TIME europe

France Revolts Against German Austerity With New Budget

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin listens during the presentation of France's 2015 draft budget on October 1, 2014 at the Economy Ministry in Paris.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin listens during the presentation of France's 2015 draft budget on October 1, 2014 at the Economy Ministry in Paris. Eric Piermont—AFP/Getty Images

New figures put deficit sinner Paris on crash course with Berlin, Brussels

It’s a showdown that has been coming for a while.

The French government Wednesday set out new budget plans for the next three years, baldly stating that its deficit will be a lot wider over the period than it promised its Eurozone partners.

At a news conference in Paris, Finance Minister Michel Sapin said the gap between public revenue and spending would widen to 4.4% of gross domestic product this year from 4.3% last year due to an unexpected slowdown in growth. It will fall back to 4.3% of GDP next year, but only fall under the E.U.’s cap of 3% in 2017–two years later than currently planned.

The figures set the scene for heated discussions in Brussels with the rest of the Eurozone, as the currency bloc’s second-largest economy once again relies on its political clout to defy rules on borrowing that are supposed to be binding on all. (Incoming Eurocrat-in-chief Jean-Claude Juncker is already trying to limit the ability of the Pierre Moscovici, the new economic and financial affairs commissioner, to police those rules, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.)

But specifically, it sets up a fresh clash with Germany, whose insistence on sustainable public finances has stamped Eurozone policy since the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis exploded in Greece in 2010. France has already had to negotiate two extensions to an original agreement to bring the deficit down to 3% of GDP by 2014. Under the new plans, it will have a larger budget shortfall next year than either Greece or Portugal.

“We are committed to being serious about the budget, but we refuse austerity,” Sapin told a news conference in Paris Wednesday.

Sapin has attempted to mollify Berlin and Brussels by committing to €21 billion ($26.5 billion) of government spending cuts next year, and a total of €50 billion over the next three years. Government spending accounts for over 56% of GDP, the highest in the E.U., while its public debt, at over €2 trillion, is now expected to peak at over 96% of GDP. That’s up from only 64% in 2007.

But Sapin said it would be wrong to cut spending by more because it would weaken the economy further. Any further cuts would also be hugely unpopular with the disaffected left wing of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party, risking a revolt by backbench lawmakers. The Socialists already lost control of the upper house, or Senate, to the center-right opposition at elections last weekend, and Hollande’s current approval ratings, at 13%, are the lowest for any serving French president since World War II.

The French economy hasn’t grown since the end of last year, and survey data suggest it contracted in the third quarter as the fall-out from the Ukraine crisis hit business and consumer confidence across Europe.

The research firm Markit said elsewhere Wednesday thatthe Eurozone economy pretty much stagnated in September, revising down its purchasing managers’ index to 50.3 from an initial reading of 50.5.

However, the economy may get some support in the last three months of the year from one corner that has been a major bugbear for Paris in recent years–the foreign exchange markets. French officials have railed all year that the euro was too strong for the health of the Eurozone, but it has slid sharply against the dollar in the last month and hit another new two-year low of $1.26 Wednesday in response to the Markit survey.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME U.K.

U.K. Edges Toward Departure from European Union

Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England.
Prime Minister David Cameron walks with Mayor of London and Parliamentary candidate Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference on Sept. 29, 2014 in Birmingham, England. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

As Britain's Conservative Party holds its last party conference ahead of May's general elections, the Euroskeptic message looks like a winning one

It’s hard to imagine anything more insular than a British party political conference—except, perhaps, for an island.

The ruling Conservative Party is currently meeting in the U.K.’s second largest city, Birmingham, but delegates tightly ringed by security and focused on the narrow issue of how to win the next election may as well be on a coral atoll for all the connection they have with the wider world.

Events in Hong Kong go unremarked. U.K. participation in the military campaign against ISIS barely merits a mention. A lone protestor standing beyond the crowd barriers bellowed rage against Britain’s fresh involvement in Iraq for hours Monday, but his words whispered in the convention center like distant waves. Even so, events on this artificial island may yet carry global significance. Britain is getting ever closer to the brink of leaving the European Union.

That is the probable outcome if the Conservatives win the U.K. general election next May, as they have pledged to allow Britain’s increasingly Euroskeptic population a referendum on whether to stay or go. Polls suggest a sizeable majority would vote to leave the E.U. under the current terms of membership.

