All's Quiet on the Eastern Front—for Now
The only permanent NATO base in Eastern Europe is on the outskirts of Szczecin, a Polish port city. Commonly known as the Baltic Barracks, it’s a quiet place. The 100 or so troops assigned there are currently on duty thousands of miles away in Afghanistan.
That’s about to change. The base is expected to get more personnel and equipment so it can serve as a staging point for a spearhead force NATO is building to counter threats on its eastern rim—a response to Russia’s recent military maneuvers in the area. “It is a signal that NATO has the will to act quickly,” says Lieutenant General Boguslaw Samol, the base commander.
NATO is duty-bound by its founding treaty to defend its members. But in 1997, to avoid antagonizing Moscow, it promised not to station “substantial” combat forces or nuclear weapons in former Soviet-bloc countries that joined. NATO leaders say they’re within their rights to scrap that bargain after Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The Kremlin has “violated agreement after agreement,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said in a September speech at the Szczecin base, the headquarters of the Multinational Corps Northeast. “They have trampled on many of the basic tenets of international relations.”
At a summit in Wales, NATO leaders agreed to create a rapid-deployment force of as many as 5,000 troops that could mobilize within 48 hours. NATO is expected to step up troop rotations and military exercises in the Baltics, increasing the number of boots on the ground in the region. “Had it not been for Ukraine, the question might have been, ‘What is our mission?’ ” says Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who’s now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Vladimir Putin answered it for them.”