Posts Tagged ‘poland’

NATO deploys troops to Poland while concerns about country’s army rise

April 14, 2017


U.S. soldiers attend welcoming ceremony for U.S.-led NATO troops at polygon near Orzysz, Poland, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
By Lidia Kelly | ORZYSZ, POLAND

Poland on Thursday welcomed the first U.S. troops in a multi-national force which is being posted across the Baltic region to counter potential threats from Russia.

More than 1,100 soldiers — 900 U.S. troops as well as 150 British and 120 Romanians — are to be deployed in Orzysz, about 57 km (35 miles) south of Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, where Moscow has stationed nuclear-capable missiles and an S-400 air missile defense system.

Three other formations are due to become operational by June across the region.

“Deploying of these troops to Poland is a clear demonstration of NATO’s unity and resolve and sends a clear message to any potential aggressor,” NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti, said at a welcoming ceremony for the first arrivals at Orzysz, 220 km (140 miles) northeast of the capital Warsaw.

Poland, alarmed by Russia’s assertiveness on NATO’s eastern flank, has lobbied hard for the stationing of NATO troops on its soil, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Polish President Andrzej Duda called the deployment a historic moment “awaited for by generations”.

The troops’ move in Orzysz takes place as U.S. President Donald Trump appears to have changed his previously critical views of NATO and soured his attitude toward Moscow.

While running for president, Trump dismissed the alliance as obsolete and said he hoped to build warmer ties with Russia.

But on Wednesday, he lavished praise on NATO and said the relationship with Russia may be at an all-time low.

“I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete,” Trump said as he stood at a news conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in the White House.


Poland’s ruling conservatives, the Law and Justice party (PiS) allied with Duda, have signaled plans to raise funds to modernize and increase the size of its military, even though Warsaw is already among NATO’s top spenders.

But the Polish armed forces have other problems.

Nearly 30 top of its top generals and more than 200 colonels — a quarter and a sixth of the army’s total — have resigned over the last year, citing in part disagreements with Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz over personnel and other decisions.

The military has also seen potential procurement delays after Macierewicz canceled a multi-billion-dollar deal with Airbus Helicopters (AIR.PA) last year.

General Miroslaw Rozanski, a former senior commander, said in February he could not accept certain defense ministry decisions.

“We were implementing NATO decisions. Minister Macierewicz would agree with my proposals and then different decisions would be taken,” he said then.

The Defence Ministry says the officers’ departures amount to only a fraction more than in previous years. It has said, however, the army should be purged of commanders who began their service before the collapse of communist rule in 1989.

In response to Reuters’ request for a comment, a NATO official said it was up to the allies to decide how they structure their armed forces.

“What is important to NATO is that the armed forces of allies meet their capability targets, that they can operate with each other and that they have the right equipment to meet today’s security challenges,” the official said.

Polish sources said NATO, focusing on its troubled relations with the new U.S. president and Moscow, has adopted a “wait-and-see” attitude toward Warsaw.

“We are indeed the trouble makers,” a Polish government source told Reuters. “But because we fulfil all the obligations…because in the end we deliver, we are not the biggest problem right now. So, NATO has indeed adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude toward us.”

But Daniel Keohane, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the ETH university in Zurich, said Poland’s relations within the alliance could suffer.

“While this should not in principle weaken Poland’s position within NATO, if these generals are resigning for political reasons, and a perception of an ongoing politicization of the Polish army emerges, this could cause worry in other NATO capitals,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig and Pawel Sobczak in Warsaw; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Angus MacSwan)

See also:

Show of strength: More than 1,100 NATO-led soldiers from the US, Britain and Romania bolster Poland’s armed forces after Moscow stations nuclear-capable missiles nearby

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NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti, told the Senate Armed Services Committee said he had seen Russian influence expand in multiple regions, including in Afghanistan

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti, told the Senate Armed Services Committee said he had seen Russian influence expand in multiple regions, including in Afghanistan



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A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016, in the Baltic Sea near Poland. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward deployed to Rota, Spain is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. U.S. NAVY 6TH FLEET PHOTO/RELEASED

Hungary investigated by EU over law threatening top university (funded by George Soros)

April 13, 2017

EU Tells Hungary and Poland They Must Take Migrants or EU Will Take Legal Action

April 13, 2017

Russia Today (RT)

Hungary & Poland must take in refugees or face Brussels’ action – EU Commission

EU Tells Poland, Hungary to Take in Migrants or Face Legal Action — Expect a Fight

April 12, 2017

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive stepped up pressure on Poland and Hungary on Wednesday to take in asylum seekers under the bloc’s migration plan or risk legal action if their reluctant governments refuse.