Admittedly a Conservative victory is far from a sure thing in 2015. The Labour Party enjoys a lead of several points in most opinion polls and the Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010, should expect to be punished by voters for implementing painful austerity policies that have reduced the budget deficit (but not by as much as they promised). But even though Labour may look like the likelier winner, it doesn’t act like it. Neither party members nor the wider public have faith in the current Labour leader Ed Miliband, who capped a lackluster conference last week by forgetting key chunks of the speech that should have energized his troops and instead demoralized them.

In truth all three mainstream parties are suffering from a loss of connection with the public — voters feel they’re untrustworthy, and incapable of championing Britain, whatever form that might take. This disenchantment is fostering the rise across Britain of populist parties that promise a new, more honest mode of politics and more localism. In Scotland this means the Scottish National Party strengthening largely at the expense of Labour, which will struggle to retain its 41 Westminster seats there at the coming election.

But in England, it is the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) that has been attracting support on the back of its strident views, which it calls “unashamedly patriotic”. The party’s manifesto not only calls for departure from the European Union, but also restrictions on the numbers of immigrants entering the country, less foreign aid, and priority in the allocation of social housing given to “people whose parents and grandparents were born locally”.

It’s a message that appeals to many who might otherwise be inclined to vote for the Conservative party. The eastwards expansion of the E.U. was enthusiastically supported by past Conservative governments, because they thought a larger union might be less inclined to move towards federalism and consequent impingements on British sovereignty. But enlargement has increased the pool of E.U. citizens entitled to work in the U.K, and fostered resentment among conservative voters, as the British economy struggles to recover from the economic slump. UKIP has capitalized on that resentment; two Conservative MPs have recently defected to UKIP and more are rumored to be considering jumping ship.

“The biggest issue on the doorstep is immigration,” says Phillip Lee, the Conservative MP for Bracknell, west of London, “but this is also related to Europe.” His constituents would like to see an Australian-style points system applied to jobseekers from abroad, he says. That’s a policy UKIP already proposes for all immigrants, whether they come from the E.U. or further afield.

Even so, the Conservatives are better positioned than Labour—which opposes giving Britons a vote on E.U. membership—to fight UKIP on its own turf. Prime Minister David Cameron’s post-Scottish referendum promise of “English Votes for English Laws” plays to demands for more local control, while his party is ramming the message home at every opportunity during its conference that only a Conservative government will deliver an in-out referendum on the E.U. It will doubtless be a pivotal passage in Cameron’s keynote address to delegates tomorrow.

Cameron first made the offer partly in an effort to hold together a fractious party that has a long history of falling out over Europe. But his official position—that he wants Britain to remain in the E.U., but on renegotiated better terms—also happens to be his real preference, not least because many British businesses worry that an E.U. exit will load costs and obstacles on to their European operations. His ideal is to retain the advantages of E.U. membership while shielding Britain against moves to closer E.U. integration precipitated by the euro zone crisis. But in a BBC interview this morning, Cameron made clear that he wouldn’t be too upset if Britain left the E.U. entirely. The sales pitch being rolled out in Birmingham is clear: vote UKIP, get Labour, lose the chance of a referendum.

Despite what the polls say, many Conservatives believe this is a winning formula, and they could well be right. But the same urges the Conservatives would be tapping to win election victory would inevitably still be in play if and when Britons voted on their relationship with Europe. An exit would mean a period of extended turbulence for Britain and for the E.U., used to British intransigence but also used to Britain as a counterbalance to German muscle and French protectionism. The rest of the E.U. hopes Britain stays put, and so does Washington, which still often looks to the U.K. as a bridge to Europe.

British politicians hear these voices but their message, like the shouts of the man outside the Conservative Party conference, are muffled. This island nation with its parochial politics could well be headed for greater insularity.

TIME Scotland

POLL: Should Scotland Be an Independent Country?

Cast your vote

The Scottish people will vote Thursday on whether or not to declare independence from the United Kingdom.

If the “No” vote is successful, England’s northern cousin will remain a part of the family; should the “Yes” vote prevail, Scotland will strike out on its own and leave Great Britain significantly less Great.

Polling forecasts a close race, with the nationalist movement gaining steam over the past few weeks. But while Thursday’s referendum is open only to residents of Scotland, many other people around the world feel invested in the future of the Highlands. Not just Hibernophiles and other Celtic advocates, for whom the keening whine of the bagpipe represents a cry for freedom, but also devotees of the sovereign state who would rather the Union remain intact.

