BALTIC FRIEND: De Hoop Scheffer was awarded honors by all three Baltic states during his farewell tour of the region, which coincided with a British report saying the Baltics needed a clear defense plan.
TALLINN - The British Parliament Defense Committee has produced a report finding that the Baltics need a definitive defensive plan to counter Russia's aggressive overtures.
NATO should reassure its Eastern European members by drawing up contingency plans to defend Baltic States and by staging military exercises there, British lawmakers told Reuters on July 10.
An accumulation of events over the past three years have highlighted the region's vulnerability to Russian aggression. Firstly, there was the realization that fuel 's or the ceasing of fuel supplies 's can be used as a strategic threat to Eastern Europe by Russia. Russia has multiple times cut off fuel supplies running through former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe.
Then there was the mystery cyber attack on Estonia during a protest within its borders over the removal of a Russian military monument. Estonian politicians were quick to point the finger at Russia for the attack.
The region's vulnerability was highlighted by Russia's incursion into Georgia in August 2008. The source and blame for the conflict was heavily contested, but the fact was that Russia did cross into Georgian territory. Both military and civilian deaths occurred in the conflict.
Baltic leaders were quick to show their support to Georgia with some leading figures visiting Tbilisi during the conflict. However, such solidarity from European neighbors has not yet resulted in an agreed strategy to deal with any possible future disputes.
NATO should reassure its eastern European members through "robust contingency plans that cover the eventuality of attack on Baltic member states and that set out NATO's planned military response," the report said.
"In addition, NATO should maintain a visible military presence in the Baltic states, including maintaining its air policing and conducting exercises in the region," it said.
The report said Russia had attempted to create a sphere of influence over other former Soviet states through the threat and use not just of military action, but increasingly through tools such as energy.
"Russia has valid interests in those countries that surround it, but to allow undue Russian influence in these countries would risk increasing Russian assertiveness and possibly compromise the sovereignty of these states," it said.
It urged the British government to adopt a "hard-headed approach to engagement with Russia, based on the reality of Russia's foreign policy rather than abstract and misleading notions of shared values."
Noting that 80 percent of Russian oil exports and 60 percent of its gas exports go to Europe, the report urged the British government to work within the EU for a united approach to energy security and to give priority to developing the Nabucco pipeline.
The pipeline aims to reduce European dependence on Russian gas by bringing Caspian and Middle Eastern gas to Europe.
In conjunction with bolstering its defensive strategy NATO has also begun to reestablish a constructive dialogue with Russia to improve diplomatic relations.
Russia and NATO have agreed to resume co-operation on security issues, after nearly a year of difficult relations reported the BBC.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said differences over the Georgian issue remained.
But he said NATO and Russia would nonetheless resume co-operation on issues such as Afghanistan, drug trafficking and piracy.
"We have restarted our relations at a political level, we also agreed to restart the military-to military contacts which had been frozen since last August," the NATO secretary-general told a news conference in Corfu.
Fundamental differences still remained on Georgia, he said, but the two sides agreed "not to let disagreements bring the whole train to a halt".
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the agreement "to a certain extent a positive development".
But he said NATO had to accept Russia's recognition of the independence of Georgia's separatist regions.
"All have to accept the new realities and [that] the decisions taken by Russia after the conflict are irreversible," he said.
The report was in harmony with comments by de Hoop Scheffer, who said on July 7 that the alliance's new mission statement must reassure new members they will be protected.
In a brief farewell tour of the Baltic states on July 9, de Hoop Scheffer reaffirmed NATO's commitment to the region, particularly with regards to air policing efforts.
De Hoop Scheffer is set to step down from his position at the end of the month to be replaced by former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.