Warsaw and Budapest have stonewalled the scheme to move 160,000 people from Italy and Greece – the main ports of arrival – to elsewhere in the EU. Other member states have also dragged their feet, leaving the divisive plan stalled.

The eurosceptic governments in Poland and Hungary have also put their media and judiciary under tighter state control, raising concerns in Brussels and other EU capitals that they are infringing on the bloc’s democratic checks and balances.

The influx of some 1.6 million refugees and migrants into the EU in 2014-2016 has led to rows on how to share the burden among member states. Only about 16,340 people have been moved so far under the emergency scheme that ends in September.

“If Member States do not increase their relocations soon, the Commission will not hesitate to make use of its powers … for those which have not complied,” the bloc’s executive arm said in a statement.

The Commission had proposed to fine member states for failing to take in migrants, but there has been little political backing for such a step. A court case would not resolve the issue quickly, but could add to mounting pressure for action from other EU states.

Migrants make their way through the countryside after they crossed the Hungarian-Croatian border near the village of Zakany in Hungary on October 16, 2015 | © AFP/File | Hanna Sonia

Italy has been in the forefront of calling for cuts to EU subsidies to Poland and Hungary over migration. Germany, Sweden, Austria and France – the most frequent final destinations – have also been stepping up pressure on the hold-outs.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have taken in only a few asylum seekers and the European Commission also underlined their weak response to the plan.

The Commission statement recalled the relocation plan was decided by EU leaders in September 2015 despite Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania voting against it. Although generally opposed to it, Poland eventually voted with majority.


In rare good news, Brussels noted that Austria has now decided to join the relocation programme. Vienna was previously exempted since it had taken in some 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015 as it sits on one of the key migratory routes into Europe.

Austria’s interior minister said he would make preparations for the country to receive people, with the first group expected to be around 50 unaccompanied children from Italy.

Some 14,000 people are currently eligible for relocation from Greece, the Commission said. It recommended that Italy speed up the necessary legal and security proceedings as it currently only has some 3,500 people waiting to be moved.

EU officials are split over whether to open legal proceedings over relocation, with some noting Poland and Hungary should be punished for undermining the bloc’s solidarity.

Others say that such so-called “infringements” would have to be launched against just about every EU state since so many cut corners on various agreements.

Hungary has filed its own lawsuit against the relocation scheme, which assigns each EU state a specific number of asylum seekers to receive. A hearing at the EU’s top European Court of Justice is due on May 10.

Poland’s and Hungary’s disputes over migration with the bloc are just one area on which the two post-communist countries, now governed by eurosceptics, clash with Brussels and the wealthier western European states.

The bloc has voiced concern over the weakening of the rule of law and undermining of democratic standards by both Budapest under Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Warsaw under the right-wing government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party.

The Commission on Wednesday separately warned Hungary it risked being sued in court over a number of Orban’s policies.

(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by Tom Heneghan)


Cybertheft Attempt on Indian Bank Resembles Bangladesh Heist

April 10, 2017

Similarities between hacks underscore concerns about rash of recent cyberattacks on financial institutions world-wide

A Union Bank service point in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar.

A Union Bank service point in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar. PHOTO: NURPHOTO/ZUMA PRESS

Cyberthieves who attempted to steal $170 million from an Indian bank last July used methods that strongly resemble those of an earlier, successful $81 million heist targeting Bangladesh’s central bank, according to people familiar with the matter.

The similarities between the Indian and Bangladeshi hacks underscore concerns about a rash of cyberattacks in recent months on financial institutions around the world, including banks in the U.S., Mexico, Poland and the U.K. Some of these hacks have been linked to groups affiliated with North Korea, cybersecurity specialists said earlier this year.

