By Tom Balmforth/
Foto: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to reporters in Brussels about the alliance’s plans to bolster its eastern flank./
MOSCOW — NATO’s insistence that it is a defensive alliance has always received short shrift in Russia. So when the alliance approved plans to deter Russian aggression by bolstering its eastern flank, the icy reaction of the Russian media came as no surprise.
The tone of the outrage varied greatly, but the opposition was largely uniform across mainstream TV, radio, and print media after NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that a multinational NATO force will be rotated through the countries of Eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression.
Pro-Kremlin news and commentary website Vzglyad cast the plans as the building blocks of a NATO “beachhead” on Russia’s doorstep that would “fracture the foundations” of European security.
Vzglyad characterized NATO’s announcement of rotations and regular exercises — rather than a permanent base — as a “sneaky” way to get around a promise, in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, to defend itself without “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” near Russia “in the current and foreseeable security environment.”
“The tactic of ‘getting around’ rather than once and for all tearing up [the Founding Act] is most likely being conducted because of pressure from a range of Western European countries, primarily Germany, which are not interested in unnecessarily provoking a Russian response,” Vzglyad wrote.
The tone on TV, radio, and social media was more vitriolic.
And state TV tried to turn NATO’s assurances that it poses no threat to Russia on their head, calling any notion of Russian aggression a “myth.”
“The NATO secretary-general is in no hurry to ease relations,” watchers of the Vesti evening news program were told on February 10, not long after Stoltenberg spoke. “On the contrary, while frightening the world about the myth of Russian aggression, he intends to increase the military presence in Eastern Europe.”
The number of troops to be involved in the NATO exercises will be decided at an alliance summit in Warsaw in June. The plans may help allay fears, particularly among NATO’s easternmost member states, sparked by Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea and its backing for separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies it has sent regular troops into eastern Ukraine, despite mounting evidence.
Aleksei Pushkov, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, took the idea of NATO promulgating the “myth” of a Russian threat to social media.
“The NATO secretary-general says that the alliance is not going to fight [Islamic State]. Understood. That’s not NATO’s role. Its main task is confrontation with Russia amid commotion over the Russian threat.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova opined that Brussels had dreamed up the Russian threat to make itself feel better after proving unable to resist Islamist militants on the continent.
“Take a look at the terrorist attacks in Paris, for instance. Did NATO fall on the grenade to protect everyone from the terrorists? No, of course not, because it is not capable of this,” Zakharova said in comments carried by the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper on February 10.
Newspapers including the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda latched onto a comment from Ruslan Balbek, a member of the Russian-imposed government of Crimea, who said NATO’s deployment plans were a blatant psychological test of Russia’s resilience.
“NATO has dropped its sheep’s clothing and intends to rattle the saber. But nobody has ever succeeded in scaring Russia, and nobody will ever succeed,” he said.
Igor Korotchenko, the pro-Kremlin editor in chief of National Defense magazine, hit the airwaves to accuse NATO of gearing up for war on Russia.
He told Vesti FM listeners that NATO is “working on real plans to conduct military action against Russia in the European theater of military activity.”
“This would seem completely unthinkable in the context of the 21st century, in the context of a global world. But unfortunately this is the reality. And we need to take these realities into account,” Korotchenko said.
He was clear on how the Kremlin should respond.
“We must understand that the only guarantee that the U.S. and NATO plans do not become reality is an increase in the readiness of the armed forces, the work of the military industrial complex, and of course the development of our strategic nuclear forces that are the guarantee against large-scale aggression against our country.”
By Tom Balmforth/