Nato makes show of solidarity in Poland
Half of Warsaw city centre was closed to normal traffic on Friday (8 July), while police sirens wailed back and forth and helicopters criss-crossed the sky ahead of a Nato summit designed to show solidarity against Russian aggression.
The Polish security operation involved more than 6,000 police officers as part of summit preparations costing €40 million.
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US president Barack Obama arrived for the event shortly after midnight on Friday, with his “beast” limousine driving from Warsaw’s Chopin airport to the Marriott hotel down roads where individual police officers stood, in fluorescent yellow jackets, at 20-metre intervals along the entire route.
Obama, as well the British, French and German leaders, are among the 39 heads of state attending the event from the 28 Nato countries, as well as from “partner” states, such as Afghanistan, Georgia and Ukraine.
In other facts and figures, the summit organisers hired 4,000 hotel rooms in the city and accredited some 2,000 journalists to cover the event.
The Western alliance is to finalise plans to deploy 4,000 soldiers in the Baltic states and in Poland to act as a “tripwire” for a rapid reaction force of up to 40,000 men in the event of a Russian attack.
The summit will declare that Nato’s anti-missile shield, parts of which are based in Poland and in Romania, has attained operational readiness.
It will see the alliance upgrade relations with Finland and Sweden, whose leaders are to take part in a Nato dinner on Friday, and to agree closer cooperation with EU military structures.
It will also see Montenegro’s leader, Milo Dukanovic, join his 28 Nato counterparts for a first-ever family photo as his country awaits membership pending national ratifications.
The summit is taking place amid a backdrop of Russian covert warfare in Ukraine, simulated invasions of the Baltic states, Nordic countries and Poland, and a build-up of troops and nuclear-capable missiles in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave.
It is also taking place after the UK’s shock decision to leave the EU and amid EU complaints that the Polish government is eroding democratic standards at home.
Speaking to press on Thursday ahead of a bilateral meeting with Obama, the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, said the new Nato battalions amounted to new Nato bases in eastern Europe.
He said there would be a “permanent” presence of Nato troops, amid plans for national contingents to “rotate” in and out of the region. He also said the presence of US soldiers to operate and guard the anti-missile shield facility amounted to a permanent US deployment.
Russia has said that new bases violate a 1997 Nato-Russia treaty, but Duda said “everybody knows” that Russia tore up the agreement by its attack on Ukraine.
“Russia showed its imperial ambitions and decided to realise them. We can’t let Russia break international law. If it is respected, there will be peace. But we have the right to react if it is broken”, he said.
He played down fears that Germany is lukewarm on Nato’s Russia strategy after Germany’s centre-left foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recently criticised a Nato drill as “warmongering”.
Duda noted that Germany is sending troops to a new battalion in Lithuania and described the German ministers’ remarks as “games within the [German] ruling coalition” ahead of next year's elections.
He added that Brexit is likely to see the UK strengthen its role in Nato, saying it would be “natural” that, as its influence in the EU waned, “it will try to strengthen that influence in other forums”.
The Polish government earlier on Thursday forced through parliament a new law on the country’s constitutional tribunal that, critics say, will help it to exert political influence on the court.
In other pet projects of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, the corridors of the summit venue, in a football stadium in Warsaw, are to be lined with photos of the Smolensk tragedy - a plane crash in 2010 that killed dozens of Polish officials, including the then president Lech Kaczynski, and that PiS leaders claim was a Russian plot.
Duda said that if Obama asked about the judicial dispute, he would tell him that Polish people elected PiS democratically and that all of its subsequent decisions have “taken place on the basis of democratic standards”.
Speaking also on Thursday, Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo called the Nato event “the most important moment in Polish history since we regained independence” after the fall of the communist regime in 1989.
Polish defence minister Antoni Macierewicz, a Russia hawk and a leading Smolensk plot proponent, said: “After so many decades, Poland can finally feel safe”.
Truth wins out
The British prime minister David Cameron, in line with Duda’s remarks, also on Thursday announced that 500 British soldiers will take part in the Estonia battalion, while 150 others would be stationed in Poland.
“Actions speak louder than words and the UK is proud to be taking the lead role, deploying troops across eastern Europe. It is yet another example of the UK leading in Nato”, he said.
Some Russian commentators have described the Nato meeting as preparations for an assault on Russia, while Polish pundits said Nato’s new battalions would not be strong enough to stop a Russian attack.
Speaking to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Thursday, Nato head Jens Stoltenberg said the new battalions are defensive in nature and that the best response to Russian propaganda is “the truth … our response [to false Russian claims] should be facts. The truth wins out in the end”.
The former Norwegian PM also said that Nato deterrence kept his country safe from Russia during the Cold War.
“I come from a country, Norway, that neighbours Russia. Our security was for decades based precisely on this [Nato solidarity]. We knew that if we were attacked, Nato would come and help”, he said.