State-owned Union Bank of India Ltd.’s EQUNIONBANK 1.69% computer system was infected with malware that allowed thieves to authorize the transfer of around $170 million from the bank’s account in New York to private accounts in five locations, people familiar with the matter said. Fast detection by bankers allowed the Indian lender to prevent the money’s release.

Investigators studying the Indian hack said similar tactics and coding were used by computer criminals who attempted to steal nearly $1 billion from Bangladesh’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in February of last year. Many orders had been filled with misspellings and formatting errors, and the Fed blocked some of the withdrawal—but the thieves were able to move about $81 million to accounts in the Philippines.

U.S. prosecutors are building cases that would accuse North Korea of directing the Bangladeshi attack. North Korea’s mission to the United Nations didn’t respond to requests for comment.

This account of the Union Bank of India hack is based on interviews with Arun Tiwari, the bank’s chairman, and several other people familiar with the incident.

The attack on Union Bank began in late July last year when an employee opened an attachment on an email that appeared to have come from India’s central bank, Mr. Tiwari said. That action activated a piece of malware that allowed the hackers to steal Union Bank’s access codes for the international messaging system banks use to authorize cross-border transactions, known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift.

The hackers then used those codes to send authentic-looking instructions to a Union Bank account at Citigroup Inc. in New York, which handles processing of wire transfers and clears dollar transactions. The instructions ordered around $170 million to be sent to accounts in Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The money went to several shell companies associated with Asian—in particular Chinese—organized crime syndicates, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Image result for Arun Tiwari, Union Bank’s chairman, picture
Arun Tiwari, Union Bank’s chairman PHOTO: DHIRAJ SINGH/BLOOMBERG NEWS

The cybercriminals behind the Bangladesh heist similarly stole bank codes to place fake transfer orders. Swift in November said banks using its network had sustained fresh attacks from hackers since the Bangladesh heist. Swift declined to comment on whether Union Bank of India was one of those banks, although Mr. Tiwari said Swift officials have been working with Union Bank since the day of the hack.

Swift generally creates two reports per transaction: one sent to the originating bank, in this case, Union Bank, and another to the so-called correspondent bank handling the overseas transactions, which was Citigroup. The correspondent bank then forwards its report to the originating bank the next day, so it can cross-check the transactions.

On July 21, an employee in Union Bank’s treasury department who was comparing the reports found that Citigroup had executed six transactions that Union Bank hadn’t intended to authorize. He notified senior executives of the mismatch, and the bank immediately began trying to get the money back.

“This was a war room that day,” Mr. Tiwari said.

Union Bank recovered the money sent to Thailand, Cambodia, and Australia—more than half of the total—within 24 hours. It got a court order in Hong Kong to retrieve the rest of the funds, and had gotten all of its money back by July 24.

Employees on Citigroup’s cybersecurity team observed similarities in how the malware behaved in the Union Bank attack and that used in the attack on Bangladesh’s central bank. Citigroup is an intermediary bank for the New York Fed, which gives it visibility into certain transactions.

Ernst & Young LLP, which was hired by Union Bank to investigate the hack and its aftermath, also concluded it had been executed similarly to the attack on the Bangladesh central bank, according to Mr. Tiwari. In both cases the malware reached the target banks by emails addressed to employees, and took control of Swift functions at the originating bank, a person familiar with the attack said.

Both hacks also disabled computer systems that create automatic logs of the transactions, another person familiar with the matter said.

Write to Julie Steinberg at and Gabriele Parussini at



 (Contains links to several related articles)


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First ‘Silk Road’ train from Britain leaves for China

April 10, 2017


© AFP | China-bound: A freight train leaves Britain for the eastern Chinese city of Yiwu, opening the return leg on an 18-day, 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) trade route


The first-ever freight train from Britain to China, laden with whisky, soft drinks and baby products, started its mammoth journey on Monday along a modern-day “Silk Road” trade route.

The 32-container train, around 600 metres (yards) long, left from the vast London Gateway container port on the River Thames estuary, bound for Yiwu on the Chinese east coast.

It was seen off on its 18-day, 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) journey with a string quartet, British and Chinese flags, and speeches voicing hope that it will cement a new golden age of trade between the two countries as the UK leaves the European Union.

