Russia’s neighbors are increasing their defense capabilities in the event of an attack.
They say they must act as quickly as possible, which means going beyond NATO.
“We are not just sitting here waiting for what NATO will do,” the Estonian defense minister said.
As Russia’s neighbors anxiously watch Ukraine’s invasion, they scramble to bolster their own defenses and strike new deals beyond the NATO structure trying to move as quickly as possible. .
Eastern and northern European countries – many of which share borders with Russia, have previously been at war with Russia or fought for independence from the Soviet Union – have repeatedly warned that ‘They had to be ready for any attack, even though they and military experts believe it’s an unlikely scenario.
Given their proximity to Russia, some countries say preparation must be done as quickly as possible, with defense systems to be reinforced quickly – which would require action outside of NATO’s vast structures.
The defense minister of Latvia – a NATO member and Russian neighbor – told Insider in July that he wanted to restore compulsory military service in the event of a Russian attack so sudden that NATO could not react immediately.
“Even though we are a NATO member country, our first challenge and danger comes from a very fast attack from Russia,” Artis Pabriks said.
“We have of course calculated how many forces Russia can muster on our borders in 24 or 48 hours. And knowing that NATO will need some time to think about this, we must be ready ourselves to defend each inch and every centimeter of our territory.”
‘Ready to fight’
Countries close to Russia have also introduced a flurry of policies and agreements in response to Ukraine’s invasion, including a new defense pact between Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. ; and an agreement between Poland and the Czech Republic to strengthen their armies.
Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur told Insider that he was pleased with the steps taken by NATO, but said of his country and its Baltic neighbors: “We are not just sitting here at wait for what NATO will do”.
He said Estonia had invested about $800 million this year in defence, and more was expected, and he wanted to double the size of the country’s voluntary defense force. Estonia is in talks with its neighbors, and Pevkur said he hopes for meaningful new defense deals that could help deter Russia.
“Estonia must be ready to fight,” he said.
NATO is stronger than ever
The agreements reached are not ones that would typically be reached through NATO structures anyway, but they are important as nations seek to strengthen their defences.
Edward R. Arnold, European security research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, told Insider that countries are not snubbing NATO, but rather making deals in line with the needs of the region: “They are not there to harm NATO membership in any way, but to meet regional security requirements that are quite specific.”
Indeed, support for NATO seems to have only grown.
Sweden and Finland have applied to join the alliance and are expected to be accepted soon, once they reach an agreement with Turkey on some of its terms.
And members say they want even more support from NATO. Some have been asking for more NATO troops in their country for months, for example. These numbers are increasing, but not as fast as the nations wanted and not in everything they wanted.
Move at high speed
Indeed, despite this support, some NATO members recognize that its size means it can be difficult to get things done.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told Foreign Policy in March: “Multilateralism is difficult: in NATO we have 30 countries; in the European Union, there are 27, all democracies. That takes time.
To put it simply, Pevkur said, “Talking with someone bilaterally is always easier than talking with 30 peers.”
“You have to be flexible to get the results you want,” he added. “When the need is at the bilateral level, then you will do it at the bilateral level. When the need is at the trilateral or multilateral level, then you do it like this. When the need is at the NATO level, then you do it at the NATO level.
Arnold of RUSI said he doesn’t think NATO is slow, but said bilateral deals are generally faster: “The speed of operation is what you would expect from an organization of this size and complexity.”
For some countries, this speed that comes from smaller agreements is crucial.
As Pabriks, the Latvian Defense Minister, said: “We ourselves must be ready to defend every beach and every inch of our territory.
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