POLITICS
03/26/2014 03:26 EDT | Updated 05/26/2014 05:59 EDT

NATO should have a bigger footprint in Eastern Europe: Polish ambassador

OTTAWA - The security and certainty of the international post-Cold War era ended with Russia's annexation of Crimea, Poland's ambassador to Canada warned Wednesday as he called for a more defined NATO presence in eastern Europe.

Marcin Bosacki said the climate becomes "extremely dangerous" when Russian President Vladimir Putin talks openly — as he did last week — about correcting the mistakes of history.

"It shows you his ambitions are potentially bigger than Crimea, and already he is presenting a possible legitimization of his next moves," Bosacki said in an interview.

"Again, borders are being redrawn by force in Europe."

Until crisis erupted in Ukraine, angst among eastern European countries about the increasingly belligerent tone in Moscow had long been dismissed among allies as lingering Cold War paranoia.

"We lived, in the early 90's, in a fantasy mood that history has ended and Europe is fixed," Bosacki said.

"We Poles didn't believe in it, and now everybody shares our opinion. Unfortunately, history has not ended in our part of the world and NATO as the guarantor of security in Europe needs to be beefed up in its eastern flanks."

Only a handful of the roughly 62,000 U.S. troops in Europe are based in countries that are new members of NATO, including Poland, which joined the military alliance in 1999, he added.

Retired U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, a former supreme commander, recently argued in Foreign Policy magazine that western forces should be on a higher state of alert and that NATO should consider "forward deploying" into former East Bloc countries.

At least one Polish lawmaker has also called on NATO to deploy military assets to Poland, which shares a border with Ukraine.

Bosacki was a bit more circumspect, but said his country would like to see the alliance "strengthen its structural presence," which could mean the establishment of bases.

Earlier this week, Poland decided to speed up the acquisition of its own new missile defence system to counter Russian ballistic rockets. The US$5 billion investment would be in addition to elements of a U.S. missile scheduled to be deployed in 2018.

The international community has an obligation to "stop Russia where they are," said Slawomir Debski, director of the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding.

Debski said he's confident NATO would stand with its new allies, such as Poland and the Baltic states, should they come under threat.

Indeed, NATO's founding charter requires members to come to the assistance of members who have been attacked. It has only been invoked once, following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

There's been considerable debate about the alliance's mission following the end of the Cold War.

Some observers had suggested that without the Warsaw Pact facing them across the German border, the western alliance had no purpose. That criticism was renewed with so-called "out-of-area" missions in Afghanistan and Libya.

The Crimea situation has given NATO a fresh purpose and focus, Debski said.

Bosacki said Warsaw and Ottawa have worked closely together throughout the crisis in Ukraine and the two countries will soon unveil a joint set of initiatives to help the embattled country.

"These would be soft-power" initiatives, he said, declining further comment until the announcements are made.

Poland has been the most successful former East Bloc country to make the transition from communism to free-market democracy, and it's recognized that the country's experience is invaluable to its eastern neighbour, Bosacki said.