The first train from China to Britain arrived on January 18, filled with clothes and other retail goods, and Monday’s departure was the first journey in the other direction.

The rail route is cheaper than air freight and faster than sea freight, offering logistics companies a new middle option.

The driver gave a thumbs-up and tooted his horn as he got the wagons rolling at the port in Stanford-le-Hope, east of London.

The train will go through the Channel Tunnel before travelling across France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan before heading into China.

The containers will be taken off and put on different wagons at the Belarus border, as the former Soviet Union countries use a wider rail gauge.

The containers switch back to standard gauge rails at the Chinese border, an operation that typically takes around two hours.

“We are proud to be able to offer the first ever UK to China export train,” said Xubin Feng, the chairman of Yiwu Timex Industrial Investment.

“Restoring the ancient Silk Road as a means by which China, north Europe and now the UK can exchange goods is an important and exciting initiative.

“This is the first export train and just the start of a regular direct service between the UK and China. We have great faith in the UK as an export nation and rail provides an excellent alternative for moving large volumes of goods over long distances faster.”

© 2017 AFP


 A Chinese cargo train, to be used as part of China-Iran efforts to revive the Silk Road, arrives in Tehran in February 2016. Photo: EPA

Digital Clue Links North Korea to Theft at New York Fed

April 3, 2017

Kaspersky Lab says digital records show link to a computer with North Korean internet address

The Wall Street Journal
April 3, 2017 2:00 p.m. ET


A newly discovered digital clue links the hacking group blamed for a multimillion-dollar cyberattack on Bangladesh’s central bank to a computer in North Korea, according to the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab ZAO.

Kaspersky announced Monday at its security conference on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten that its researchers had obtained digital records showing a European server used by the group to launch its attacks…

Lithuania says Russia has ability to launch Baltic attack in 24 hours — Russian could rush in like takeover of Crimea in 2014

April 3, 2017


FILE PHOTO: NATO and U.S. flags flutter as U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter flies over the military air base in Siauliai, Lithuania, April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
By Andrius Sytas | VILNIUS

Russia has developed the capability to launch an attack on the Baltic states with as little as 24 hours’ notice, limiting NATO’s options to respond other than to have military forces already deployed in the region, Lithuania’s intelligence service said on Monday.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, annexed by the Soviet Union in the 1940s but now part of both NATO and the European Union, have been increasingly nervous since the Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014.

The Lithuanian intelligence service said in its annual threat assessment that Russia had upgraded its military in the Kaliningrad region last year, reducing lead times for any attack and potentially preventing NATO reinforcements.

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The Russian upgrade included Su-30 fighter aircraft and missile systems allowing ships to be targeted almost anywhere in the Baltic Sea.

“This is a signal to NATO to improve its decision speed,” Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis told reporters on the sidelines of the presentation of the report. “NATO’s reaction time is not as fast as we would like it to be.”

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Su-30 aircraft

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the concerns as a display of anti-Russian sentiment.

“There is total Russophobia, hysterical Russophobia going on,” he said at a daily conference call with reporters.

“Moscow has always supported good relations with the Baltic states,” he said.

This year NATO is deploying a force of about 1,000 soldiers in each of the Baltic states and Poland, in addition to smaller contingents of U.S. troops already in the region.

“The force is adequate in the short-term, but in the medium-term perspective we would like more capability, and not only land troops but also air defenses and capabilities to counter any blockade,” Karoblis said.

Russia is monitoring and suppressing radio frequencies used by NATO pilots over the Baltic Sea and is using commercial and scientific ships for surveillance, the report said.

The intelligence service said there was also the risk of “deliberate or accidental incidents” involving Russian and Belarusian troops who are taking part in military exercises planned for March.

The Baltic states have previously said they would press the United States and NATO to take additional security measures in the region ahead of the exercises.

Intelligence officers said disinformation aimed at discrediting NATO soldiers stationed in Lithuania, such as a recent false report of a rape by German soldiers, was likely to persist.

