PARIS — An upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw needs to send a clear political message of solidarity as Russia pursues risky military moves on the alliance's eastern flank, senior Polish officials said.

The alliance will hold "a meaningful political discussion" aimed at forging a new relationship with Russia, but it is unlikely a decision will be made, said a senior Polish official who declined to be identified.

Leaders of the 28 NATO member states are due to gather July 8-9 in Warsaw, amid rising tension between the West and Moscow and a search for a strategy in Europe and around the world.

There is Polish concern Russia will continue to test the alliance, stopping short of sparking a NATO member to invoke Article 5, which commits the alliance to defend an ally.

"I expect the alliance to say it is ready to defend its members," an official said.

Among measures being discussed in the Brussels alliance headquarters include deployment of four NATO battalions — three in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and one in Poland, an official said. The level of deployment is under discussion but such a pledge would be intended as an important political message.

Further political statements could be made if the summit announced plans to hold meetings of the NATO Ukraine council and NATO Georgia commission.

On the southern flank, the alliance will decide what steps to take on handling the refugee problem, as thousands seek to flee conflicts across the Mediterranean and land in Europe.

Poland would be pleased to see the summit change the "fundamental philosophy" of defense and deterrence, with adoption of a rotating military presence in the east after a previous approach of a forward deployment of expeditionary forces.

On a new relationship with Russia, NATO leaders will seek a consensus between two contrasting views: those afraid of Russia under President Vladimir Putin and those "ready to cooperate … however bad Putin is," an official said.

There is concern in Poland about Russia building up capability in neighboring Kaliningrad, which for France could be seen as akin to Moscow massing troops on Sardinia, the nearby island in the Mediterranean, an official said.

There is also a strong Russian armed presence in Belarus, and worry over the scale of military exercises, in which the scenarios include nuclear weapons and assaults on Poland, Sweden and the Baltics, an official said. Last month, a Russian Su-24 jet buzzed the US destroyer Donald Cook in the Baltics, and the mysterious downing of the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet over east Ukraine in 2014. 

NATO's nuclear policy needs further thought in view of a large number of Russian tactical nuclear weapons, but there will not be enough time before the summit to reach a consensus, an official said.

The US is installing SM-3 Block IIA surface-to-air missiles in Poland under its European phased adaptive approach, which is intended to protect NATO allies in Europe from a perceived threat from Iran.

A Polish analyst said the US interceptor missiles were clearly fitted for hitting a weapon from the Middle East and were not a threat to Russia.

On the US plan to quadruple defense spending in Europe to $3.4 billion over two years from $789 million last year, that follows a pledge from President Barack Obama two years ago and will return the commitment to a previous funding level rather than deliver a real increase, an official said.

In Syria, Russia is seen to have rotated rather than pulled out forces and also shown Moscow can be relied upon to support an ally.

Apart from official Polish analysis, one official privately expressed concern about an incident arising, not from Russian military capabilities, but because of a lack of predictability, a "personalized decision-making" that Putin has a reputation for.

The summit agreement will likely be signed in the presidential palace, which was where the Warsaw Pact was signed in 1956 to form the allied forces of the former Soviet Union, an official said. 

 

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