SEPTEMBER’S Nato summit in Newport could have big implications for the future security of Europe with Russia at the top of the agenda. The Argus reports from last week’s defence minister’s meeting that helped set the scene for the event.
Last November David Cameron announced to a press conference in Cardiff that more than 60 of the world’s heads of state and government are to descend on Newport’s Celtic Manor Resort for the Nato summit.
The announcement sparked a flurry of excitement over the prospect of US president Barack Obama visiting Wales, but few would have guessed the tumultuous events that would take place 1,600 miles away in Ukraine that have now come to shape the event.
Days after Mr Cameron announced the summit’s arrival, the then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych decided to suspend preparations to sign an agreement between his country and the European Union, prompting protesters to start protesting in the capital Kiev in a movement known as Euromaidan.
Scores died in protests and clashes, Yanukovych was toppled, Crimea was taken over by Russia and now the Ukrainian military is fighting a pro-Russian and allegedly Russian-backed insurgency in the east of the country.
How exactly the Western military bloc should respond to Russia’s actions – billed as the biggest challenge to the security of Europe since the end of the Cold War – is to now sit at the top the summit’s agenda.
Defence ministers laid some of the ground for the summit when they met in Brussels last week, agreeing to work-up measures to boost the Ukrainian armed forces and to continue to reinforce Nato’s collective defences, with more air and sea patrols and more exercises and training.
President Obama has himself committed $1 billion to boost the defences of European allies worried about Russia’s actions – said to have broken international law and described by the White House as dangerous and destabilising.
The meeting itself – held in Nato headquarters – was almost a mini-summit of top politicians within the 28-country block and was a small taster of what might be expected at Nato in Wales.
Politicians arrived in escorted motorcades and gave press conferences to journalists attending from major world news organisations – like the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Al Jazeera, AP and AFP – as well as many from Eastern Europe including Ukraine.
Andrii Bashtovyi is from Ukraine’s Hromadske.tv. He told the Argus Ukrainians want to see what direct steps Nato might take over the crisis. “In September we’re waiting for the direct decision – what will be done,” he said.
He said that the Ukrainian military needed equipment, such as night vision systems and helmets, and that moves against Russia were also important, speculating there would be Russian troops in Ukraine now had there been no sanctions.
“In three months I hope that everything will change in Ukraine. We have the anti-terrorism operation in Eastern Ukraine now – the Ukrainian troops are doing more and more every day,” he said.
Mr Bashtovyi hoped that he could go to the summit this September but admitted that might not be easy, given the situation at home. Meanwhile those in Wales hoping for some benefit for the country out of hosting the mega-summit will take heart in the branding of the event.
Spokespeople, top officials and the secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen Rasmussen all referred to the Nato Wales Summit. Newport, in contrast, got far fewer mentions from officials.
“Everybody is promoting it as a Wales summit, it seems it works to some extent I would say, maybe less about Newport,” said Andrej Matisak, reporter and deputy head of Slovak newspaper Pravda’s foreign desk.
“I think that many people will come, people with the delegations and journalists, people who are not totally poor. If they feel it was nice there’s a realistic chance they might come back for a short holiday or to just to know more about Wales.”
Eleni Panayiotou writes for OnAlert, a defence website based in Greece, and has herself lived in Cardiff when she had studied for a PhD here.
The journalist said she thought host cities and countries can take advantage of big events like the Nato summit, but she had spoken to people in restaurants in the capital who knew nothing about it.
She said: “A couple of people I’ve spoken to in Cardiff certainly had no idea there’s going to be a summit or how many people were going to arrive.”