“Provocations against NATO units in Lithuania will continue and will get bigger,” Remigijus Baltrenas, head of Lithuanian military counterintelligence, told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Andrew Bolton)



The West-2017 Belarus-Russian Military Exercise: Smaller Than Anticipated

During a meeting with defence minister Andrei Raukou on 20 March, president Alexander Lukashenka demanded ‘absolute transparency’ at the forthcoming West-2017 Belarusian-Russian military exercise. The Belarusian government is working to counter the negative repercussions of such a massive show of military force in the region.

These repercussions have certainly been felt. On 9 February, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė stated that during the West-2017 exercises ‘aggressive forces are concentrating in very large numbers, this is a demonstrative preparation for a war with the West.’

Moscow would apparently like to increase the fog of uncertainty surrounding its military moves. The Russian military previously published the numbers of railway wagons needed for troop movement. In the absence of proper explanations, this created a threatening impression. Yet it is now clear that the exercises on Belarusian territory will be smaller than in 2009.

Minsk avoids confrontation with the West

As Lukashenka elaborated, ‘I demand that this event [West-2017] on the territory of our country [sic!] be transparent and all its components be accessible not only to our friends in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States, but also to NATO members.’

However, the Belarusian and Russian media framed Lukashenka’s words in remarkably different ways. The Belarusian media, such as, simply mentioned the quote as part of more general reports. Meanwhile, the Russian media, such as, used the quote as a headline and expressly underlined Lukashenka’s ‘demand’ to admit NATO observers to the exercise, thus creating an impression that he was openly defying Moscow.

Image: is prone to militant statements and ambiguous threats. Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, commenting on West-2017, said that his government had been forced to take preparatory defensive measures: ‘The US and other NATO members are actively building up their offensive potential at the western borders of the Union State [of Belarus and Russia].’

Needless to say, his Belarusian counterpart Andrei Raukou describes West-2017 only in general terms, highlighting the necessity to practise defensive measures and continue cooperation with Russia. He also emphasised that Belarus would invite Western observers and that ‘the requirements of Western partners would be met.’

West-2017 smaller than West-2009

Belarus and Russia have been holding ‘West’ (Zakhad, Zapad) joint strategic exercises every four years since 2009: on Belarusian and Russian territory in turn. As part of the West-2017 military exercise, on 14-20 September Belarusian and Russian troops will exercise on a territory spanning from the extreme North of Russia to Belarus. In Belarus, a ‘Regional Group’ of Russian and Belarusian troops will train on seven different sites. The Regional Group includes Belarusian armed forces and the First Tank Army of Russia.

Moscow means for these exercises to seem impressive. Nevertheless, Belarusian defence minister Raukou revealed that the activities of the exercise on Belarusian territory would be of a rather limited nature. Around 3,000 Russian personnel and 280 items of equipment will arrive in Belarus to participate in the drills. In comparison, in 2009 more than 6,000 Russian troops participated in the drills on Belarusian territory.

Raukou’s revelations put an end to lively discussions regarding the scale of the forthcoming West-2017 exercise which began last November. At that point, Ukrainian websites such as Inform Napalm and Apostrophe had discovered that the Russian defence ministry had announced an official tender for 4,162 railway wagons for shipments to and from Belarus in 2017.

The Russian military did not explain its need for so many wagons, and no data for similar purchases during previous West exercises were available at the time. Thus, all kinds of hypotheses attempting to explain the number of wagons were set forth, including a forthcoming annexation of Belarus by Russian forces, which would come to the country under the guise of military exercises.

Image: ONTIt took the Russian military two months to finally comment on the tender for more than 4,000 wagons. Upon the request of the Moscow-based liberal daily Novaya Gazeta, the Russian military explained itself in just four sentences.

First, it clarified that the declared amount of wagons were meant for transportation to and from Belarus, i.e., 2,000 wagons in each direction. Second, the Russian military disclosed never-before-published information on military shipments to and from Belarusian territory from previous joint exercises. During West-2009, these shipments required over 6,000 wagons, and during West-2013, almost 2,500 wagons.

Defence cooperation as a ‘red line’ for the Kremlin

Given that the Belarusian government wishes to limit the potentially negative repercussions of the exercise on Minsk’s relations with its neighbours and the West, it is exercising caution with regard to military cooperation with Russia. Bilateral relations with Russia are also suffering from several unresolved problems. Nevertheless, on 20 March, Lukashenka had to say that Minsk ‘was not going to reduce military cooperation with Russia because of disagreements which had emerged in other areas’.

