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 country’s Defensce Ministry is planning to replace a large portion of its military’s equipment from the 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 Defensce 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." said Michal Šimečka, a researcher at the Institute of International Relations (IIR) in Prague., the Czech Republic.

According to Šimečka the analyst, the crisis in Ukraine has provided Bratislava with additional political legitimacy to motivate its hike in 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 Šimečka said.

Other acquisitions that have been mulled by the Slovak government include the plan to 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 the country’s military doctrine is the first in its history to clearly identify Russia as an enemy and aggressor. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Sept. 1 that his government is currently modernizing its armed forces, and its key military objectives include strengthening the military ties with between Kiev and Washington and upgrading Ukraine’s naval capabilities with the construction of four new 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 also reflected in the defense policies adopted elsewhere by other countries in the region. , and with more funds being allocated to military acquisitions by the governments of Eastern European allies.

In Lithuania, the Defensce Ministry's strategic document, "Assessment of Threats To National Security In 2015," strategic document 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 to this by increasing its military spending and awarding military procurements to other NATO member states, including the US, Germany and Poland.

The Lithuanian Defensce Ministry recently unveiled its draft defense budget for 2016, with plans to increase the country’s military expenditure to €574 million euros (US $634 million), which represents 1.48 percent of Lithuania’s gross domestic product. (GDP). With the Ukrainian conflict amplifying its the country’s 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," said Lithuanian Defensce Minister Juozas Olekas said.
Olekas said that the increased spending will be used to acquire new infantry fighting vehicles, (IFVs), 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 Defensce Committee. The state-run company warned Bulgaria’s government against performing aircraft maintenance activities in Poland after Bulgarian Defensce 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 to these claims 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 official visit to Poland's capital Warsaw, which saw During the visit, both officials stress how the impact of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine bolstered on bolstering the 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.,wWe 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."

Email: jadamowski@defensenews.com

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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