Sunday, June 23, 2024

A surge in new defense deals with the US shows growing European concerns about Russia

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At the heart of all six defense and security cooperation agreements are guidelines that allow the U.S. military to operate within the country for training missions and reduce red tape for personnel and equipment so they can be quickly deployed in emergencies. It is.

“This allows the United States to say that this entire region is one defense region. How can we work together, both in planning, in exercises, and in deterrence operations? We need to say, ‘We can’t refuel in Sweden.’ Now we can do everything in a rational way without having to do anything,” says Charlie Salonius Pasternak, a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

Following Russia’s initial occupation of Crimea in 2014, Sweden and Finland began exercising and training more closely with NATO and other countries, providing a de facto alliance presence in the northern highlands where none existed before. did. These countries, along with their Baltic neighbors to the south, are on the front lines, anxiously monitoring Russian activities on their Baltic coasts, and will welcome an increased U.S. presence.

Max Bergmann, head of the center’s Europe, Russia and Eurasia program, said: “The main drivers for all these agreements were Russian aggression, European security concerns and, in the case of Finland in particular, “There is a need to increase the number of U.S. troops.” Strategy and International Studies.

The United States signed the latest agreement with Finland on Monday. Moscow reacted immediately, summoning Finland’s ambassador to Russia to protest. Finland’s entry into NATO in April was a particularly bitter pill for Moscow, which had favored the country’s non-aligned status. Finland currently has NATO’s longest border with Russia, stretching 1,300 miles from the Baltic Sea to the North Pole.

The city of Helsinki says the Russian government is encouraging migrants from other countries to try to enter Finland and is weaponizing migrants along the Russia-Finland border, prompting many border closures on the Finnish side. Ta. This increased the sense of urgency to conclude a security agreement with the United States.

During a visit to Washington to sign the defense agreement, Finnish Defense Minister Antti Hakkenen called the move a “hybrid operation” by Russia to destabilize Finland. “Russia is using all means possible.”

Just a few days ago, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would revive the Leningrad Military District, a long-defunct Russian military group bordering Finland, and launch a new military unit there. This move provided a new impetus to station American troops on Finnish soil.

The traditional balancing act between Moscow and the West in Helsinki came to a complete halt when Russian tanks entered Ukraine in February 2022, leading to Finland joining the NATO alliance along with Sweden. However, Sweden is still awaiting votes on Turkey and Hungary’s membership.

The US government has already entered into agreements with Iceland and Norway in the past few years. This means that the United States now has the legal framework to station troops in all countries in Europe’s northern region. The Nordic countries also have deep defense ties with each other, and together with Iceland and Norway, they are part of the Nordic Defense Cooperation Agreement, an agreement that removes barriers to defense cooperation between nations.

The changes in Europe after 2022 will be historic. Not only did Finland and Sweden reverse decades of neutrality, but this year Denmark also ended its 30-year withdrawal from European Union defense cooperation and joined the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation Agreement. Joined the European Defense Agency. .

But at an event at the Pentagon last Friday, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia announced they would update their existing agreements with the U.S. government to reflect new NATO military deployment plans, Ukrainian military training, and cyber cooperation projects. As events were, there was nothing to underline the new focus on deterrence and defense in Europe.

After signing, Turi Duneton, Estonian Defense Ministry’s deputy defense policy minister, said the agreement, which will be renewed until 2028, will “address the presence of U.S. forces in Estonia, contribute to the division’s development, cyber defense cooperation, and the joint defense of the Baltic Sea.” Ta. ”

On Monday, Germany and Lithuania signed a historic agreement to permanently station 5,000 German troops in the Baltic state, underscoring a broader focus on troop deployments, a move they made only two years ago. was a move that was almost unthinkable.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen described her country’s new 10-year agreement with the United States, signed on Tuesday, as a “groundbreaking advance for Denmark’s defense.” Indeed, the country’s policy since 1953 has been to have “no bases, no nuclear warheads, and no allied military operations” within the country.

If Danish lawmakers formally approve the US deal, it will pave the way for US military presence at Karup, Sklydstrup and Aalborg air bases.

Political uncertainty is rising again in Washington over these new agreements, with some polls showing former President Donald Trump leading Biden and no one knowing what the 2024 election will bring. I’m not completely sure either.

Anna Wieslander, the Atlantic Council’s director for northern Europe, said the new defense agreements along the length of the Baltic Sea, taken together, “will create an area where the United States will have a greater presence in terms of early response. ” he said. [manner]We have the intelligence and surveillance to act early and deter. ”

“Allies, including the United States, will want to move across borders, and the Nordic countries will want to act together both in the air, on land and at sea,” she added. “This is what we are preparing for.”

Caleb Larson contributed to this report.

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