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NATO and Russia want dialogue, not new Cold War

Bernd Riegert / tjJuly 8, 2016

The NATO summit in Warsaw is deciding on new troops for Eastern Europe. Russia is to be both deterred and invited to dialogue. Putin says he's ready to talk and picks up the phone. Bernd Riegert reports from Warsaw.

NATO Gipfel in Gruppenbild
Image: Reuters/J. Ernst

It looks a bit like a huge spaceship has landed on the banks of the Vistula in Warsaw's inner city. The red metal exterior gleams in the sun. The wall supports jut into the blue sky like protective spears. A brilliant white vaulted plastic roof shields the construction. The Polish national stadium was built especially for the UEFA Euro 2012. Now, this temple of sports, which can hold 58,000 people, is also serving as a conference center. For two days, NATO has taken up residence here, with thousands of delegates from more than 40 states and hundreds of media representatives. In addition there are thousands of security personnel, along with logistic workers and caterers. Spread over five stories, they populate the countless rooms under the stands.

An 80-by-40-meter (265-by-130-foot) tent is set up on the grass. The heads of state and government meet in this windowless snow-white structure - completely screened-off from the world, inside a huge cocoon made of plastic sheeting, aluminum and reinforced plasterboard. "You could think it's a beehive," one of the Polish organizers said with a smile. "We buzz around, and in the middle are the queens." The city of Warsaw is also completely geared up for NATO for two days. Whole streets are cordoned off for the motorcades of the state guests. Trams are rerouted. Underground stations are shut. Thousands of police guard kilometer-long fences around the stadium, at the airport and around the hotel towers in the inner city. The tabloid website fakt.pl is even reporting that the number of sex workers has risen for the duration of the summit - and that the prices for their services are much higher than they usually are.

The utmost importance is being attached to security, particularly because US President Barack Obama is in the city. He is considered to be one of the people most at risk in the world. That's one reason why the national stadium was chosen as the conference venue, NATO sources say: It can easily be sealed off because of the huge open spaces around it. For security reasons, Poland has even been conducting border controls on highways and at airports for several weeks. Doing so required special permission from the European Union, as the country belongs to the Schengen zone, where people are usually not subject to border checks.

Karte Infografik NATO-Truppen seit Beginn der Ukraine-Krise Englisch

'Defense and dialogue'

Above all, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wants to see one thing: In these bombastic surroundings, the heads of state and government are meant to show unity and resolve. On Thursday evening, Stoltenberg had said that NATO intended to counter threats by Russia with deterrent measures while continuing to seek dialogue with Moscow. "The Cold War is history," Stoltenberg said, "and we want it to stay that way." All the heads of state and government then smiled bravely and with accord during the usual family photo on deep-blue carpeted steps. Obama, who represents the leading power in NATO, was given the spot in the middle. There was much slapping of shoulders and embracing. Obama announced that he wanted to station 1,000 US soldiers with the latest equipment in Poland.

But sentiments varied in individual comments that were made heard regarding policy toward Russia. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said there was peace and stability wherever NATO exerted its influence, but everywhere where Russia was involved, there were frozen conflicts and unrest, as in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan. In contrast, French President Francois Hollande said Russia was not a threat, but a partner. France has not taken on any leading role in stationing additional soldiers in the eastern NATO states. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to rely on "defense and dialogue." NATO has shown that it doesn't just make resolutions on paper, she said, but also puts them into action.

From 2017 on, 4,000 additional soldiers stationed in the Baltic states and Poland on a rotating basis are meant to give the eastern members a feeling of security. Germany will take on the leadership of the battalion in Lithuania, Merkel announced. Diplomats said the idea was to reassure Poland and the Baltic states that NATO wouldn't leave them in the lurch. In addition, a multinational force in Romania is to be reinforced.

An answer from Moscow was not long in coming. A Kremlin spokesman said Russia was not a threat to anyone and that Russia, too, was willing to engage in dialogue. NATO also wants to restore contact with Russia, which was almost completely broken off after Russia's annexation of Crimea. Next Wednesday, the NATO-Russia Council will meet at ambassadorial level in Brussels. A similar meeting already took place back in April, but then both sides only presented their different viewpoints. Parallel to the NATO summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin picked up the phone and talked with Merkel and Hollande about the situation in eastern Ukraine. Putin also said he would work more closely with the United States in the fight against terrorists in Syria. Russia, in its turn, intends to station about 30,000 additional soldiers in its western and southern defense zones - as a response to the increase in NATO troops.

On the sidelines of the summit, the European Union and NATO have pledged better military cooperation in an official declaration. This has been an objective for many years. But, up to now, the military clout of the European Union has left much to be desired. For example, as an EU member, Great Britain has always prevented anything like a European army from being created. This could perhaps change when the Britons leave the EU in the near future. But it's not a matter of European troops, according to EU diplomats in Warsaw. Rather, the aim is for NATO and the European Union to complement one another during navy operations to detect refugee boats off the coasts of Turkey and Libya. Above all, there shouldn't be any more parallel planning, warned Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, while signing the EU-NATO declaration: "Sometimes it seems as if the EU and NATO were on two different planets, and not headquartered in the same city."