Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine has brought War to Europe
- By defencematters
General Hans-Lothar Domrose, Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, in an interview with Defence Matters.
Russia's aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea has brought war to Europe, therefore NATO is doing everything possible to defend its member states and their residents from potential aggressors, said General Hans-Lothar Domrose, Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, in an interview with Defence Matters.
Has NATO done everything to deter Russia and its forces from invading into the Baltic states?
I am not NATO, I am a NATO commander, so I do what I can do with the given forces. I would not like to suggest that NATO has already done everything that it could have done. At the NATO summit in Cardiff, Wales the heads of states and governments directed us to do something. I trained the VJTF in Spain. We will train the VJTF in April in the so-called jump series. We will deploy a force to Zagan (Poland), and we will see more rotational forces in the Baltic states, as well as Poland. So, with this, NATO is heading into the Warsaw summit in early July. We will see whether it was good or not good enough, as the world keeps on turning. I mean, after Warsaw everything will continue. I cannot look into a glass ball and say what our political masters will decide. They will at least recognize that we have achieved something and I do expect that they will also recognize that we still have some gaps, and as it is – when you see gaps you have to answer the question how to fill them.
NATO defense ministers have reached an agreement to increase the allied presence in Eastern Europe. What kind of presence will it be – more troops, more rotations?
First of all, we can gratefully say that our American colleagues decided to bring, on a rotational basis, one brigade to Europe. This brigade traditionally has four battalions, to put it simply, and will rotate through exercises together with allies and partners around Europe, thus demonstrating its presence - a magnificent step. Secondly, all European allies have agreed to participate in this rolling exercise program, which we call persistent presence. The ministers of defense decided to increase the activities in the East, that is – from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It is not only your country, it is all countries. And this increase is visible. This visible presence will strengthen deterrence.
Will there be deployment of heavy equipment?
I cannot say this right now, we have to wait for the details, but obviously the American brigade will deploy its heavy equipment. I cannot say and I cannot comment on where the U.S. will deploy its forces, but I know negotiations are underway. However, I am sure they will find the most suitable locations for their forces.
Is NATO considering some steps from the Russians regarding this decision?
We as NATO, and we as independent nations, decide on how we will protect our people regardless of what Russia will say. I think that the measures our ministers have taken and ordered the military to conduct are defensive in nature. We are not provoking. Even if a brigade came to Latvia, it is not a provocation. I mean President Putin has thousand of brigades, so what is one brigade.
But is a brigade enough to send the right signals to Russia?
Well, I guess your question is kind of right, but you have to see a brigade as always part of a system. I am Commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum and I say it because the ‘jointness’ is important. A brigade, obviously, is a land piece. It is good, but it is never alone. I always bring in the air component with land forces. The air component for the VJTF for example is 400 aircraft. You don’t see them but they are there. So the brigade is one thing, the air portion is the next thing, and then you have maritime forces. My maritime force includes eight submarines and 140 ships. And then we have special forces and other forces, like media. We have the StratCom centers and so on and so on. So when we talk about a brigade it is much more. It is a complex system.
You are basically the person who is responsible of protecting the Baltic States. Some analysts now say that NATO would lose such a war. Do you think it is possible for NATO to protect the Baltics?
If you ask a general if he has enough forces, the typical answer is no. But I do understand that I am only a part of the whole governmental system. And I fully understand that our political masters must weigh where they want to spend on – we want to have health care, we want to have education, we want to have a military. I think that it is enough to deter Russia, because the price Mr. Putin would have to pay is terribly high. There is no political gain and no military gain in invading the Baltic States. Anybody who believes he can simply attack Riga or Tallinn, or Vilnius, he will get a response from elsewhere and everywhere.
Is there a possibility of a new arms race between NATO and Russia?
There's always this possibility but we didn't ask for this. Sadly, I have to remind everyone, that it was Russia that invaded Georgia. It was Russia which brought back war to Europe. Just recently in the Munich security conference Ukrainian President [Petro] Poroshenko made this very clear to the Russian Prime Minister [Dmitry] Medvedev, who was also in attendance. Medvedev was talking about the civil war in Ukraine. President Poroshenko said – ''Well, mister prime minister, stop talking about some kind of civil war. It is your war. I have Russian forces in my country.'' You see perception. It is all about perception. The allies believe that Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. So war has come back to Europe. The reaction which Mr. [Jens] Stoltenberg has made very clear is that we have to do what we have to do in order to protect our people. That is mission number one. We are an alliance which is defensive in nature, but I have to guarantee that our people are protected.
You said that NATO isn't looking for a conflict with Russia, but we have a situation in Syria where everybody seems to be fighting one another. Don't you think that incidents such as Turkey shooting down a Russian plane will spark some sort of proxy conflict between NATO and Russia?
Absolutely, the situation in Syria is extremely tense. We heard in Munich during the security conference that in Syria there is an international contact group heading towards a ceasefire. In Munich they said within a week. I don't know whether it is possible, but we are all hungry to stop this brutal war where in the end there are no winners. The country’s infrastructure, as you can see every day in the news, is almost totally destroyed. Syria is a place which must calm down and I do hope that the international community has the ability to stop this bleeding.
But what will happen if Turkey starts a ground invasion in Syria, what then?
Well, I don't know what then. There is a potential for Turkish and Russian forces to meet on Syrian soil and fight each other. However, this is not the case at the moment and we do hope that it can be avoided. We need a ceasefire for two reasons: to set conditions for development and to stop the bleeding, and, finally, to set the conditions for the common fight against ISIS or ''Daesh''. That is very important.
So, how NATO can be involved in the fight against ISIS?
NATO is a capable organization. NATO could do anything it wants to, but we must remember that NATO is an organization made up of 28 allies and they have to decide whether they want NATO in. You know that there are currently 60 nations in the anti-ISIS coalition, including Russia, including Saudi Arabia, including Iran. Obviously, it is complicated to put all of this under the roof of NATO. Maybe it is possible to put it under the roof of the UN. I don't see NATO as an organization in this fight. But once there is a ceasefire, once we achieve some kind of pause in the fighting, NATO could very well take over the responsibility to reestablish law and order. Security forces could be trained, could be advised. NATO is prepared to set the conditions for the buildup afterwards.
Is there a need for closer cooperation between the EU and NATO?
Yes, I couldn't agree more. We, NATO, are good in providing security, we are good in bringing our soldiers together and protecting our people. If we want to go abroad, because it is required, we can also stabilize, we can set the conditions for a safe and secure environment. However, we are not good in building development. For that of course you need a secure environment, which would be NATO’s party if you will, but the buildup is perfect for the EU. They have the expertise, they have the knowledge and, more importantly, they have money. So, it is a good combination – NATO and the EU can work together to achieve many things.