9th Aug 2022

Nato expands and reinforces on Russian flank

  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (l) with US president Joe Biden (2nd from l), Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg (3rd from l), and British prime minister Boris Johnson (r) in Madrid on Wednesday (Photo: nato.int)
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Nato leaders have agreed a new wave of enlargement and to pile troops onto their Russian flank in response to its rampage in Ukraine.

Finland and Sweden officially became Nato "invitees" on Wednesday (29 June), putting them on a path to join within a few months.

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Eight Nato "battlegroups" of some 1,200 soldiers each, stationed from Estonia to Bulgaria, will be upgraded to "brigades" of some 4,000 troops, Western leaders also agreed at a summit in Madrid.

A Nato rapid-reaction force will swell from 40,000 to 300,000 soldiers, with more Nato tanks, ammunition, and fuel depots parked in the east in case they are quickly needed.

And the US is sending 3,000 new combat troops to Romania, fighter jets to the UK, and warships to Spain.

The decisions make mockery of Russian president Vladimir Putin's demands for Nato to back off before he invaded Ukraine.

The Russian foreign ministry has so far called Nato's Nordic expansion "destabilising" — in relatively mild words.

But when asked by Ukrainian media on Tuesday if the Nordic enlargement meant Ukraine might also one day join Nato — a red rag to Putin — Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said: "We have demonstrated today that Nato's door remains open".

British defence secretary Ben Wallace mocked the Russian leader more directly in remarks to British radio.

"Small man syndrome. I think he's [Putin's] certainly got it in spades," Wallace said.

Russian soldiers have "gone around destroying everything or raping women and stealing", he added. "He [Putin] won't be able to occupy much more than a blown-up minefield and a wasteland," Wallace said.

Western leaders also pledged more heavy weapons for the Ukrainian military — Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway in particular made fresh promises, Stoltenberg said.

"This war will some day end at the negotiating table," he said. But "our focus now's to support them [the Ukrainians] on the battlefield," Stoltenberg added.

The Nordic enlargement breakthrough came after Turkey, Finland, and Sweden signed a joint memo on counter-terrorism and arms exports Tuesday.

All 30 Nato members' parliaments must still ratify their accession.

Finland and Sweden first applied to join in May and their progress so far had been the "fastest accession process ever" in Nato history, Stoltenberg said.

But political flare-ups in Ankara and Stockholm indicated there could still be trouble ahead.

Turkey's justice minister Bekir Bozdağ said the Nato memo meant Finland and Sweden now had to extradite 33 "terror" suspects from Kurdish militant groups.

Sweden's opposition Green Party and Left Party also voiced dismay, Reuters reported.

Green Party co-leader Marta Stenevi called Swedish concessions "very worrying". Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said: "Are we going to arm Turkey in its war of attack on Syria? Which dissidents will be extradited?".

The Turkey deal was a "black day for Swedish foreign policy", Amineh Kakabaveh, an independent Swedish MP and former Kurdish fighter, also said.


Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

UN chief demands access to nuclear plant after new attack

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Monday for international inspectors to be given access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over the shelling of Europe's largest atomic plant over the weekend.

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