Dusseldorf took similar decision.

OPAL gas pipeline located in Germany, is an onshore extension of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Its construction was completed in 2011. The pipeline capacity is 36 bln cubic meters of gas per year. Gas is supplied over OPAL to Germany up to the border with the Czech Republic.

 

Airmen deploy to support Estonia FTD

Ten A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, a MC-130J Commando II, and approximately 270 Airmen and associated equipment from bases across the U.S. and Europe will deploy to Amari Air Base, Estonia, Aug. 4-20.

Ten A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, a MC-130J Commando II, and approximately 270 Airmen and associated equipment from bases across the U.S. and Europe will deploy to Amari Air Base, Estonia, Aug. 4-20.
The deployment is funded by the European Reassurance Initiative as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which ensures U.S. European Command has a ready persistent rotational presence of American air, land and sea forces in the region.

The A-10s from the 175th Wing, Warfield Air National Guard Base, Md., will train with multinational Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Combat Control Teams at Amari and Jagala, Estonia.
The MC-130J is from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, U. K. and a combat communications team will deploy from the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

While deployed, the A-10s will also train with the Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Hornets in Finland, Spanish Air Force F/A-18 Hornets in Estonia and multinational JTACs in Latvia. Flight operations will take place in Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and international airspace.

This training will focus on maintaining joint readiness while building interoperability capabilities.