NATO’s eastward drive has continued escalating over recent days. The Pentagon’s announcement that small numbers of U.S. ground troops would be deploying to Poland and the three Baltic countries, followed reports indicating intentions to increase military posture in northern Europe. The Finnish broadcaster YLE reported that Finnish Defense Minister Carl Haglund had signed off on a memorandum of understanding with NATO that would allow Finland to receive military support from NATO countries and to maintain ships and aircraft on its territory. “In this time of peace it mainly relates to armed forces involved in training exercises,” Haglund said. “In theory, in times of crisis we are better qualified for receiving assistance from other EU countries, the Nordic countries and NATO countries.” Both Haglund and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja went out of their way to say that the MOU doesn’t mean Finland will be joining NATO. Tuomioja fretted that many people in Finland might, in fact, see it that way, and that such assumptions might actually prove to be an obstacle to the agreement moving forward.
Meanwhile, in Stockholm, the Swedish government announced that it would be increasing its defense budget over the next ten years, citing the crisis in Ukraine as the reason. “The recent past has been characterized by a deeply unsettling development in and around Ukraine,” the government said in a statement. “Russia has occupied parts of a sovereign state.” The government statement indicated that the increased allotment to the defense budget, part of which is to come from cutting cooperation with Russia on nuclear energy and environmental matters, would go to the purchase of 10 additional Gripen fighters (Sweden currently operates a fleet of 60) and two more submarines to add to the three it already operates.
While all of that was going on, NATO’s maritime response force, consisting of four minesweepers and a support ship, from Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, and Estonia, departed the German port of Kiel yesterday on mission to the Baltic Sea. The ships will make port visits and participate in previously scheduled operations, said a NATO official. Commodore Arian Minderhoud, the NATO Allied Maritime Command’s deputy chief of staff for operations, said the exercise “is part of the whole package of …. actions to show NATO’s resolve, to show NATO’s preparedness.”
Canadian Defense Minister John Baird, sounding much like John Kerry, told his hosts in Prague, yesterday, that Canada “will stand with you in the face of (Russian) aggression.” Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that six Canadian air force CF-18 jet fighters would be deployed to Poland, and Baird indicated that more such announcements will be made in the coming weeks.