So we’d like to give readers a chance to register their own opinions on Scottish independence, answering the same question the voters themselves will face. We’ll publish the results on Thursday morning, as the Scots themselves go to the polls.

TIME Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Vows to Fight Growing Anti-Semitism

"It pains me when I hear that young Jewish parents ask whether they should raise their children in Germany"

With attacks against Jews on the increase in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged on Sunday to step up the battle against anti-Semitism.

Speaking at a rally in the capital Berlin, she said Germany would do all it could to stop the growth of anti-Semitism, which has risen since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, reports the BBC.

“It pains me when I hear that young Jewish parents ask whether they should raise their children in Germany, or elderly Jews who ask if it was right to stay. With this rally, we are making it unmistakably clear: Jewish life belongs to us. It is part of our identity and culture,” she said to a crowd of about 5,000 people.

Germany is home to about 200,000 Jews.

The rally, organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, comes 75 years after the beginning of World War II, says the BBC. Six million Jews were killed during the conflict.

“The legitimate criticism of the political actions of a government — be it ours or of the state of Israel’s — is fine,” Merkel said. “But if it is only used as a cloak for one’s hatred against other people, hatred for Jewish people, then it is a misuse of our basic rights of freedom of opinion and assembly.”

Since the start of the recent conflict in Gaza, tensions between Muslim and Jewish communities have flared up across Europe. There were 131 anti-Semitic incidents reported in Germany in July, up from 53 in June, Reuters reports the German government as saying.

TIME energy

Africa and Belgium Generate the Same Amount of Electricity – But That’s Changing

Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region in Ethiopia, March 2014.
Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, March 2014. Tiksa Negeri—Reuters

Lack of power is holding Africa back

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com

The statistics of the African Development Bank are terrifying: Africa’s total installed power generation capacity is 147 gigawatts. That’s about the same amount as Belgium’s total capacity, and the equivalent of what China installs every 12 to 24 months.

To turn this around by 2030 and ensure universal electricity access, the International Energy Agency assumes a $30 billion investment would be needed, at minimum.

It would be foolish to envision a future where Africa’s energy needs are to be met by expensive conventional fossil fuels. Sadly, few intercontinental efforts to boost installed renewable energy capacity seem to be gaining traction. However, a number of countries have come to this realization. Unfortunately, they are not necessarily Africa’s dominant power generators but represent those who have set achievable renewable energy plans in motion. In these countries, the sheer magnitude of investments being made shows how importantly African governments take the challenge of making the continent energy efficient and sustainable.

Certainly, some countries have advantages. Due to the presence of the Blue Nile – one of the two major tributaries of the Nile River — 96 percent of Ethiopia’s energy comes from hydropower, but authorities have not seen this as a reason to ignore the country’s potential from other renewable sources. Over the current decade, Ethiopia is seeking to increase its supply fivefold from 2,000 megawatts (MW) to 10,000MW through renewable energy. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam across the Nile, set to be the biggest dam in Africa when it launches in 2017, will provide the bulk of that with a capacity of 6,000MW. However, Addis-Ababa’s renewables plan is remarkably well rounded, and includes wind, solar and geothermal. This is no mere paper pledge either, as leading geothermal expert Reykjavik Geothermal is on the ground to build a 1,000MW power plant, the first stage of which will open in the Rift Valley in 2018.

Kenya is Africa’s second biggest renewable energy power producer, behind Ethiopia, and presents a similar model. Hydropower powers half of Kenya and it will likely remain the continent’s foremost geothermal producer until Ethiopia opens its Rift Valley plant. Kenya is also planning Africa’s largest wind farm — a 300MW project to be built by the Lake Turkana Wind Power Construction. Should the project come to fruition, it will be Kenya’s largest-ever foreign investment, no mean feat for one of Africa’s most investment-friendly economies. Kenya also struck out from the pack by understanding the role financial services must play in any steady renewable energy plan and launching Africa’s first carbon trading platform in 2011.

Algeria has chosen a different tack than its sub-Saharan colleagues. In setting its own renewables plan, Algeria is seeking to become an energy exporter off the back of its solar potential. In 2011, it announced plans to install 22GW by 2030 with the goal of keeping 12GW for internal consumption and exporting 10GW. Rather than focusing on one massive project like Ethiopia or Kenya are, Algeria envisioned this capacity being spread across a myriad of smaller plants. This would largely be done with Chinese involvement, including Yingli Solar, which won a bid in December 2013 for the first 400MW tranche of 1.2GW solar plant. With instability in the region rising, it remains to be seen whether Algeria’s medium-term plans come to fruition, but its energy export ambitions are a wonderful example of the continent’s potential.

