Nine European countries on the eastern flank of NATO, came together to discuss the future of military cooperation, and the strengthening of already existing relations. Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania participated in the Bucharest 9 hybrid summit. Military operations in the Alliance’s eastern flank are an essential aspect of NATO’s enhanced deterrence and defense strategy.

The History behind the Eastern Flank

Even during the existence of the Soviet Union, in times of great divide, the Eastern European countries united their military defense policy into the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Pact was put to an end on February 25, 1991, and Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel officially declared it dead on July 1, 1991. Gorbachev’s transparency and modernization policies, as well as other reforms, paved the way for widespread uprisings. The Warsaw Pact represented the Eastern bloc, while NATO and its member countries represented the Western bloc. NATO and the Warsaw Pact were ideologically opposed and gradually built up their own defenses, sparking an arms race that lasted the duration of the Cold War.

In November 1989, the Iron Curtain collapsed, and communist regimes in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, and Bulgaria began to crumble. NATO, which was established during the Cold War, has been central to European security. The end of the Cold War, however, sparked concerns about the alliance’s prospects, as its primary mission of protecting Western Europe against the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies no longer seemed essential. Eastern European countries were trying to make the transition from communism to democracy, and they saw NATO as a way to stabilize themselves economically and militarily, making space for economic growth that would bring new opportunities and future prospects.

Bucharest 9 Summit

Hosted by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Polish President Andrzej Duda, the summit also welcomed the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and the NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg. The Heads of States exchanged thoughts and plans regarding the evolution of the Alliance for up until 2030. Statements were made about the relations with the Russian Federation, terrorist threats, the situation in the Black Sea, and the cooperation with the European Union.

NATO- Russia Relations

The Heads of States and Governments condemned “Russia’s acts of sabotage on Alliance territory”. This claim is directed at the unfortunate explosions in Vrbětice, in the Czech Republic, in 2014. Recently, in retaliation for Prague’s expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats, Moscow has deported 20 Czechs, blaming them of being spies after Czech intelligence tied Russian military agents to the deadly ammunition warehouse disaster in 2014 that killed multiple individuals. This expulsion of officials slowed down the diplomatic cooperation, affecting the everyday lives of many individuals. This move comes as a response in preparation for the Council of the European Union’s informal conference on April 19, which discussed the future of the relations with Russia.

“The Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian border and in Crimea is very concerning. The risk of further escalation is evident. We commended Ukraine for its restrained response and urged Russia to de-escalate and defuse tensions” said Josep Borell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The NATO Bucharest 9 leaders also expressed their concern about the situation between Bulgaria and Russia. Bulgarian prosecutors are accusing Russian officials of four explosions and an assassination in 2011 at an arms depot in the village of Lovindol. Evidence is still being gathered for this potential international law case.

Terrorist Threats

The Bucharest 9 leaders discussed the issue of terrorism, acknowledging that it continues to be a concern to all NATO member states. They stated that the overarching purpose of hybrid warfare, misinformation, and deception is to spread mistrust in the partner nations, with the ultimate goal of influencing the very foundations of democracy and weakening the Alliance’s solidarity. They claim that outside of NATO’s territories, insecurity contributes to irregular migration. The leaders said: “We remain vigilant, within the Alliance, to ensure that Afghanistan will not become again a safe haven for terrorists.”

The Black Sea Situation

“The concerning security situation in the Black Sea – which we covered extensively in the talks – showed us that we need to remain vigilant,” said President Iohannis.

In addition to the troop buildup across Ukraine, Russia conducted military exercises in the Black Sea, which borders NATO members Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, has secured a commitment from the US for increased defense assistance. The recent accumulation of tension in the Black Sea was most likely a warning to the West of the Kremlin’s tenacity in pressing Ukraine, as well as Russia’s strong opposition to Ukraine’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was also a diversion from his repression of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.  Finally, the tensions developed provided the Russian military with a trial run in case Putin decides to take a chance and attack across the frontier.

The Bucharest 9 summit happens at the same time as DACIA 21 LIVEX: the biggest NATO military exercise since the outbreak of the pandemic, claims the Romanian Ministry of National Defense. Nearly 15,000 soldiers (10,000 Romanians and 5,000 from 17 allied and partner nations) will participate in the most complex training activity since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The series of exercises DACIA 21 LIVEX, which will begin on Tuesday, May 4th, and will last until the middle of June, in 16 Firing Ranges and other Romanian military facilities. Hosting the Bucharest 9 Summit, as well as conducting complex military exercises, which comprise most Eastern European NATO members, show the strong commitment of Romania to the Alliance’s collective goals.

All in all, the summit succeeded in strengthening the future cooperation of the NATO member states. The leaders said they will continue to work to make NATO more efficient and safer, and that they are eager to contribute to transatlantic stability. Also, they are committed to meeting in Bucharest 9, the forum for collaboration and dialogue, to facilitate future joint approaches and contribute to Euro-Atlantic stability.

Image by NATO – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda