Four eastern European NATO members offered to send a joint military unit to bolster defense in the Baltics next year, shrugging off Russian warnings that peace between the Cold War adversaries is fraying.
Defense ministers from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, the countries known as the Visegrad Four, agreed to create a common “rotational” force to be deployed next year. They’ll formally propose it at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s July 9-10 NATO summit in Warsaw, they said in a statement after meeting in Liblice, north of Prague. Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said such steps were systematically undermining the balance of power on the continent.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in eastern Ukraine have spooked NATO’s eastern members, who still harbor memories of Soviet troops on their soil. Together with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the former Soviet republics that share borders with Russia, the Visegrad Four have long urged NATO’s leadership to strengthen its presence in the region.
That has irritated Moscow, which has angrily watched as countries in the region have drifted out of its sphere of influence by joining NATO and the European Union during the past two decades. Lavrov warned against NATO’s “continuously increasing” military capacity near Russia’s borders, saying in an interview with Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet that the steps were “shortsighted.” Russian President Vladimir Putin said this month that a NATO missile shield in Romania and Poland was “threatening peace in Europe.”
NATO is expected to approve reinforcements for its eastern flank at the Warsaw summit. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has also criticized “dangerous” flights by Russian military jets that have repeatedly violated other nations’ airspace and even buzzed a U.S. warship this year.