These examples are positive, but not every African country has a major river or serious interest from foreign investors. Many of the continent’s smaller economies, even trusted democracies like Botswana, are dependent on importing most of their power. But this should not stop them from taking active steps to halt this dependence.

Botswana has imported 80 percent of its electricity on average in recent years, but this country of 2 million has a program devoted to electrifying rural areas through renewables, has implemented renewable energy feed-in tariffs to stimulate investment, and used funds from the World Bank to fully investigate its concentrated solar power potential.

Efforts like these will hopefully serve as a clarion call to other African nations to explore their options for developing renewable energy sources, and to foreign investors about opportunities in this sector. Africa’s smaller countries cannot wait indefinitely for outside help: their energy future is in their own hands.

 

TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

TIME Iceland

See Iceland’s Volcano Raging Under the Northern Lights In 1 Amazing Image

The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014.
The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014. Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson

Since the Aug. 31 eruption of Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano, the world has watched in awe as it spews glowing red lava into the desolate landscape. Bardarbunga has stemmed a series of earthquakes through the country, but the eruption has also become the subject of some incredible photographs, videos, and satellite images.

Icelandic photographer Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson, who is also a ranger in the area, may have captured the most epic images of all: the hot glow of the volcanic eruption underneath cool and ethereal haze of the northern lights, or the aurora borealis.

The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014. Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson

“In my many years of working in the highland of Iceland both as a photographer and ranger, I . . . have a knowledge of the nature and especially the way the light has an huge influence in the landscape,” Hjörleifsson told TIME. “Knowing the current situation of the volcano I wanted to capture this unique situation. I drove up in the area surrounding the volcano and watched the the sky until I could see the northern lights taking shape. That interaction with the heat and color from the volcano created a completely new color palette I have never seen [before].”

TIME Ukraine

Obama Says It’s ‘Too Early to Tell’ What the Ukraine Ceasefire Means

ESTONIA-US-OBAMA-DIPLOMACY
US President Barack Obama and the Estonian President (not in picture) review an honor guard during an arrival ceremony prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia on Sept. 3, 2014. SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

News of the truce broke shortly after the president's arrival in Estonia

President Barack Obama has adopted a cautious approach to the ceasefire announced Wednesday between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s too early to tell what this cease-fire means,” said Obama, explaining that he had not seen full details but “only wire reports.”

News of the ceasefire broke shortly after Obama’s arrival in Estonia, where he is showing support to a Baltic ally before traveling to a crucial NATO summit in the U.K. at which the Ukrainian situation feature high on the agenda.

Obama promised to address the Ukrainian ceasefire more fully during a speech later in the day. In the meantime, he noted that Russia’s forceful incursion into Ukraine served as a stark reminder of the importance of the NATO alliance.

“Obviously what’s happened in Ukraine is tragic but I do think it gives us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes and understand what it is that’s necessary to make sure that our NATO commitments are met. And that’s one of the reasons I’m here in Estonia today.”

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said “I just did hear that President Poroshenko and President Putin have agreed on a ceasefire. I just hope it holds.”

Speaking ahead of Obama’s arrival, at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia, Ilves said that the situation in Ukraine showed “that the principle of collective territorial defense hasn’t gone away,” according to the AP.

His remarks came a day after Mikhail Popov, a Kremlin security adviser, stated in Moscow that NATO remained Russia’s biggest threat.

TIME NATO

NATO’s Dilemma: How Tough to Get With Russia

Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014 in Brussels.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014, in Brussels John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The alliance must decide at its leaders summit this week how to react militarily to the incursions into Ukraine without getting into a dangerous standoff with Moscow

The NATO leaders’ summit taking place in Wales this week was always going to be a crucial opportunity for the alliance to redefine its role in a changing world. One year ago, it was expected to be dominated by soul-searching over its relevancy, with its troops finally gone from Afghanistan.

A lot changes in a year. Russia’s military incursions into Ukraine and forays across European borders once believed sacrosanct have inspired a new sense of purpose in the organization, which experienced its heyday in Cold War. Its diplomats are in their element, vowing protection for member nations and pledging support for Ukrainian sovereignty.

