London: Military alliance NATO has drawn up plans to defend the Baltic states against Russian threats, US diplomatic cables released Tuesday by WikiLeaks showed.
An existing defence plan covering Poland was extended to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after they lobbied for extra protection, said the leaked cables, revealed in Britain’s Guardian daily.
The move to defend the former Soviet republics from Moscow risks undermining US President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with Russia after they were severely tested during the presidency of George W. Bush.
US officials were fully aware of the sensitivity of the matter, the cables showed — they urged their Baltic counterparts to keep quiet for fear of upsetting Russia.
Painful memories were stirred in the Baltic states during the Russia-Georgia war of 2008, according to the cables, part of some 250,000 leaked US dispatches being slowly released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
“Events in Georgia have dominated the news and discussion here like few other events in recent memory,” said a cable from the American embassy in Riga, Latvia, cited in The New York Times, which has also been given access to the leaks.
Latvians, at least ethnic Latvians, “look at Georgia and think that this could easily be them,” said the dispatch.
The states have significant Russian minorities, so were alarmed at Russia’s explanation for going into Georgia — that it was protecting the rights of Russian citizens there.
US admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s top commander in Europe, proposed drawing up defence plans for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which had joined the military alliance in 2004, according to the leaked correspondence.
NATO military officials agreed in January this year to the policy, which groups the Baltic states with Poland in a new regional defence scheme codenamed Eagle Guardian, said the cables, according to the Guardian.
Earlier calls by eastern Europe for more security guarantees had been stymied by opposition from western Europe, and in particular Germany, which feared any such moves could antagonise Russia.
The Baltic states were delighted with the upturn in their fortunes. The Latvians expressed “profound happiness” at the decision, while an Estonian called it an “early Christmas present,” according to two cables.
But the US was keen they keep quiet about the matter.
“A public discussion of contingency planning would also likely lead to an unnecessary increase in NATO-Russia tensions, something we should try to avoid as we work to improve practical cooperation in areas of common NATO-Russia interest,” a December cable told NATO member states.
US diplomats were also concerned the moves were not consistent with NATO’s official post-Cold War policy, which is not supposed to regard Russia as a threat.
“The Baltic states clearly believe that the Russian Federation represents a future security risk and desire a contingency plan to address that risk,” said an October 2009 cable, signed by the American ambassador to NATO, Ivo H. Daalder.
“And therein lies the problem. Post-Cold War NATO has consistently said that it no longer views Russia as a threat.”