On one hand, the Belarusian government maintains a critical attitude towards the defence cooperation with Russia. Hence, Lukashenka told Raukou that he wants the Belarusian defence ministry ‘to conduct a general assessment of the efficiency of bilateral military cooperation with Russia.’ This could be important because of a ‘possible’ meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia, at which time the Belarusian leader would like to raise relevant issues with his Russian counterparts.

On the other hand, the Belarusian leader realises the sensitivity of defence cooperation issues for Moscow given the vital role of Belarus in providing security to Russia’s core region around Moscow. Therefore, at the same conference, Lukashenka together with the defence minister announced: ‘As far as security issues and defence of our common borders are concerned, they could never under any circumstances be taken lightly.’

Image: a word, Minsk and Moscow differ in their attitudes towards the West-2017 exercises. Minsk downplays the confrontational aspects of the exercise. Moscow, on the contrary, is working to make the drills non-transparent and thus more threatening than they really are.

The leakage of the previously unrevealed and confusing numbers of Russian military shipments via Belarusian railways, along with the intentionally late explanation, are aspects of Russia’s information warfare.

The Belarusian government has tried to neutralise the negative consequences of this ‘fog of war’ by making the drills more transparent. This divergence with regard to transparency started years ago. A case in point is the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Minsk consistently adheres to the CFE, which rests on principles of transparency, while Moscow suspended its cooperation in 2007 and renounced it altogether in 2015.

Minsk continues military cooperation with Russia knowing that this is a ‘red line’ for Moscow. Yet the Belarusian government shapes the conditions and scale of its cooperation. It does not plan to participate in Putin’s intimidation of NATO and its allies.

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.

EU, French militaries prepare to go it alone after Brexit, US warnings

April 3, 2017


© Philippe Desmazes, AFP | French soldiers patrol near Timbuktu in northern Mali in June 2015.

Brexit will see the departure of the EU’s largest military force, leaving France as the bloc’s main military power. And as the US pressures Europe to take more responsibility for its own defense, much of that burden will likely fall on Paris.

Speaking at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once again called on European nations to commit 2 percent of GDP to defense spending, as agreed at a 2014 NATO summit in Wales.

NATO’s 2016 annual report noted that only five countries – the United States, Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland – met the 2 percent target, with the US providing 68 percent of total NATO defense spending.

“It is no longer sustainable for the US to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures,” Tillerson told the foreign ministers gathered in Brussels.

Tillerson was reiterating similar statements made by US President Donald Trump, who sparked concern in interviews with European media outlets before he took office when he described the NATO alliance as “obsolete” because it had failed to tackle the challenges posed by global terrorism.

During a visit to NATO’s Brussels headquarters in February, US Defense Secretary James Mattis warned that Washington might “moderate” its commitment to NATO if other alliance members did not do their fair share.

© NATO Annual Report 2016

A Western alliance that arose out of the Cold War, NATO provides a framework for mutual protection among its 28 member nations. Much of its deterrent power is provided by the United States, however, which earlier this year sent 4,000 more troops to Poland – the largest deployment of US forces to Europe since the end of the Cold War – in a move aimed at sending a message to Russia over its expansion into Ukraine. In March 2014 Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and has provided support to pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.

“We want to have a discussion around NATO’s posture in Europe, most particularly in Eastern Europe in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere,” Tillerson told reporters last week in Brussels.

He went on to say that the NATO alliance is “fundamental to countering both non-violent, but at times violent, Russian agitation and Russian aggression”.

Tillerson’s comments struck a more bellicose chord than those often made by Trump, who has repeatedly stressed his desire to improve relations with Moscow. European allies have worried that these better ties might come at the expense of the pro-Western government in Ukraine, or the former Soviet states of the Baltics and Europe’s east.

© NATO Annual Report 2016

But NATO itself has acknowledged that member states need to boost their defense contributions.

“While recognising that the US’ status as a global power means its defense spending is not directly comparable to that of other NATO members, Allies accept the need for a better balance,” the alliance said in its latest annual report.

Speaking in March, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it was reasonable to expect member states to reach the 2 percent of GDP target.

