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New Cold War? USA to add more armored brigades to Russian border

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US European Command officials said on March 30 that the Pentagon plans to significantly bolster its military presence in Eastern Europe, thereby enhancing the US Army in Europe. Accordingly, by February 2017, the US military plans to maintain a permanent footprint of three combat brigades stationed on the continent.

The deployments will include 250 combat vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, Bradley and Paladin Fighting Vehicles, howitzers and thousands of troops. Washington would also keep adding more armored brigades to the US Army in Europe.

The Kremlin, also closely watching the NATO military movements around its boundaries, has already warned it would face the new threats emanating from USA to cause territorial frictions. Russian surveillance vehicles in the space keep updating to Moscow the NATO preparations near Russian borders on a regular basis.

As usual, USA plans its military postures across the globe in close alliance with the NATO. The 4,200-strong rotation, positioned along NATO’s border with Russia, including deployments in Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania, will come in addition to 62,000 US personnel already stationed in Europe. US General Philip Breedlove said: This is a big step in enhancing the Army’s rotational presence and increasing their combat equipment in Europe.”

The Army implementation plan continues to demonstrate our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our NATO Allies and Partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. America’s regional partners will host “a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries,” General Breedlove said, calling for NATO to prepare for aerial combat against Russian planes over the Baltic States. “I think that the alliance does need to be ready for the air defense mission,” he said. “Air policing and air defense are meant for two different situations. The Baltic air policing is a peacetime mission.”

President Obama seems to focus on East-Europe pivot. The latest moves to expand the US military footprint in the East were already authorized by the White House in February, as part of the 2016-2017 European Reassurance Initiative (ERI). This year’s ERI allocates $3.4 billion to finance the US presence in Eastern Europe, an increase of some 400 percent above the ERI budget for the previous year.

Beginning in April 2014, the USA deployed expeditionary forces of some 600 troops to all three of the Baltic States. The huge increase in funding is the latest escalation of the US war preparations that have transformed Central and Eastern Europe into a virtual armed camp in the two years since the 2014 US-orchestrated coup in Ukraine. During this period, the US steadily extended its basing arrangements and political commitments through the post-Soviet sphere.

In September 2014, President Obama affirmed that the US commitment to the defense of Estonia is “unbreakable,” “unwavering” and “eternal.” Last February, NATO announced plans to double its combat units stationed in Eastern Europe, including the establishment of six command centers dispersed throughout the region. Together with these deployments, the latest wave of US military assets dispatched to Eastern Europe is designed to allow US forces to engage in large-scale war with Russia, US Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work said Wednesday. “If push came to shove, they’d be able to come together as a cohesive unit that has trained together, with all their organic equipment, and fight. That’s a lot better than what we have right now,” Work said. “There will be American equipment and people in each of these countries,” US General Ben Hodges told the media.

The Obama government says the new US deployments will be equipped with a “full kit” of the military’s most advanced weaponry and gear. Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal boasted that the additional forces will place “the most modern and capable equipment in the hands of US armored units who will train continuously in Europe.”

The anti-Russian drive is being accelerated by the role of NATO’s Eastern European and Baltic members, which seek to use the growing US-Russian confrontation to militarize their own societies and repress dissent under conditions of deepening social crisis. Economies of European nations have fallen due to Russian decision to block goods to the continent in protest against western sanctions over Crimean annexation. Absence of Russian gas has complicated the life of Europeans but the militarization processes would further accelerate negatively the living standards of and denial of democratic freedoms for the people.

Russian forces are already prepared to counter the “confrontational patterns” followed by the US and NATO, Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko said in response to the US military announcements. Moscow will take “all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence,” Grushko said. “Certainly, we’ll respond totally asymmetrically,” Grushko said.

In an interview, Polish President Andrzej Duda denounced Russia and called for “a significantly increased presence of US troops on “our territory”. Duda called for NATO to “strengthen its defensive potential in this part of Europe to such a degree as to make it absolutely clear that it does not pay off to launch an attack against any member state. Only the increased presence of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe can ensure real deterrence,” he said. The Polish president is set to discuss a range of joint security projects with US leaders while attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Duda’s rhetoric aside, the military preparations of the US and its allies are anything but defensive in nature.

In reality, the USA and NATO forces massing on Russia’s border are part of preparations for a range of military and covert-intelligence operations directed against pro-Russian political factions in East Europe and against the Putin government itself, aimed at destabilizing and overthrowing pro-Russian governments using the “hybrid warfare” methods employed by the Western powers during the 2014 coup in Ukraine and the 2011 US-backed insurgency in Syria.