But beyond this largely rhetorical escalation, NATO’s leaders have a dilemma ahead of them this week: Do they respect the post–Cold War agreements which Moscow has apparently ignored, or forge a new combative path putting military resources right on Russia’s doorstep? And if it’s to be the latter, just how aggressive can they be?

One answer might be apparent in the creation of a rapid reaction force, announced Monday, ready to deploy within days should there be any military aggression against one of the 28 member nations. This military unit, numbering thousands of troops, will be on high alert at all times, with additional logistical support stations set up in Eastern European states.

“We cannot afford to be naive,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a presummit press conference in Brussels this week. “We are faced with the reality that Russia considers us an adversary and we will adapt to that situation.”

Analysts say it is the strongest show of force yet from the alliance in response to Russia’s resurgent military ambitions. “While they won’t be deploying outside NATO, what it does is send a message of confidence to NATO partners in Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic states — the ones that are most worried by Russian aggression,” says Ian Keddie, an analyst with the military think tank IHS Jane’s.

But a day after Rasmussen outlined details of the rapid reaction force, Russia responded with a review of its own military doctrine. “The fact that the military infrastructure of NATO member states is getting closer to our borders, including via enlargement, will preserve its place as one of the external threats for the Russian Federation,” said Mikhail Popov, a Kremlin security adviser.

And so NATO now faces a delicate balancing act. While some nations on the front line demand the strongest possible reaction to Russia’s bellicosity, the alliance is erring toward a more measured middle ground — beefing up support for its allies but stopping short of any measures which could tip NATO into a dangerous standoff with Moscow.

The rapid reaction force may not go far enough for some. Poland has asked for 10,000 NATO troops to be stationed on its territory, but any new permanent bases could contravene the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act, meant to reassure Russia about the post–Cold War borders. For dovish nations, including Germany, that would be a step too far.

Another sensitive issue is whether NATO invites new members to the alliance. While the Ukraine crisis began last year as a standoff between the European Union and Russia over which way the country would orientate itself, Russia’s real concern was that Ukraine’s political pact with the E.U. would be the first step to NATO membership.

Few issues antagonize Russia more. It was just months after NATO agreed in theory to eventual membership for Georgia and Ukraine that Russian tanks rolled over into Georgia in 2008.

The alliance has been more cautious since then, but Ukraine’s Prime Minister vowing to reopen their membership bid will force the issue into the debate once again, likely in vain. Georgia too will fail to get official approval of a Membership Action Plan in Wales. Instead, there will be a pledge for increased military co-operation and technical assistance.

That won’t end the calls for enlargement, though. Georgia’s ambassador to NATO, Levan Dolidze, tells TIME, “Georgia is ready to take the next step,” and says it is now up to NATO to lay out a timetable. At the same time, he urges the West to stand up to Moscow. “Stronger reactions are needed in general to oppose and to counter Russia’s aggression in the region,” he says.

One such reaction would be the provision of lethal or nonlethal military aid to the Ukrainians. U.S. politicians including Republican Senator John McCain and Democrat Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called this week for the U.S. to provide weapons to the Ukrainian military. That drastic option is unlikely to win the support across the array of political positions within NATO, however.

Ukraine is also not the only global crisis NATO will have to respond to: there is war and instability in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and reflection on a patchy campaign to bring peace to Afghanistan. Nations are expected to agree to increase defense budgets, but with so much on NATO’s plate, many countries may decide to forge their own policies outside the alliance, threatening a unified stance.

“If the summit turns out to be bland and useless,” says Andrew Wilson, from the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations, “then member states may take it upon themselves to do more.”

TIME europe

Baltic States Fear Putin Amid Escalation in Ukraine

Demonstrators gather outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, to protest against Russian intervention in Ukraine, in March 2014.
Demonstrators gather outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, to protest against Russian intervention in Ukraine, in March 2014. Mindaugas Kulbis—AP

"They feel extraordinarily vulnerable to Putin and they're seeking reassurance from the West"

In the latest chapter of the West’s confrontation with Russia, President Barack Obama will travel to Estonia on Wednesday to stress U.S. solidarity with the Baltic states, the former Soviet republics rattled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in nearby Ukraine.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — the trio of tiny nations nestled against the western flank of the Russian Federation — only regained their independence from Moscow in 1991 amid the collapse of the USSR. But as Putin appears to tighten his grip on swaths of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, the Baltics fear they may be prey for their former ruler, experts say…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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