Estonian Minister of Defense: The Baltic Sea could become an “internal NATO sea” with Sweden and Finland in the alliance
When Turkey put down its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the transatlantic alliance this week, it opened the way for turning the “Baltics” [into an] NATO’s inland sea, “said Estonia’s top defense official on Wednesday.
Kalle Laanet, Estonia’s defense minister, said the agreement “was very good news for us.” By a think tank sponsored forum on NATO’s futurehe also welcomed NATO’s plan to increase the size of its rapid reaction force to 300,000 from 400,000, to introduce at least brigade-sized rotational forces in the three Baltic states and to establish a US corps headquarters in Poland.
Other increases from the U.S includes basing two more fighters in Rota, Spain, and stationing two squadrons of F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighters in the UK.
“Allies have pledged to deploy additional robust combat forces on our eastern flank, to scale up from existing battle groups to brigade-sized units where and when needed, underpinned by credible rapidly available reinforcements, positioned equipment and improved command and control. “, NATO leaders agreed in their summit declaration in Madrid this week.
The changes mean “we can defend immediately,” Laanet said. “We make quick decisions to make our defenses stronger” by building up ammunition depots and modernizing equipment and systems.
“Putin only accepts power; we must give power to Ukraine “to end the Kremlin’s aggression, he said.
In the months before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Baltic leaders were in Washington and Brussels, arguing that their region needed more than “trip-wire” defense to deter Russian military attack.
Enlarging NATO was also a challenge that the Alliance had to overcome before the Madrid Summit; and it must be a unanimous decision to grow NATO. That is “so we agree to solve problems”, said the CEO. Rob Bauer of the Royal Dutch Navy and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee at the Forum.
It was not an easy way forward for Sweden and Finland after both Nordic nations saw how much Moscow’s attitude towards its neighbors had changed at the end of last year.
Beginning with the Kremlin’s bullying over all enlargement of NATO and demanding a sphere of influence at a European security meeting in December, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that Swedish government officials no longer believed that its 200 years of neutrality would protect them from Russian aggression.
“The alarm bells rang” in Stockholm, she told participants in the forum. Yet many Swedes and other Europeans, including Ukrainian leaders, still did not believe that Moscow would launch a total military attack on a neighboring country until it did so on February 24 in Ukraine.
“We came to the conclusion that we were no longer safe,” Linde said.
She added that 85% of Parliament agreed with the change from neutrality and partnership with NATO to full membership. Sixty percent of the population supported the application.
Linde said that at the same time there was a similar shift in opinion in Finland.
But Turkey opposed the recognition of the two Nordic countries, saying that it housed Kurdish terrorists and had introduced controls on arms sales to Ankara in retaliation for its treatment of the Kurds.
“We had to take [Turkish objections] very seriously “in what turned out to be a four-and-a-half hour meeting with two presidents, a prime minister, three foreign ministers and other senior officials before reaching a memorandum of understanding,” she said.
The three countries came to the meeting with the intention of solving the problem, she said.
“The atmosphere was respectful of each other,” she said.
Pekka Haavisto, her Finnish counterpart, said, “we had a pretty sweaty two hours” before the break. After the parties returned, the agreement was reached and Turkey withdrew its objection. When he went in he said that it was “very important we [the Nordic nations] do this together ”to apply for admission and resolve Turkish objections.
“The most important issue is unity,” Bauer said.
Asked whether the former Warsaw Pact nations that had sent Soviet-era weapons to Ukraine weakened their own defenses, Bauer said that this would indeed allow a transition to more modern Western systems over the next 10 years.
The catch is that “production is slower than we want” when demand increases, he said. “This is an important topic that needs to be addressed” in the coming months.
On the eve of Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to the 30-member Transatlantic Alliance, Linde said that the Russians had committed “war crimes from the beginning” that caught Western attention. She cited the attack on a theater with red roofs in Mariupol that protected a thousand civilians and was deliberately destroyed during the long siege of the port city. About 600 civilians were believed to have been killed in the attack.
She and others said that public support for Kyiv may decline in the wake of higher commodity and energy prices and a shift in priorities back to everyday worries.
Kajsa Ollogren, the Dutch Minister of Defense, said that sanctions “cost us something” to introduce. But it was “important to have this debate with our public” about why they are important in defending Ukraine.
“You can already see in the media” the declining interest in covering Ukraine, Linde said. “We’ve seen this so many times that it just slips away.”