Russian fear that the USA and NATO would use the East European as well as former Soviet republics against the Kremlin, therefore, is not without foundations!

The USA-NATO seems to be trying to clip the wings of Putin’s Russia if it really attempts at recreating even a sort of Soviet Union or Imperial Russia, because the West is scared of a strong Russia in economic and military terms. While trying to get ‘services’ from Russia, the west is denying the Kremlin any chance of becoming a real superpower. For USA, treating Russia as an equal partner in global affairs is out of question.

Russia seems to have taken the ‘Western’ challenge and the Russian roles in Ukraine and Syria have clearly showcased the assertive Kremlin mindset.  

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Eastern Europe

Quality of Life in Latvia is not a priority

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Four presidents, 14 governments and eight Seimas have changed in Latvia over the past 20 years. The country joined the European Union and NATO, and then switched to the euro. But have Latvians become better off? Has their quality of life improved? Statistics shows that the general well-being of population remains very low. Political turbulence only worsens the situation.

Thus, according to Numbeo.com portal, one of the largest databases on the cost of living and quality of life worldwide, Lithuania and Latvia are the worst Nordic countries for quality of life.

Quality of Life Index by Country 2019

The leaders of the rating are Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Latvia showed the lowest result, the quality of life index here is 149.15 points. In Lithuania, the result is slightly higher – 156.36 points.
Numbeo experts took into account the purchasing power of the population, safety, health care, the cost of living and some other factors.

It is noted that the world ranking of countries for the quality of life is led by Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. Estonia took 11th place, Lithuania – 29th, and Latvia – 34th.

The more so, experts said that the proportion of shadow economy in Latvia rose by 2.2 percentage point last year to 24.2 percent.

The shadow economy proportion in Latvia has risen for the past two years in a row.

EU-SILC survey gives another frightening indicator. According to eurostat.ec.europa.eu, Latvia, as well as Estonia and Lithuania are top three EU countries in terms of poverty risk among pensioners.

Political and economic short-sightedness has lead to the state when the Baltic States have become the first battlefield in case of war between NATO and Russia.

The United States is preparing for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe along with non-nuclear countries, said Vladimir Ermakov, director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts point out that military airfields in the Baltic States and Poland have already been prepared to receive NATO aircraft that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. If take his words seriously, this means the end of the Baltic States’ existence.

The behavior of the authorities guaranteed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the status of the first battlefield, despite the fact that in the event of war, economy would be completely destroyed and population would disappear.

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Eastern Europe

How the Caspian Sea joins the Black Sea

Asim Suleymanov

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In the development of international cooperation and the deepening of industrial cooperation, the leading role belongs to the formation of a network of international transport corridors. It has a special place in solving transport problems associated with the expansion of interstate transportation, economic, cultural and other ties, with the creation of an international transport infrastructure that has common technical parameters and ensures the use of a single transportation technology as the basis for the integration of national transport systems into the global transport system.

Developing corridors are to play a system-forming role in the economic and social development of the territories along which they pass. Their creation is directly related to projects for the development of sectors of the economy and social sphere.

If a modern transport corridor connects the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, it will lead to uninterrupted cargo transportation between Asia and Europe. New opportunities for the regional states will be opened up. This was confirmed by the first meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Romania, Georgia and Turkmenistan, held in mid-March 2019 in Bucharest.

According to its results, a political declaration was signed. The document reflects the determination of the four states to implement the project of an international freight route between two seas by joint forces.

As expected, the corridor between the two seas will have a real impact on the standard of living in the participating countries and cause a sharp surge in business activity in neighboring regions.

The idea of the project is to make full use of the geographical proximity of Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, as well as the capabilities of the ports of Constanta in Romania, Poti in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan and Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.

New transport route will allow establishing a direct connection between the port of Constanta and the Danube River, and then the rivers and canals on the European continent, that will open access to Central and Northern Europe.

In general, the Caspian-Black Sea region is becoming links of a single Eurasian transport network.

The main question is how to direct the necessary volumes of cargo along this route, which would make its work profitable and profitable. To meet these challenges, in the near future four countries have planned to create an expert working group, optimize working procedures, harmonize tariffs, identify remaining infrastructure and legal constraints, and jointly promote the project at the international level, including in the course of interaction with the European Union. But it will not be easy for them to achieve all these ambitious goals.

The closest allies of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia, support all the projects aimed at strengthening economic cooperation between Baku and other countries of the Caspian-Black Sea region. Moscow and Ankara are lobbying for the creation of a transport corridor between the two seas.

