NATO Eastern Flank Summit shows it is no longer "club of like-minded countries" - experts

  • 2024-06-13
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - The summit of the NATO Eastern Flank countries held in Riga on Tuesday shows that NATO is no longer a "club of like-minded countries", Maris Andzans, Director of the Centre for Geopolitical Studies and a visiting scholar at Harvard University, told LETA.

Speaking about the downsides of the summit, he stressed that neither Slovakia nor Hungary was represented at the proper level - at the level of heads of state or government. Slovakia and Hungary were represented at the summit by ambassadors. In Andzans' view, this is a very clear signal that although these countries are technically part of the so-called Bucharest Nine format, they see themselves differently in this community.

"In my opinion, one does not even have to look at the Bucharest Nine format and this summit to see that Slovakia and Hungary are looking favorably towards Russia. Their position on Ukraine is also different from that of the majority of NATO members. Of course, Turkey, although a NATO member, is also on the fence", the expert said.

He pointed out that Poland and the Baltic states are in the vanguard of the Bucharest Nine format, and apparently Slovakia and Hungary do not feel comfortable in this format. Andzans stressed that it is not necessary to look far to find a reason why a worthy representative of these countries did not attend the summit in Riga - when Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico came to power, he made it clear that Slovakia would no longer provide military assistance to Ukraine.

Andzans reminded that before Fico became the prime minister, Slovakia was a reliable partner. In practical terms, the support that Slovakia gave to Ukraine was certainly even greater than what the Baltic countries could have given Ukraine at that time, for example, in the case of the fighter jets supplied by Slovakia, which Ukraine needed and still needs.

As for another downside, the expert pointed out that there was no summit declaration by the NATO Eastern Flank countries, but rather a statement by the chairmen. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev had said that there was no consensus at the summit. On the positive side, the summit was attended by Finnish President Alexander Stubb and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

"This marks a certain change, that the Bucharest Nine does not have to be thought of in the same way as before. The format is starting to move a little bit to the north - something is falling out and something is coming into its place," said Andzans.

Asked whether he heard anything significant in NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's reiteration that NATO stands ready to defend its allies from any enemy, he stressed that he heard nothing new in Stoltenberg's statements, although diplomats might disagree.

"If you look strategically, there was no bright statement at the summit. I should add that that is not the purpose of this format. The Bucharest Nine format is designed to coordinate positions within the same geographical bloc within NATO. We should not expect exaggerated things from this format. While the post of NATO Secretary General is important, it is essentially an administrator who seeks consensus among member states and manages the processes," the expert explained.

He noted that the words of the NATO Secretary General are very important, but in the NATO context it will be more important who wins the US presidential elections, the elections in the UK and in France. This will have a fundamental impact. In the event of a potential armed conflict in the relevant NATO Member States, it will be a political decision to help or not to help someone. It will not be a decision of the NATO Secretary-General.

"To sum up, unfortunately there is more bad than good news, because there are cracks in the Bucharest Nine that are not pleasant. It is very positive that the President of Finland and the Prime Minister of Sweden attended the summit," said Andzans.

As reported, on June 11, the NATO Eastern Flank Summit was held in Riga for the first time. Under the chairmanship of Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics, positions on security and collective defense of NATO's Eastern flank, as well as on long-term support for Ukraine, were coordinated shortly before the NATO summit in Washington.

The summit in Riga was held at Rinkevics' initiative. Given the strategic role of NATO's newest members Finland and Sweden in the security of the region, the President of Latvia invited the President of Finland and the Prime Minister of Sweden to attend the Summit.

The President of Latvia, together with the NATO Secretary General, the Presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Finland, the Prime Minister of Sweden, and representatives of Slovakia and Hungary, discussed the effective implementation of NATO's regional defense plans and the strengthening of the Alliance's defense capabilities following the decisions of the NATO summits in Madrid and Vilnius. The participants also discussed potential decisions at the Washington Summit to promote interoperability between Ukrainian and NATO forces and to bring Ukraine closer to NATO membership.