Russia’s military has been accused by Poland of being engaged in an unprecedented amount of activity around the Baltic Sea, involving both its Baltic fleet and aircraft. The country’s Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said on Thursday (11 December) that Poland, a member of NATO, was not under direct threat of being attacked and added that the Russian maneuvers were possibly intended to test how NATO forces in the region would respond. This corresponds with information from NATO sources who reported that its joint patrols in the region have seen increased activity by Russia’s military since the beginning of the tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine. Since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula earlier this year, NATO has reinforced its presence in eastern Europe and especially around the Baltic region by increasing its air patrols and by moving soldiers and equipment there. NATO has announced that these measures are to reassure its eastern European members, who fear they could be Russia’s next target.
In a separate but related development, Moscow has reportedly begun lobbying in Budapest, Nicosia, and Rome, which it considers as sympathetic EU capitals, to veto next year’s renewal of Russia sanctions. With the first batch of EU measures expiring in March and the next batch ending in April, EU member states must agree by consensus to extend their validity but if even only one of them breaks ranks, the sanctions will fall. A well-informed EU source told EUBULLETIN earlier this week that “the Russians are keeping their channels of communication particularly with Budapest, Nicosia and Rome busy” while trying to influence their senior policy-makers in the run-up to the vote on the future of the anti-Russian sanctions. Other EU sources have reminded that Cyprus and Hungary are already spearheading the initiative for a broad sanctions review while Italy, Slovakia, Greece, and perhaps also the Czech Republic, would support a partial roll-back of sanctions. At the other end of the scale are the UK, the Baltic states, Poland, and Sweden, all of whom are the most hawkish.