ISTANBUL - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization held its first summit after its seven-member enlargement this spring, and despite reports of the continuing discord within the bloc, leaders were able to approve a number of bold initiatives that would seem to suggest the alliance was capable of reaching consensus.
Among the landmark decisions made on June 29 in the Turkish capital were agreements to provide training and equipment to Iraqi security forces, to participate in the security during Afghanistan's upcoming elections and to improve the battle-readiness of the bloc's European troops.
The decision to help train and equip Iraqi troops was particularly contentious, with France and Germany refusing to lend a hand with these efforts on the territory of Iraq. NATO decision makers, however, skirted around the controversy by omitting in their declaration exactly where training would take place.
Regarding its own forces, the bloc circumvented another sticking point by failing to mention specific figures on the percentage of deployable and deployed forces each member must have. Prior to this, on June 27, the NATO defense minister approved a communique suggesting that all members must be able to deploy 40 percent of their troops, with 8 percent on mission at any given time.
In the meantime, the Baltic states' representatives were busy dealing with their own concerns and clarifying their own positions.
At a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on June 28, which took place on the sidelines of the summit, Estonian Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland and Latvian Foreign Minister Rihards Piks refuted Russian criticism of NATO activity in the Baltics.
According to Defense Ministry Deputy Chancellor Sulev Kannike, Ojuland and Piks said that there was no danger for Russia from either the Baltic countries or the military bloc itself.
Still, Kannike said Estonia and Latvia did not take a strong position at the NATO-Russia Council meeting or demand that the Russian officials stop making negative statements about the Baltics.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had expressed concern about activity of the alliance in the Baltic region. According to Interfax, Lavrov said "the Baltic region, which is one of the most stable on earth where real military danger has been ruled out in substance as a result of unprecedented arms cuts, construction of military infrastructure sites now unfortunately continues, with airfields and ports being modernized without discussing it with us or explaining it to us."
Piks urged Russia to sign a border treaty with Latvia, saying it would "promote cooperation also within the competence of the NATO-Russian Council."
Responding to Russia's criticism over NATO activities in the Baltics, Piks said that since the renewal of independence, no dangerous military activity had taken place in Latvia. He also stated that Latvia had on several occasions urged Russia to use the possibilities within the framework of the OSCE for promoting military openness.
Meanwhile, Lithuania lobbied for closer alliance cooperation with Ukraine, which the Baltic country considers a strategic partner.
Speaking before a June 29 meeting of the NATO-Ukrainian Commission, which also took place in Istanbul, acting President Arturas Paulauskas said, "I cannot imagine a modern Europe without Ukraine. Lithuania believes the alliance should invite Ukraine to join the Membership Action Plan program dedicated for good preparation for NATO membership as soon as possible."
Lithuania has already proposed that the NATO-Istanbul declaration should give Ukraine a clearer perspective of trans-Atlantic cooperation.
Paulauskas said that an independent, democratic and stable Ukraine was among key factors to secure stability in the region. The acting president also urged to take all necessary steps to ensure its sovereignty, territorial integrity, democracy and strategic course.
"NATO doors are open but Ukraine needs to make by itself the steps to reach the doors," sources cited the stance of commission members.