September 12, 2023
9:00 am - 9:45 am


Zoom Webinar

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has highlighted NATO’s front line as vital for collective defense. The United States’ leadership of the West and its investments in Central and Eastern Europe are now being streamlined into a policy to support Ukraine and strengthen key NATO allies in the region. In turn, Poland and Romania, as anchors of the Alliance's eastern front line, are adapting their defense postures in line with NATO and in response to Russia’s aggression. 

This panel discussion brings together two MEI Black Sea Program research fellows to present their research findings on strategic challenges and opportunities for the United States regarding NATO’s frontline countries, Romania’s and Poland’s adapting defense postures, these states’ defense acquisition processes, and the resilience and vulnerabilities of the U.S.-Romania and U.S.-Poland strategic partnerships. 

Research fellowships have been granted by the U.S. State Department for the Middle East Institute’s Black Sea Program. 

Eoin Lazaridis Power
Title VIII Research Fellow, Black Sea Program, Middle East Institute 

Yekaterina Klepanchuk
Title VIII Research Fellow, Black Sea Program, Middle East Institute 

Iulia-Sabina Joja, moderator
Senior Fellow; Director, Black Sea Program, Middle East Institute

Key Takeaways


  1. There has been increased military modernization efforts due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in two critical regions: the Baltic Sea and Black Sea. This invasion, which began in 2014, raised concerns among neighboring countries about their own security and vulnerability to potential Russian aggression. In response to these concerns, Poland and Romania have undertaken significant measures to enhance their defense capabilities.

  2. Poland has taken substantial steps to bolster its defense capabilities. One of the most notable actions is increasing defense spending to over 4% of its GDP, surpassing NATO's recommended 2% target. Additionally, Poland has plans to expand its active military personnel from 170,000 to 300,000 within the next five years. To address its military equipment needs, Poland is procuring various assets, including High Resistance tanks, Abrams tanks, and fighter jets. The country is also seeking to acquire heavy weaponry and credible air defense systems. Poland's motivation for these efforts is to enhance its deterrence capabilities, particularly in the face of vulnerabilities on its eastern flank, where it shares borders with Kaliningrad (a Russian exclave) and Belarus.

  3. Romania has similarly increased its defense spending, allocating 2.5% of its GDP to defense expenditures. Like Poland, Romania is also investing in military modernization efforts, including the procurement of Abrams tanks and howitzers. Romania shares the priority of establishing strategic partnerships with the United States and places a significant emphasis on interoperability with NATO and its allies.

  4. Both Poland and Romania face challenges in their military procurement processes. Romania, in particular, has encountered bureaucratic hurdles when attempting to acquire naval assets such as corvettes. These challenges stem from issues related to bureaucratic capacity, knowledge management, and expertise in managing complex procurement projects. Smaller-scale acquisitions, such as F-16s and missile systems, are more feasible for Romania. However, larger projects like corvettes and submarines encounter budgetary constraints and bureaucratic obstacles.

  5. Poland and Romania prioritize cooperation and coordination, particularly in multilateral formats such as the B9 group and the Three Seas Initiative. Infrastructure investment, especially within the context of the Three Seas Initiative, plays a significant role in strengthening defense and deterrence on the Eastern flank of Europe. Historically, infrastructure in the region, particularly in the Baltic states, was designed to deter attacks from the West. However, it is now being adapted to anticipate potential threats from the East, which presents its own set of challenges. Differences in railroad gauges between the Baltics and Poland can lead to cargo transfer issues, and concerns exist regarding the ability of bridges to support the weight of heavy artillery and tanks.

  6. Reports suggest increased intelligence gathering activity by Russian foreign agents in Poland. Despite this, the concrete response from both Poland and Romania to the changing security environment and Russian actions has been to continue their deterrence and defense efforts. Even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed a desire to regain the Baltics, this has not deterred these countries from their commitment to strengthening their defense postures and cooperation with the United States and NATO.

Detailed Speaker Biographies 

Eoin Power is a Title VIII Black Sea Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. His dissertation focuses on the political economy of defense-industrial policy and maritime security institutions in Europe. His other research interests include international financial regulation and field experiments, with a regional focus on Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Before coming to Texas, he worked as a strategy consultant, serving public and private-sector clients in aerospace and defense. He holds a B.A. in political science and philosophy from Middlebury College, and an M.A. in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies from the University of Michigan.

Yekaterina Klepanchuk is a Title VIII Black Sea Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute. Her research examines the defensive posture of NATO’s eastern flank since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Prior, Yekaterina held positions at the Institute for the Study of War, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Yekaterina received her master’s degrees from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, specializing in nonproliferation and terrorism studies and international relations.

Iulia-Sabina Joja is a senior fellow and director of MEI's Black Sea Program. She teaches European security as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and George Washington University. Her research and teachings focus primarily on European and Black Sea security. Prior to this, Joja served as an adviser to the Romanian President and as a deputy project manager at NATO Allied Command Transformation in Virginia. She has worked with the Romanian delegation to the United Nations, the European Parliament, and the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was also a visiting scholar at the Center of Military History and Social Sciences of the German Armed Forces in Potsdam/Berlin and a DAAD postdoctoral fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 

Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images