This year, NATO has already organized about 100 exercises, 20 percent more compared to the same period in 2017. Saber Strike-2018, a large-scale US-led exercise involving 18,000 soldiers from 19 NATO members and partner nations, kicked off on June 3 to last till June 15. The scope of the exercise has been steadily expanding with every year. It was 11,000 troops in 2017, 9,000 in 2016, 6,000 in 2015, 4,700 in 2014 and 2,000 in 2013 – that’s how a relatively small drill turned into the regular deployment of substantial force in the proximity of Russia’s borders. Moscow expressed its concern about it at the NATO-Russia Council’s session held on May 31.
The annual multination training event organized every year since 2010 is being held across the training areas in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Non-NATO countries taking part are Finland and Macedonia. Air assault landings are part of the scenario to hone the skills for launching offensive operations.
Sabre Strike is timed with Swift Response airborne drill in Latvia to culminate on June 8. It involves 800 paratroopers from US, Latvia, Lithuania, Israel and Poland.
There will be more exercises held in 2018 near Russia’s borders, including Trident Juncture, a really big one to take place in late October-early November to involve 35,000 troops from 30 nations along with 70 ships and about 130 aircraft and Anakonda organized by Poland in November. The latter will involve 100,000 servicemen, 5,000 vehicles, 150 aircraft and 45 warships. The scale is mind-boggling. One can imagine how much it costs! The Anakonda scenario includes preemptive strikes. If it’s not an open preparation for war than what is? US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley believes it is. According to him, “Having large-scale NATO forces in the Baltic States and Poland, as well as the lack of transparency – we see serious preparation for a great war.” He knows what is talking about.
In May, NATO held a large Siil (Hedgehog) exercise in Estonia and northern Latvia involving more than 15 thousand troops. The series of training events are conducted against the background of the proposal put forward by Poland to deploy US troops on its soil with Warsaw shouldering the financial burden of base construction. A NATO annual summit in July will consider the issues related to further reinforcement of forces in Europe, including the eastern flank.
It has been revealed recently that the alliance plans to create an addition to the NATO Response Force (NRF) increasing its strength from 20,000 to about 50,000 by creating a pool of 30,000 troops with organic aviation and ships ready to be operationally deployed within 30 days. The initiative belongs to the US with Germany to take the lead. The bloc’s defense chiefs will discuss the issue at their upcoming meeting on June 8-9 before putting it on the agenda of NATO summit to be held on July 11-12. NATO war preparations against Russia include the new crisis response command center in Ulm, southern Germany, and another one in the US state of Virginia.
This force as well as other units will become part of training events and the soldiers will be deployed on temporary basis but holding regular exercises presupposes the creation of infrastructure to be used by troops upon arrival for launching offensive actions. Correspondingly, logistics are being beefed up.
There is fresh news to hit headlines before the July summit. Discussions are underway to deploy US THAAD air defense system in Germany. The move would plug a radar gap emerged as a result of postponing the deployment of a second Aegis Ashore system in Poland. The Polish government has announced plans to purchase US Patriot PAC-3 MSE air defense systems.
Both the THAAD and Patriot have rather limited capability against sophisticated ICBMs but Aegis Ashore is more effective.
Modernization will take place, advanced missiles and systems will be moved to the already existing sites. The main thing is that the infrastructure, the foundation to build ballistic missile defense and surface targets strike capability on, will be in place. And the only target is Russia. The Aegis Ashore can launch intermediate range surface-to-surface missiles against Russian territory in violation of the INF Treaty. In a couple of years, Poland will host it. The THAAD’s radar can greatly enhance the Aegis Ashore capabilities by relaying data to them. The AN/TPY-2 has an estimated range from 1,500km (932mi) to 3,000km (1,864mi). The maximum instrumented range is 2,000km (1242mi) to enable it to monitor large chunks of Russia’s territory.
The INF Treaty is teetering on the brink of collapse. If torn up, the infrastructure in question would be just the thing the US would need to station intermediate range forces in Europe with the means to protect them already in place. F-35s incorporating B61-12 nuclear precision guided munitions would also be under the umbrella of air defense systems in place formally deployed to counter the non-existent threat coming from Iran.
The NATO summit in July is to focus on “Russia threat”. The extraordinary scale of military exercises conducted so intensively with scenarios that include bringing in reinforcements to advance, not take defensive positions, the creation of infrastructure at Russia’s door and preparing the logistical base to provide for offensive operations will be described as the least the bloc can do while facing the superior enemy. Provoking Russia to take steps it would not take otherwise is the sure way to return Europe to the Cold War days.
NATO could have chosen a different approach of solving the problems at the round table but it did not. The European Security Treaty (2009) and the Agreement on Basic Principles Governing Among NATO-Russia Council Member States in the Security Sphere (2009) proposed by Russia were rejected off the cuff without any attempts to seriously negotiate the proposals. The 2016 German initiative to launch talks on a new European security agreement was greeted to be swept under the rug afterwards. The May 31 NRC meeting was devoted more to the Skripal case than European security and arms control issues. Actually, NATO has not lifted a finger to dissipate tensions. Instead, it is rapidly increasing the tempo of military activities near Russia on unprecedented scale, undermining whatever is left of European security. The alliance has made its choice, giving preference to the policy of provocations.