“It is realistic that all allies should reach this goal,” he said. “All allies have agreed to it at the highest level and it can be done.”

Europe on its own

The dawning realization that the West’s two main military powers are becoming increasingly isolationist has left Europe facing some uncomfortable realities.

Britain’s exit from the EU will see the departure of the only EU member besides France that possesses nuclear weapons. And across the Atlantic, Donald Trump’s presidency “raises serious questions about the endurance and credibility of the security guarantees given by Washington”, writes Corentin Brustlein, coordinator of the Security Studies Centre at the French Institute of International Relations.

In an analysis entitled “Defense: The Moment of Truth”, Brustlein says this new US disinterest “shines a cold light on the military capability areas in which France and Europe are dependent on the United States”.

In response to these and other geostrategic shifts, European Union nations have already announced plans for a significant increase in defense spending. In his September 2016 State of the Union speech, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker highlighted the importance of investing in common defense capabilities, including cyber security.

“If Europe does not take care of its own security, nobody else will do it for us,” Juncker said. “A strong, competitive and innovative defense industrial base is what will give us strategic autonomy.”

The EU’s ambition is to be able to respond with rapid and decisive action through the whole spectrum of crisis tasks under Article 43 TEU.

In late November the European Union announced significant increases in defense spending, including allocating €5.5 billion annually to help members purchase military hardware such as updating their arsenals with drones.

As part of a new European Defence Action Plan, the European Commission also proposed €25 million for defense research as part of the 2017 budget, forseeing that this could rise to as much as €90 million leading up to 2020.

© Bertrand Guay, AFP | Chief of the Defence Staff French army General Pierre de Villiers arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 27, 2016

France: Into the void?

France spends more on defense than any other European nation except Great Britain, and after Brexit it will become the EU’s major defense contributor, significantly ahead of even Germany.

According to preliminary NATO figures for 2016, the UK spent €49.3 billion on defense to France’s €39.8 billion and Germany’s €37.1 billion. As a percentage of GDP, the United Kingdom exceeds NATO’s 2 percent threshold at 2.2 percent. France and Germany lag behind with 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

France has launched significant military operations overseas in the past several years, notably its intervention against Islamists in northern Mali and in the Central African Republic in 2013. It is also a member of the US-led coalition of nations battling the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

© Ministry of Defense

In July 2015, still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo attacks of that January, France passed the Military Programming Law, which raised defense spending that year by €600 million. Another €600 million increase was approved in 2016, bringing the 2017 military budget to €32.7 billion (excluding pensions).

But some security experts say these increases are inadequate to deal with the increasing and diversifying threats France and Europe are facing.

“The increase in funding initiated timidly by the government after the terrorist attacks of 2015 is real enough, but fragile,” Brustlein wrote, warning that the “situation remains critical”.

“If the financial resources devoted to defense are not increased significantly, France’s military model of strategic autonomy will soon be at risk, at the very time when the international environment serves to show, once again, why it is needed and relevant.”

Brustlein recommends that France increase its spending by €1-2 billion each year over the next five years. Any delay, he said, could “reduce France’s freedom of manoeuvre and the credibility of its foreign policy”.

France’s chief of staff for defense, General Pierre de Villiers, has also issued an urgent call for a renewal of defense capabilities. It is extremely rare for a French military official to make a public appeal. But in a December 2016 op-ed in French business journal Les Echos, Villiers put it bluntly: “You can’t win a war without a war effort.”

Moreover, he said, today’s threats necessitate a “comprehensive” response, “because winning the war is not enough to secure the peace”.

The world has returned to being a system of competing great powers, Villers wrote. “At the gates of Europe, in Asia, in the Near and Middle East, more and more countries are pursuing strategies based on the balance of power. Look at the facts: all are re-arming.”

He called the Military Programming Law a “first step”, but urged France to increase its military spending to 2 percent of GDP within the next five years.

A new Franco-German alliance

The possibility of a new Franco-German partnership to fill the vacuum left by Britain has also been raised as a possibility. Berlin and Paris have both said they want to strengthen the Eurocorps, a military group of EU and NATO states, and are considering ways to deploy EU forces more rapidly.

