“It’s time to move beyond talk” said US Ambassador to NATO, Daglas Luke on Wednesday. And the US diplomat went on to say that the allies now need to deal with Russia as it is today, rather than the partner “we wished to have” during the transition period.

Ahead of NATO’s Ministerial Conference that begins in Brussels on Thursday, it is becoming clear that Russia will feature prominently on the agenda. And it will no doubt be on the top of the agenda in the forthcoming NATO summit in Warsaw, in precisely 50 days from Thursday, May 19. The focus of Warsaw will be security beyond borders, east and south of the Alliance.

Political standoff

Besides EU’s foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, Present at the meeting will also be the two Scandinavian states that are not members of NATO, namely Sweden and Finland. Russia has been issuing successive warning to both not to move towards such membership.

Georgia

In two distinct pre-ministerial press conferences on Wednesday, the General Secretary of NATO Jens Stoltenberg and the US Ambassador to NATO, Daglas Lute, introduced the Russia agenda to be covered. Both NATO leaders said that the Accession Protocol Montenegro is signing on Thursday is a strong affirmation of NATO’s open door policy, mentioning explicitly Georgia. “We will continue to defend Georgia’s right to make its own decisions,” Stoltenberg said. While US Ambassador Luke spoke of NATO’s article 10, recalling that an open door police has been embedded in the architecture of the alliance since 1949.

Deterring Russia

Secretary Stoltenberg said that the decision to bolster NATO’s conventional troops in the eastern flank of the alliance is a decision “already taken.” What remains now to be debated is scope and scale.

Neither Secretary Stoltenberg nor Ambassador Lute were specific as to when or if the alliance would seek to meet Russia before the Warsaw Summit. What was clear was that if such a meeting were to take place it would be in the context of the NATO-Russia Council. “Dialogue is more important when tensions are high” Stoltenberg said referring to the escalation of violence in Ukraine and the repeated violation of the Minsk ceasefire agreement which he observed.

Military escalation

Stoltenberg spoke of the “irresponsible” and “dangerous” flyover of Russian planes over the USS Cook in the Baltic Sea in April.

“substantial”

Largely as a result of the Crimean annexation, the repeated violations of the Minks ceasefire agreement, and the demands of eastern flank member states, boots on the ground will increase considerably in the region, if not “substantially.”

Secretary Stoltenberg and US Ambassador Lute spoke separately of NATO remaining true to the letter of the 1997 NATO-Russia agreement. NATO will not deploy a “substantial” amount of troops in the eastern flank of the alliance in the former Warsaw Pact and post-Soviet space. But, none of the two saw it fitting to put a specific number on the word “substantial.”

To the contrary, Poland has already said that it regards this agreement “obsolete.”

Stoltenberg spoke of military recommendations to deploy a battalion, which he intends to be “multinational” in order to politically affirm the will of all member states to enforce Article V. size proposal in the Baltics and must be “multinational” to reinforce Article V. However, he also said that the commitment would be scalable and the prepositioning, ammunition, and infrastructure would be ready to treble, if need be, the military deployment.

Ambassador Lute framed the question in financial terms. Money is the limit. The discussion about forces along the Eastern flank is linked to how much Europeans are willing to invest, recalling that now that European economies “begin to recover” the allies should follow up on a 2006 commitment to spent 2% of their GDP in military expenditure.

The bottom line is that Britain has pledged 1000 troops to Poland. Germany has pledged 250 troops for Estonia. And the United States has pledged a battalion, which comes hand in hand with quadrupling US economic commitment to the defense of the eastern flank’s frontline.

Commenting on the strength Russia and NATO is able to project, US Ambassador Lute noted that Russia has shown clearly that it has a more sizable and modernized army, which it is increasingly willing to deploy. But, NATO’s conventional forces are substantially more significant.