Azerbaijan once again demonstrates that it is becoming one of the most important transport hubs of Eurasia – a transit hub in which the East and the West are tightly tied.

This country is interested in East and West, not conflicting with each other, but driven forward by the single energy of partnership.

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Eastern Europe

China’s changing interests in South Caucasus

Orkhan Baghirov

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President Ilham Aliyev and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing Photo: Azertac

On April25-28,“Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation” took place in the capital city of China. From South Caucasus region only Azerbaijan leader Aliyev was in the list of 36 top-Level attendees (Diplomat, April 27).As the Azerbaijan was participating first forum in 2017 on ministerial level, visit of President in second forum demonstrates intention of both sides for close cooperation within the framework BRI.

Despite fact that China’s strong ambition to enter European market through BRI makes Georgia one of the most important players in the region (it has FTA both with China and EU) its high-level officials did not attend the forum (Emerging-Europe, January 3, 2018).

Generally, South Caucasus region was not in the Chinese focus when the BRI project was unveiled in 2013.Its attitude to the region has changed afterwards. Being part of the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, South Caucasus has strategic importance for China. At the same time, transportation projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and Anaklia Deep-Sea Port has increased significance of the region.

From geopolitical point of view stability in Azerbaijan and Georgia’s political problems with Russia creates ground for Chinese presence in Caucasus. It is clear that having political problems with West Russia is not willing to confront China. Therefore, using these opportunities and establishing good relations both with Georgia and Azerbaijan China is able to avoid its biggest rival in Eurasia and use shortest way to European markets (Trend.az, April 10).

Importance of South Caucasus countries within the BRI framework is not same. Armenia has less potential for BRI. It does not have enough transportation infrastructure and its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed. Armenia has a potential to become a corridor to markets of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Iran. However, it does not have borders with the members of EEU and  railway project between Armenia and Iran is not viable due its high costs ($3.2 billion) and less importance in commercial means (Vestnikkavkaza, August 25, 2018).Also, China has borders with two biggest members of EEU and could easily reach EEU markets through them. 

In the case of Georgia, China is the biggest foreign investor. China’s Hualing Group controls Kutaisi free industrial zone (FIZ), owns Basis Bank, hotels, wine export enterprise. It also constructs “Tbilisi Sea New City” near Tbilisi Sea in which company has already invested around 150 million dollars (hualing.ge).Another Chinese company CEFC Energy owns 75% of Poti FIZ (Cbw.ge, March 20).

Unlike the Georgia, mostly state-owned Chinese companies have invested in Azerbaijan. One of these companies CTIEC Group constructed biggest cement factory in Azerbaijan in 2014.China also has a great interest on Baku International Sea Trade Port as it is one of the main ports within BRI. Based on intergovernmental grant agreement China transferred $2 million worth equipment to the port (Azernews, April 4, 2018).

Despite fact that Azerbaijan is China’s key trade partner in the South Caucasus (it accounts 43 percent of China’s trade turnover in the region) it has massive investments in Georgia (Azernews, April 25). It mostly related to political orientation of these countries. Georgia follows more western orientation that made it more attractive for China while Azerbaijan implements balanced strategy and it does not want to feel China’s pressure. Besides, Azerbaijan is not in need of financial assistance like Armenia and Georgia as it has enough financial reserves.

However, recent developments of Sino-Azeri economic relations within the framework of the Second Belt and Road Forum creates new perspectives for China’s presence in South Caucasus. During the forum 10 agreements worth of 821 million USD has been signed  (Azvision.az, April 24). These contracts cover different economic spheres of non-oil sector including the construction of a tire factory in the Sumgayit chemical-industrial park, the creation of a 300-hectare greenhouse complex in the Kurdamir region of Azerbaijan, and the construction of agrological industrial parks in the Guba, Goychay and Khachmaz regions (Turan.az April 24).If we take in account that Chinese investors have invested800 million USD in the economy of Azerbaijan since independence, obtained agreements in the forum worth of same amount shows China’s growing interest in Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that China’s preference of Georgia has changed. Within the BRI project both Azerbaijan and Georgia are of geopolitical importance for China. It is in China’s interest to boost bilateral relations with both of countries. It is apparent that China already has considerable investments in Georgia and now it is time to deepen cooperation with Azerbaijan. At the same time Azerbaijan is not going to cross limits of its balanced policy. Chinese companies that signed agreements in second forum are government affiliated companies as well. It again shows that Azerbaijan is willing to deepen cooperation without creating room for pressure in its domestic economy.

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