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NATO Build-Up in Romania: Clear Threat to Russia

By: Alex Gorka

NATO has made a request to set up a counter-intelligence unit in Bucharest to protect the two military commands established there two years ago. The new unit is to function within the South-East Multinational Division also based in Romania’s capital. The mission is to prevent information leaks and attempts to compromise NATO operations in the region.

Besides counter intelligence activities, the ACCI Bucharest Detachment – BuDET is also intended to train and educate personnel to investigate and counteract reported threats. Romania’s parliament is set to approve the NATO request at its next plenary session, after it passed through the defence commissions of both chambers. This new unit will be deployed in addition to NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) and the Headquarters of the Multinational Division set up recently.

The request comes amid intense preparations for the largest NATO exercise on Romania’s soil. The country will host 25,000 troops from 11 countries in June.

In late 2015, NATO activated the Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE) headquarters in Bucharest to provide a high readiness capability to the forces deployed within the Southeast region of the bloc’s border nations. The MND-SE executes command and control over the NATO Force Integration Units in Romania and Bulgaria for a range of missions, which includes Article V operations based on NATO advance planning, when authorized by the North Atlantic Council and directed by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

In February, NATO agreed on two additional measures: an increased NATO naval presence in the Black Sea and a coordination function for the Standing Naval Forces operating with other allied forces in the Black Sea region.

A battalion of 500 US soldiers with Abrams tanks arrived in Romania in January. The American troops are stationed at the Mihail Kogalniceanu military base near Constanta and participate in military drills together with Romanian and NATO forces.

NATO will begin basing fighter jets in Romania in May to further expand its reach into Russia’s southern flank. The UK will be the first NATO member-state to provide aircraft and personnel for NATO’s Southern Air Policing (SAP) mission. Four RAF Typhoons from 3rd Fighter Squadron based at RAF Coningsby would be the first unit to begin flying operations from Romanian territory. The RAF Typhoons and future NATO aircraft will operate from Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in southeastern Romania, 16 miles from the port city of Constanța, and only a few minutes flying time from the Black Sea and the areas where Russian aircraft fly on patrol missions daily from Crimea. The mission will last till September, when the Royal Canadian Air Force takes over, bringing in four CF-18 Hornets to Romania for a four-month stint.

The NATO deployments in Romania, the alliance country closest to Crimea, come after Bucharest lobbied for increased security in the Black Sea region. In its turn, Romania contributes into the US-led NATO mission in Poland. It has sent 120 air defense troops to join 900 US soldiers and around 150 British personnel in Poland, where one of four multinational detachments across the Baltic region is located.

In May 2016, the US military activated a missile-interceptor site in Romania – a key element of the missile shield, which is due to be fully operational in 2018. The deployment weakens Russia’s nuclear deterrent, upsetting the balance of power. Aegis Ashore uses the naval Mk-41 launching system, which is capable of firing long-range cruise missile. The launcher can be retrofitted to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles instead of interceptors. This is a blatant violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty).

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, «This is not a defense system. This is part of US nuclear strategic potential brought onto a periphery. In this case, Eastern Europe is such periphery». «Until now, those taking such decisions have lived in calm, fairly well-off and in safety. Now, as these elements of ballistic missile defense are deployed, we are forced to think how to neutralize emerging threats to the Russian Federation», the president noted. Coupled with deployment in the Mediterranean of US ships carrying Aegis missiles and other missile shield elements in Poland, the site in Romania is «yet another step to rock international security and start a new arms race», Putin emphasized.

«Romania’s stance and the stance of its leadership, which has turned the country into an outpost, is a clear threat for us», said Aleksander Botsan-Kharchenko, the head of the Fourth European Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to the diplomat, Romania has taken other actions directed against Russia, including the implementation of sanctions imposed by the EU. «We saw from Bucharest a definitely anti-Russian, even Russophobic line during their inspired implementation of the sanctions or in their anti-Russian rhetoric», the official pointed out.

In response to NATO growing presence, Russian has deployed S-400 long-range air-defense systems and Bastion long-range shore-based anti-ship missiles in Crimea. The NATO deployments in the vicinity of Russia’s Black Sea shoreline automatically makes Romania a target.

The Romania-based missile defense system as well as NATO air bases and headquarters will be targeted by Russian Kalibr sea- and air-based medium-range cruise missiles successfully tested in Syria some time ago. The Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighters are quite capable of hitting the specified objects from airfields in Crimea. The active phase array antenna-based radar, located in Romania, can be countered by Russian ground and air-based electronic warfare systems.

Before the 1987 INF Treaty was signed in 1987, mass protests hit European NATO member states. The reason? There is no quiet life for those who know they are in the crosshairs. Perhaps, the time is right for Romania’s government to remember the events that took place only 30 years ago. The bilateral relations with Moscow could hardly be improved against the background of Romania’s zeal to become a springboard for an aggression against its neighbor.

Nothing justifies the whipping up of tensions by NATO in the Black Sea region. The NATO plans are doomed to be counterproductive bringing more escalatory than deterrent value. They will inevitably provoke Russia into taking measures in response. The Black Sea will become a region of uncontrollable arms race. While the Islamic State poses a threat to the very existence of NATO members, the alliance is engaged in provocations to intimidate Russia – its natural ally in the fight against the common enemy.

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