WARSAW — Fearful of a possible military intervention by Moscow, Eastern European NATO member states are resisting acquiring new equipment from Russia and scrapping their cooperation with Russian defense manufacturers to service their existing gear.
In Slovakia, the Defence Ministry is planning to replace a large portion of its Warsaw Pact-era military equipment with new gear, preferably purchased from other NATO member states, local analysts said.
"The government is bent on replacing Soviet-era equipment through the most ambitious acquisition and modernization drive in modern history," Michal Šimečka, a researcher at the Institute of International Relations (IIR) in Prague, said. "In the past year, Slovakia's Defence Ministry announced plans to purchase two Italian-made Spartan transport aircraft, Czech-made Bren rifles and nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. The ministry also plans to acquire a new mobile air defense system."
According to Šimečka, the crisis in Ukraine has provided Bratislava with additional political legitimacy to hike military procurement.
"The Ukraine conflict and the consequent worsening of the security landscape is one of the reasons behind the modernization program, or, at least, it is used to legitimize it," he said.
Other acquisitions that have been mulled by the Slovak government include replacing the country’s Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jets with a lease of eight Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen aircraft. However, a final decision is yet to be taken by Bratislava.
Russia Main Security Threat
In Ukraine, this year’s edition of its military doctrine is the first to clearly identify Russia as an enemy and aggressor. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Sept. 1 that his government is modernizing its armed forces, and its key military objectives include strengthening military ties with Washington and upgrading Ukraine’s naval capabilities with the construction of four corvettes. The procurement is expected to contribute to efforts by Kiev to hamper Moscow’s activities in the Black Sea.
Russia’s increased military presence in Eastern Europe is reflected in the defense policies adopted elsewhere in the region.
In Lithuania, the Defence Ministry's strategic document, "Assessment of Threats To National Security In 2015," says that "Russia is searching for ways to leverage the advantage of NATO in terms of conventional warfare. Therefore, in the first place Russia is trying to achieve this goal by creating an area (buffer zone) situated close to Russia and controlled by political or military means," which drives Russia’s expansion on the Black and Baltic seas.
Together with Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania is responding by increasing its military spending and awarding military procurements to other NATO member states, including the US, Germany and Poland.
The Lithuanian Defence Ministry recently unveiled its draft defense budget for 2016, with plans to increase the military expenditure to €574 million (US$634 million), which represents 1.48 percent of Lithuania’s gross domestic product. With the Ukrainian conflict amplifying its threat perception of Russia, the ministry said in a statement that it will focus on “developing priority capabilities and combat training.”
"We will focus on the following priority areas: combat training and modernization of the Lithuanian Armed Forces’ units, and development of priority capabilities," Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas said.
Olekas said that the increased spending will be used to acquire new infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled howitzers, anti-tank weapons, aircraft defense and communications systems, rifles, surveillance and measuring equipment, personal gear, airspace surveillance systems, and other equipment.
Bulgaria, Poland Tighten Defense Ties
Bulgaria’s government has decided to award a deal to service its MiG-29 fighters to Poland despite repeated threats by Moscow, which claims that Polish companies are unauthorized to service Russian-designed jets.
Last October, RSK MiG, manufacturer of the MiG-29 fighter jet, sent a letter of protest to the Bulgarian Parliament's Defence Committee. The state-run company warned Bulgaria’s government against performing aircraft maintenance activities in Poland after Bulgarian Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev and his Polish counterpart, Tomasz Siemoniak, inked a deal under which six of Bulgaria’s aircraft would be modernized and serviced by Polish aircraft maintenance plants.
However, Nenchev has responded by saying that the price offered by the Polish side was significantly lower than the costs of overhauling the fighter jets in Russia.
The final contract was signed Oct. 22 during Nenchev's visit to Warsaw, which saw both officials stress how Russia’s intervention in Ukraine bolstered military cooperation between Bulgaria and Poland.
"We have a similar perception of the [current] threats and crises," Siemoniak said Oct. 22. "We have a very well-developed cooperation [with Bulgaria] regarding our air forces.We are also developing this cooperation in the field of land forces and military training. However, we are also interested in extending it to other joint projects."