Baltics: Second-rate members?

  • 2002-11-21

The Baltic states are bound to become second-rate NATO members due to Russia's proposals to impose restrictions on deploying armed forces in their territory, an influential Polish daily says.

The Rzeczpospolita daily wrote Nov. 16 that Russian President Vladimir Putin in a meeting with NATO leaders last week in Brussels proposed the three Baltic states should be given very low limits for arms according to the Agreement on Conventional Forces Europe.

The daily said that many NATO members did not want to spoil relations with Russia and are ready to accept the proposal.

"If it happens, it means second-class NATO membership, as the alliance will not be able to deploy arms in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to ensure these countries' defense," the Rzeczpospolita daily wrote.

The paper also said that NATO armed forces' modernization is facing serious problems. Due to financial difficulties some alliance members are not granting the required funds for purchasing modern weapons.

According to the daily, the proposal to create a Rapid Reaction Force of 20,000 soldiers is also facing difficulties. Poland, for instance, had to prepare 3 battalions but was able to muster only one.

NATO experts in Lithuania were recently shown Lithuania's Grand Duke Algirdas Mechanized Infantry Battalion that meets NATO requirements and is able to carry out joint operations outside Lithuania. There are plans to restructure the infantry brigade Gelezinis Vilkas, which should be put in line with standards of a NATO constant readiness brigade trained to work outside Lithuania by 2006.

Lithuania was the first country in Europe to purchase Javelin anti-tank missile systems and the first NATO candidate country to sign a contract on purchasing Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems from the U.S.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction about the Baltic states joining NATO without having signed Conventional Forces Europe Agreement. Lithuanian diplomats say that Lithuania cannot sign the above-mentioned agreement, as it has not yet come into force.

NATO countries' defense ministers in a meeting in Warsaw earlier this year said they did not tie NATO enlargement with the conventional arms agreement.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus delivered a speech at the 57th session of the U.N. General Assembly where he declared that Lithuania would join the amended Agreement on Conventional Forces Europe as soon as it comes into effect.

In 1990, on the initiative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an agreement was signed on five types of conventional arms - tank, armor, artillery, warplane and helicopter deployment in European regions within the set limits.

Some 30 states have signed the amended agreement, but only two -Belarus and Ukraine - have ratified it so far. Russia's Putin submitted the agreement for State Duma's approval.

Lithuania intends to sign the agreement after it is ratified by all the states that are signatories to the agreement.