“After the British vote to leave the Franco-German couple is the obvious pair to provide leadership for EU defence,” writes research fellow Sophia Besch of the Centre for European Reform. “France will be the only country left in the EU that can credibly project force abroad, and not many initiatives can succeed in Brussels without Germany’s support.”

“And post-Brexit, the EU may be able to unfreeze some of the defence initiatives – such as an EU military headquarters – that the UK has vetoed in the past,” she added.

At a November meeting of EU defense and foreign ministers in Brussels, officials were authorized to to go ahead with a protocol known as “permanent structured cooperation” or Pesco, which could include the establishment of a military headquarters to run EU missions. An article under the EU treaty, Pesco calls for the permanent integration of military forces but has never been implemented.

Participating member states may be called upon to increase the “interoperability, flexibility and deployability” of their troops and coordinate their procurement plans.

So far, the EU appears to be taking steps to meet the challenges posed by recent geostrategic shifts. But in an October speech, French President François Hollande warned Europe against falling back into a sense of complacency.

“There are countries – European countries – that think the United States will always be there to protect them,” he said. “[There] are some that think the conflicts in the Middle East don’t concern them, that Africa has no link to Europe apart from a few migrants…”

“Those countries must be warned,” he said. “Today we’re in a global world. Conflicts necessarily affect us. So those European countries must be told – and I won’t stop doing so – that if they don’t defend themselves they will no longer be defended.”

Poland claims 2010 jet crash in Russia was ‘deliberate’ — Poland will charge Russian air controllers with having deliberately caused the crash

April 3, 2017


© AFP | Russia erected a permanent memorial for the 96 Polish officials killed in the 2010 air disaster near Smolensk

WARSAW (AFP) – Polish prosecutors on Monday said they would charge Russian air controllers with having deliberately caused the 2010 Polish presidential jet crash in Russia that killed 96 people, a theory the Kremlin immediately denied.

The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government believes the crash was no accident and has been conducting a new probe into the incident, which Polish and Russian investigators earlier attributed to human error and bad weather.

A fresh analysis of the evidence, which includes recordings of the conversations between the pilots and the control tower, “enabled prosecutors to formulate new charges against the two air controllers, who are Russian citizens, as well as against a third person present in the tower at the time,” Polish Deputy Prosecutor General Marek Pasionek told reporters.

He said the individuals were guilty of “deliberately causing a catastrophe… that resulted in the deaths of many people.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately responded that “of course we cannot agree with such statements.”

The wreckage of the Polish Tupolev Tu-154M presidential aircraft is seen at the airport in Smolensk October 1, 2010. The plane crashed at the airport in April, killing the Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others. REUTERS/LIDIA KELLY

“You know that an investigation is also ongoing on the Russian side. The circumstances of this tragedy, this catastrophe, are already very well elucidated and investigated,” he told reporters.

In addition to former president Lech Kaczynski — the twin brother of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski — many senior state officials including the central banker and military chief of staff died when the plane came down in Smolensk, western Russia on April 10, 2010.

Polish prosecutors had already pressed charges against the two Russian air controllers in 2015: one for “being directly responsible for having endangered air traffic” and the other for “unintentionally causing an air traffic disaster”.

Prosecutors on Monday added that fragments of the plane will be sent next month to four labs abroad to check for traces of explosives.

Polish justice officials have also been exhuming the remains of the victims to establish the cause of death.

Warsaw has repeatedly asked Moscow to return the wreckage of the plane, but Russia says it will only do so once its own inquiry is over.

Last month, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who believes the crash was the result of a Polish-Russian conspiracy, accused former Polish premier and current EU President Donald Tusk of “diplomatic treason” over an earlier probe into the crash.

It occurred as the presidential delegation was heading to a ceremony in Russia’s Katyn forest for thousands of Polish army officers killed by Soviet secret police in 1940 — a massacre the Kremlin denied until 1990.

© 2017 AFP


The Associated Press

Poland’s ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, lays a wreath in front of the portrait of his late twin brother, the former President Lech Kaczynski, and his wife Maria Kaczynska, at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday, April 10, 2016, during ceremonies marking six years since the presidential couple and dozens of other state officials were killed in a plane crash in Russia. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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