BRYF 2016

Summary of the Baltic-Russia Youth Forum


On November 2-5, 2016, an annual Baltic-Russia Yourh Forum organized by the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association took place in Vilnius, Lithuania. During three days of conference, 45 young experts and students participated to listen and discuss on security and defence issues, NATO-Russia relations and post-Warsaw security situation in Europe. During the event, around 20 experts and politicians from different NATO and EU countries participated on different panels, to talk about these topics.


On the first day, the main keywords were:


  • multinational troops in Baltic States
  • Accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO
  • the conclusion of Wales and Warsaw summit
  • overall security situation in the borders of NATO.

An important challenge that we are facing is associated with the rules of engagement to our troops in the Baltic States when talking about multinational battalions, which will be sent here in 2017. Wales and Warsaw summits were very important and after them we started dealing with the problems. It isn’t only about a battalion but politically it gives a clear signal that we act as a team in NATO, Northern and Baltic format is very good for discussing cooperation between NATO and EU. We are renewing our tactics and strategic plans, however, cyber issues are still not handled properly.


Another issue is joint command control. It defines how effectively troops from various member states are able to work together and is fundamental to guaranteeing that there aren’t any caps between rotations and that there are always 1000 troops on the ground.


We must educate the society and set our message straight. Firstly, we have to be clear about NATO article 5 and make clear that we will take action if the need arises. NATO forces in the nature are defensive but our own deterrence posture also has to be sufficient. We are not only talking about the message to the society but also to our adversaries, to prove them that we are determined to defend ourselves.


We cannot agree with people who tell us not to act provocatively. Making a statement or assessing a current situation in a right way is not provocative. Taking no action is not a solution and we cannot make the same mistakes all over again. Social policy should not be neglected since it’s a soft power.


NATO cyber policy is a politically sensitive issue. Currently we don’t have a doctrine, but necessity comes when cyber-field becomes a declared domain itself.


The main message inside the Alliance should be to invest in self-defence. The contribution of the Baltic States has always been high, especially when considering alliance missions.


The second panel focused on the cooperation between EU and NATO


List of common interest and problems:


  • hybrid threats
  • cyber threats
  • migration and maritime security
  • NATO smart defense/ EU pooling & sharing

EU needs help with the refugee and migrant crisis and terrorism, NATO needs help with hybrid threats and relevance of the public opinion. We don’t know how to address the people, for instance EU directives are too complex and don’t evoke any interest. NATO’s webpage is one of the most boring pages, especially when comparing with for example Russia Today.


Public support to NATO in the member states is gradually increasing, whereas opposing views are thought to be declining. For example Greece and Spain are sceptical about EU and NATO. If there happens to become a conflict with Russia, several countries are willing to use force, these include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Poland. According to the freshest information, France, Italy and Germany would not be willing to use force.


Another challenge for the both organizations would be the generation gap. NATO and EU should reach out to youngster in hope that through them we could reach older generations.


There is still a lot of scepticism about cooperation. But if we wish to remain in the same secure environment things must change between the EU and NATO. The alliance has often been seen as a competitor in some member states of the EU. The EU needs to become better at formulating the vision of how we should see our cooperation.


We don’t know how to use our money effectively, the EU still puts more money into defence than Russia and China combined. We haven’t had these kinds of threats for over 30 year and 2 per cent of the GDP spent on defence expenses should be the absolute minimum. The relations between Russia and the western countries are as bad as they were in the 1980s. The use of nuclear weapons could suddenly become a reality and currently we are entering a dangerous territory. The question here is how to secure social well-being to our citizens rather than conquering neighbours? Working together internationally is very important, assuming everyone respected international rules.


The future of the Baltic states after the Warsaw Summit


Latvia plans to meet the 2 per cent of the GDP requirement in 2018. Hard lessons have been learned after the financial crisis, especially how to deal with budget. Social cohesion dictates the future of Latvia and we should give different narratives to citizens. The first steps should be to establish a TV channel for the Russian-speaking minority and to create a corruption prevention bureau to eliminate as much corruption as possible.


Russia was against the enlargement of NATO already in the 1990s and in the beginning of 2000s. In the Baltic States, we don’t have any alternatives other than to work with an aim to have good and normal relations one day and to strengthen our defence capabilities. Estonia decided already in 2011 to raise defence budget to 2 per cent of the GDP.


Military is a political tool. When comparing the number of US troops in Europe during the Cold War and now, the decrease has been drastic. After 1991 when European countries started to decrease their defence budgets, we have started with different operations (for example peace keeping) but demolished our own defence system during the process. For example we don’t have ammunition stocks today and we buy them when needed. Soldiers are not only shooters, there is a sophisticated system in which very shooter needs also support in logistics etc. We are currently in such a situation that we are going to build old systems and capabilities. We need to respond in a flexible way and build the infrastructure to move troops around quickly. We should aim to be transparent.


NATO and Russia relations after Warsaw


We have believed in partnership with Russia, we have wanted to have a relationship which is suitable for countries which have ambitions. We support freedom of choice and democratic values but Russia has their own views on those matters.


There has been cooperation, for example Russia has been helpful with the Afghanistan operation but in general, it is difficult to cooperate with a country that violates international standards, in particular the ones regarding security issues. The dialogue is important, especially in cases like the Russian airplane incident in the Middle East, so we could avoid these situations in the future.


We would like to dream along with Russia, but such Russia doesn’t exist any longer. We have to deal with it, we will have to continue with necessary responses that are proportional and fixed in the way. We expect that things will change for the better.


Threats to NATO from East and South


Both the South and the East are important, but unfortunately not everyone can see that. Energy could be a threat. In a way, we could say that Russia has contributed to the unity of Europe more than others. We don’t trust each other and distrust is the biggest threat. We shouldn’t worry since some of the European countries have a historical memory regarding foreign policies. For example Russia likes grey zones, when looking at the Minsk agreement, there isn’t anything said about naval forces. It means that if needed, these forces could be easily used against Ukraine and it wouldn’t be a violation of the agreement. Throughout the history, Russia has been capable of sending strong messages about its needs and wishes, we just have to know how to read them. We are very bad at dealing with the people that are important to us.