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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Who’s next after the NATO summit in Vilnius (2023)?

On August 7 this year, it was fifteen years since the Russian Federation's armed attack on Georgia. Fifteen years ago, at the Bucharest Summit, the North Atlantic Alliance denied granting the MAP to Ukraine and Georgia, which effectively unleashed the hands of the aggressor state. Today, parts of Georgia and Ukraine are under Russian occupation, and NATO is repeating the mistakes of the past.

At the Vilnius summit, Ukraine did not receive clear timeframes and conditions for its future accession to the Alliance. One of the arguments used to explain this decision is Russia's alleged readiness to create an "eternal war" to prevent Ukraine from joining the Alliance. It is therefore assumed that the absence of an invitation is the best solution for Ukraine itself. However, this argument is not viable. Russia is trying to gain regional dominance and return all the countries that were once part of the USSR to its sphere of influence. The aggressor state questions Ukrainian statehood and the existence of Ukrainians as a separate nation. Ukraine's struggle against Russia is existential and the state is looking for ways to strengthen its security. NATO's decision would not be the reason for the continuation of the war. On the contrary, the Russian Federation would have received a signal that its war is futile and that it has no veto power in Ukraine-NATO relations. However, this has not happened, and the North Atlantic Alliance has once again been reluctant to bring Ukraine closer to membership. The NATO summit showed that the Alliance is not ready for a direct confrontation with Russia.

After delivering an ultimatum to NATO demanding a return to the 1997 borders in December 2021, Russia attacked Ukraine. Hoping to subjugate a country of 40 million people and a nearly half-million-strong army, the Kremlin expected that in the near future, a reinforced Russian army would be on the borders of Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and the Baltic states. From the point of view of the Russian leadership, the subsequent invasion of the Baltic states, which was practiced during the military strategic exercises "West-17" and "West-21," should have resulted in the fulfillment of the conditions that Russia had put forward to NATO. A year and a half has passed since then. The Russian army has suffered significant losses in Ukraine in both equipment and personnel. At the same time, the human resource of the aggressor state remains significant, as well as its military capabilities. The desire for regional dominance has not disappeared, and the countries on NATO's eastern flank are still under the threat.

Russian missiles have already fallen on the territory of Poland and Romania, and the North Atlantic Alliance has chosen to ignore this. Similarly, freedom of navigation in the Black Sea has not existed since 2021. Avoiding conflict with Russia under any circumstances is a strategic mistake that can come at a high cost to NATO member states. The joke that a NATO country will cease to be a NATO country once it is attacked by Russia is not really a joke. After the Prigozhin rebellion, Russia moved the Wagner PMC forces to Belarus and then to the border with Poland. This caused considerable alarm in Vilnius and Warsaw. The relocation of Wagner's forces to the border with Poland is not the only step that reminded of the danger to the Eastern European country. On August 1, 2023, two Belarusian helicopters violated Polish airspace. These aircraft were participating in military exercises near the border. Poland responded by further strengthening the border, but neither Russia nor Belarus received a response for the airspace violation.

According to Ukraine's estimates, there are about 5,000 Wagner PMC fighters in Belarus.[1] These are capable units with extensive combat experience, which many soldiers in the armies of the North Atlantic Alliance countries do not have. According to Micha? Kaminski, Vice Marshal of the Polish Senate, his country takes seriously the threat posed by the presence of Wagner mercenaries near the Polish border in Belarus. "No one in Poland excludes the possibility that in order to test NATO, so to speak, to test the Alliance's solidarity with Poland, with Eastern Europe, they may try to enter Poland. Most likely, it will be a kind of terrorist operation by the Wagner PMC rather than a full-scale invasion, as in the case of Ukraine."

In recent weeks, anti-Polish propaganda has been actively spread on Russian information resources. Vladimir Putin has personally questioned the territorial integrity of Poland, as he has done in his previous statements about Ukraine. The Russian dictator said on Friday, July 21, that Poland's western territories are a "gift from Stalin." According to him, Poland received "significant lands in the West - the lands of Germany" thanks to the position of the USSR and Joseph Stalin personally. "The western territories of present-day Poland are Stalin's gift to the Poles. Our friends in Warsaw have forgotten about this, we will remind them,"[2] he said at a meeting of the Russian Security Council. The head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, in turn, said on Russian television that the Wagner PMC was sent to Belarus "not only and not so much" to train the Belarusian armed forces, but to take the Suwalki corridor if necessary.This scenario is quite likely. The Russian army will not immediately send its troops to occupy the Suwalki corridor or the Baltic states. This could be a provocation by Russian mercenaries. A provocation scenario is likely to be used to accuse Poland of aggression and further attack this neighboring country.

Russian troops pose a particular threat to the Baltic states, which, in the event of a Russian attack, would probably not have enough strength to stop the Russian occupation forces. The Russian leadership may be considering such steps to raise the stakes and further de-escalate on its own terms. Putin is not interested in starting a global, world war. However, expanding the theater of operations and drawing other countries in the region into the war may be seen by the Kremlin as a viable scenario.

According to YouGov polls, only one in ten Germans is ready to defend their homeland in the event of an armed attack. About 25% would be ready to leave the country in such a case.[3] The question arises, how many Germans are ready to de-occupy, for example, Estonia? The United States of America lacks ammunition to meet the needs of the Armed Forces, while the country is preparing for the potential defense of Taiwan. At the same time, the fear of a Third World War in NATO countries is forcing some people to call for a halt to aid to Ukraine, even without the physical presence of member states' troops. Apparently, the average isolationist American who does not want to "provoke Putin" does not care whether Russia attacks Ukraine or Estonia, Lithuania, or Poland, countries he would not be able not show on a map. If Putin attacks Eastern European allies, the war has the prospect of a faster ending in peace, but on Russia's terms. This could include a return to the 1997 NATO borders, the lifting of sanctions against Russia, guarantees of personal security for the Russian leadership, and the legalization of the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol, and four Ukrainian regions. The societies of NATO countries are not ready to defend their bloc, and the leaderships of these countries have not yet fully realized the Russian threat.

The NATO summit's decision not to define a clear timeline for Ukraine's accession demonstrated that Russia's veto power in Ukraine's relations with the Alliance remains intact. NATO has demonstrated a desire to avoid confrontation with Russia, which the aggressor perceives as weakness. The results of this can already be seen in practice, as Russia is stepping up its aggressive actions against the Alliance and redeploying fighters from the terrorist Wagner PMC to the border with Poland. The coming months may be difficult for Poland and the Baltic states, which will face a real threat to their borders and territorial integrity.

1. У Білорусі перебуває понад 5 тисяч «вагнерівців» - Демченко, 30.07.2023, 1 URL:
2. Путін заявив, що західні землі Польщі - "подарунок Сталіна", 21.07.2023, URL:
3. One year on: European and American attitudes to the war in Ukraine, 24.02.2023, URL: