Friday, August 29, 2014

Canadian Troops Off to Europe To Rein In Putin’s Ambitions

Corporal Jason Nolet, Sergeant Brent Currie and Corporal Mohammad Balouch from the Land Task Force of Operation REASSURANCE did a wings exchange jump from a CC-130J Hercules from 436 Squadron Trenton in Eastern Europe on August 21, 2014.
The Canadians are to be part of an urgent NATO plan to try to rein in Vladimir Putin’s revanchist ambitions in eastern Europe, which appears to be rapidly transitioning this week from a covert to an overt war for eastern Ukraine with the opening of a new front south of Donetsk.

The alliance is following the Pentagon’s script for the forward deployment of U.S. Marines in northern Australia because of its relative proximity to China. NATO’s civilian boss, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me in an interview a couple of months ago that what the Marines were doing Down Under was a likely model for alliance deployments in eastern Europe.

Rasmussen confirmed to European journalists ahead of next week’s NATO summit in Wales that the alliance will open new bases in eastern Europe. Troops from countries such as Canada will rotate through these bases for stays of several months at a time. But Rasmussen went further, declaring the creation of a spearhead within an existing rapid reaction force to deal with potential emergencies in the east.

By not permanently stationing troops in Poland or the three Baltic statelets, NATO will save on some infrastructure costs as well as the considerable costs of housing and schooling the troops’ families.

The most important selling point is political. NATO can claim that the bases are not permanent, which is a much easier sell in western Europe and Canada. Semantics aside, by talking about this now rather than waiting for the summit, Rasmussen was probably trying to pre-empt opposition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel who remains wobbly about confronting Moscow because her country, like most of western Europe, is heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas.

Merkel was raised in Communist East Germany and speaks Russian well. She is regarded as the only western leader who understands Putin. Whether this is true or not, Merkel has been the West’s only real interlocutor with the Russian strongman since he began his Ukrainian gambit.

It has taken awhile but there have been rumblings recently that Merkel’s patience with Putin has been wearing thin. However, Germany and several other NATO allies still fear that by shoring up its feeble eastern flank the alliance could provoke Russia’s unpredictable strongman to do something even more dangerous

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