CEPA Highlight the Eastern Flank and the Challenges Posed by the Kremlin

What is the response needed from NATO in order to keep the Eastern Flank stable from the Kremlin’s efforts and aggressions?

by PAC Intern Kamila Magiera

On May 26th, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), an institute for the studies of Central-East Europe and Russia, hosted a virtual event titled, “One Flank, One Threat, One Presence: A Strategy for NATO’s Eastern Flank” which was moderated by CEPA’s Director of Transatlantic Defense and Security, Lauren Speranza. The event’s guests and contributors included Janusz Bugajski, a Senior Fellow at the Transatlantic Defense and Security Division at CEPA, and Lieutenant (Ret.) Ben Hodges, the Pershing Chair at CEPA. This event highlights an Eastern Flank strategy in Europe to identify and address threats from the Kremlin in the Black and Baltic Sea regions. 

NATO’s Eastern Flank is “the longest and perhaps the most vulnerable sector of the Alliance, exposed daily to military probing, subversion, disinformation, cyberattacks, and overt diplomatic and economic pressure by the Kremlin.” Following the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Kremlin in 2014, NATO enhanced its presence in Poland and reinforcements in the Baltic, however, it also left a gap in the Black Sea regions, with continuous aggression from the Russian government. During this virtual talk, Bugajski touches upon why NATO should prioritize its efforts in the Black and Baltic Seas, and Hodges explains the major capability gaps of NATO in those regions. 

Janusz Bugajski begins by outlining the threat caused by the Kremlin and how NATO has and should respond to such potential conflicts or to limit such. NATO has different capabilities in the Baltic and the Black Sea regions, and the Kremlin is pursuing or exhibiting a trend that proves they are attempting to regain Russia’s regional dominance by using the Black Sea zone for force projection. Such locations include the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkan states, and the Middle East. The main threat to NATO allies and partners is Putin’s Russia; they involve military actions and a potential wider regional conflict. Therefore, Bugajski calls upon NATO to display its power, capabilities, coherence, and will. While Russia proves the region with exercises in the Baltics, as well as cyber-attacks, corruption, disinformation, and interfering in politics, NATO and its allies must continue to exert dominance through a greater presence in both the Baltic and especially the Black Sea region. With the help of American leadership, working with allies, prioritizing spending on certain weapons, and performing joint exercises, the Eastern Flank can have even greater regional stability. 

Lieutenant (Ret.) Hodges then addresses the major capability gaps of NATO in the Black and Baltic Sea regions. With five main goals and adjustments, Hodges believes that allies can be even more prepared, successful, and effective in the region. First, he believes that NATO must ramp up integrated air missile defense, as there is limited to none capacity and exercises. He also believes military ability is of the utmost importance, as being able to move faster than Russian Federation forces can provide faster and more effective responses from NATO. A command and control center near the Baltic Sea as a part of the NATO force structure would be of great use as there is no headquarters dedicated to the region. An additional issue is that there are not enough ships to do all the tasks that are asked of NATO to be effective in African and European countries; therefore, NATO must increase its naval capacity. Lastly, there must be a strategy for the greater Black Sea region. 

The event then included a question-and-answer session with the guests, as well as a small segment on the effects of COVID-19 on Russia and the Kremlin. If you are interested in watching this event hosted by the Center for European Policy Analysis, visit the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz0jnuwrBsA

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