Avoiding the East-South Divide Ahead of the NATO Summit
WARSAW—Tomorrow the foreign ministers of Turkey, Poland, and Romania will meet in Warsaw for the first time in this high-level trilateral format. The meeting will focus on the upcoming NATO summit in July, sending a strong sign of unity in the Alliance’s Eastern Flank, but its implications go beyond the immediate coordination of positions during the summit.
Poland and Romania are strong supporters of a robust NATO presence on what is called the Eastern Flank of the Alliance, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Both countries are strong opponents of Russian domination in Eastern Europe and critics of its military and political aggression, and they are both trying to keep the flank high on NATO’s agenda. For its part, Turkey has been more preoccupied for the past few years with events in Syria and on NATO’s Southern Flank, making it a distant partner to both Poland and Romania. Yet, as Turkey’s relations with Russia have deteriorated, its attention seems to have been drawn north. Very importantly, all three countries host elements of the anti-missile shield, making them important NATO posts, and also targets of Russia’s vocal opposition to the shield and what it perceives as direct threats.
The trilateral meeting between the Polish, Romanian and Turkish foreign ministers sends the immediate political message to NATO for equal attention to be paid to both flanks of the Alliance, east and south, and that security of all three seas (Baltic, Black and Mediterranean) and their regions is of equal importance. It also signals the unity of the Eastern Flank, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, ending speculations between a political rift between the northern and southern parts of the flank. These are important messages ahead of the summit, and will add to the force of demands and the height of expectations of the countries on the Eastern Flank.
Yet, if the three countries fall short of demanding an integrated NATO strategy against Russian aggression their effort will bear little effects.. Russia acts on both flanks of the Alliance, seeking to keep a stronghold on both, so a counteracting strategy has to include and consider both flanks. While both the occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea and Russian support to the Assad regime and securing its bases in Syria at first glance appear unrelated,they are actually synergetic both militarily, as Crimea is an excellent port to supply Russian bases in Syria, and geopolitically, as Russia maintains its influence in the vicinities of Europe, increasing the pressure on both the Alliance and the EU.
Security of the Black Sea needs to be another issue on the agenda of the three states. Turkey’s renewed interest in and concern about the Black Sea has been voiced unequivocally by its president, going as far as to say, ”The Black Sea has almost become a Russian lake. If we don’t act now, history will not forgive us.” Poland and Romania should use this interest to secure Ankara’s support for enhanced Black Sea security, which is currently heavily militarized by Russia. While seemingly less of a priority for Poland, preventing Russian dominance of the Black Sea is important to the security of the entire region. Russian ships stationed in Crimea may easily navigate to the Mediterranean, should they choose. All three countries, and the Alliance as a whole, face Russian challenge of Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) — from Kaliningrad in the Baltic, to Crimea in the Black Sea, to the Russian base in Syria on the Mediterranean. With powerful air-defenses, including the S-400, Russia is attempting to dominate and control the three vital seas for the Alliance, with profound consequences for Poland, Romania, and Turkey. A concerted push by the three flank countries can push the issue of countering the A2AD to the place of prominence it requires at the Warsaw NATO Summit and beyond.
Tomorrow’s meeting in Warsaw offers a real opportunity to turn an idea that has been sitting somewhat dormant into a powerful format of cooperation that would protect NATO's Eastern and Southern Flank from the Baltic, to the Black Sea, to the Mediterranean.