Nato needs permanent force in eastern Europe to deter Russia, says Estonia

Europe and North Atlantic alliance could never return to the world it knew before the Ukraine invasion, says Jonatan Vseviov

Estonia is calling for Nato to abandon its “tripwire” posture in eastern Europe and build up a permanent force in the region capable of stopping a Russian offensive.

Ahead of Thursday’s Nato summit, Jonatan Vseviov, the permanent secretary of the Estonian foreign ministry, said that Europe and the North Atlantic alliance could never return to the world it knew before the 24 February Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We will be in a totally new security environment. There will be a new Ukraine. There will be a new Russia. There will be a new Europe. There is no going back to February 23,” Vseviov told the Guardian in an interview in Washington.

More than 20,000 Nato troops, the overwhelming majority of them US forces, have been deployed to the Baltic states, Poland and the rest of eastern Europe in the aftermath of the invasion.

There had previously been only a few thousand alliance forces in the region, intended to serve as a tripwire which would be overrun in the event of a Russian attack. The presence of US and western European soldiers among them, however, was intended to leave Moscow in no doubt that those countries would send in large reinforcements.

Vseviov, a former Estonian ambassador to Washington, argued that the Kremlin had miscalculated so badly in Ukraine – over its own military strength, Ukrainian capability and determination, and western resolve – that it could no longer be taken for granted Moscow would get the message, and believe Nato reinforcements would come to the rescue.

“The tripwire-based approach is dependent upon an assumption that the one that is being deterred understands the link between the tripwire and reinforcing forces,” he said.

“Knowing this and understanding that we need to now build Nato’s defense and deterrence, and European security in general, for the long haul,” Vseviov said, “we need to move from a tripwire-based deterrence towards a forward defence-based deterrence, or a deterrence by denial, if you will.”

He said the amount of troops and equipment needed would depend on military planners and on different situations in different countries. The force did not have to be big enough to stop Russia making any territorial gains, but sufficient to put up stiff resistance.

“We need to be less reliant on reinforcements, and we need to have more of the defensive forces in the frontline states on day one,” Vseviov said. “I think there will be wide political consensus in Nato on the need to move that way, and the exact details are being worked out.”

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, confirmed that long-term changes in Nato’s posture in Europe would be discussed this week.

“Right now, our secretary of defence and the supreme allied commander in Europe believe that they have an effective posture today for what’s necessary today,” Sullivan said. “The second [question] is what is the longer-term force posture, not just for this contingency, this emergency, this invasion, but over the course of time? That is something the president will discuss with his allies at the Nato summit on Thursday.”

Since the end of the cold war, Nato’s ability to move armies from west to east has decayed. Retired rear admiral Mark Montgomery, a former deputy director for plans, policy and strategy at US European Command, said the number of rail carriages for transporting tanks and other heavy equipment diminished from the high hundreds to a handful, for example. The infrastructure has only recently begun to be rebuilt.

“I think this actually shows that the Baltic plan to try to get the United States further and further integrated with increasingly larger sets of units is the right play,” Montgomery, now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies thinktank, said. “You want the US with boots on the ground from day one.”


Julian Borger in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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