Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Russia and Nato rehearsing for war, report says

  • Nato's Allied Shield exercises involved troops in Latvia in June. (Photo: Nato)

Russian and Nato drills indicate they are “preparing for a possible confrontation”, in a political climate which risks accidental war, a British think tank warns.

The European Leadership Network (ELN), a London-based NGO, profiled a massive Russian exercise in March and a smaller Nato drill, called Allied Shield, in June.

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The Russian manoeuvres saw soldiers wake up on 16 March to orders which eventually drew in 80,000 servicemen.

Russian airborne troops simulated an invasion of Latvia supported by attack helicopters and artillery, while its Baltic Sea fleet carried out search and destroy missions and air defence operations.

Its Northern Fleet, based in the Barents Sea, conducted similar exercises, supported by strategic bombers and fighter jets.

Its Black Sea Fleet carried out anti-submarine sweeps. Russian troops were also mobilised in Arctic regions and in the Far East Sakhalin and Kuril islands.

On the Nato side, four separate drills involved 15,000 troops from 19 member states.

One drill practiced amphibious landings in Nato member Poland and in Nato ally Sweden and simulated operations against the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

A second one rehearsed tank battles with close air support in the Baltic States and in Poland.

A third one saw the first-ever deployment of Nato’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, a new unit designed to deter Russian aggression, in Poland.

With both Russia and Nato using live fire, and with attempts to monitor what the other side is doing leading to “close military encounters” between Russian jets and Nato naval assets, the ELN warns the activities risk making “war in Europe more likely”.

“We do not suggest that the leadership of either side has made a decision to go to war … but the changed profile of these exercises is a fact and plays a role in sustaining the current climate of fear and tension in Europe”, the NGO’s director, Ian Kearns, said.

Russia did not comment on the ELN report, but its previous line is that it is responding to Nato expansion.

Carmen Romero, a Nato spokeswoman, said the ELN study “misleadingly puts Nato and Russian exercises on par”.

She noted that the Russian drills simulate offensive operations and involve nuclear assets, while the Nato exercises are defensive and conventional in nature.

She said Russia has violated international commitments, under the so-called OSCE Vienna Document, on pre-notifying Nato of its actions.

She also said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its war propaganda puts its behaviour in a different light.

“These exercises are part of a more aggressive Russian military doctrine, dangerous political rhetoric, increased military deployments, and the annexation of Crimea. This is the new strategic reality in Europe”.

’Red hot’

The ELN survey comes amid fresh worries of escalation in east Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday said Russian proxy forces, on Monday, launched a tank, artillery, and Grad rocket-backed assault on Starohnativka, a Ukrainian-controlled town.

International monitors, from the Vienna-based OSCE, described it as “a significant increase in ceasefire violations”.

The EU foreign service, in a statement, also complained about “attacks on several government-controlled areas”.

The British defence minister, Michael Fallon, who was in Kiev on Tuesday, added: “This must not be allowed to be [called] a frozen conflict … it seems to me pretty red hot”.

Russia, which denies playing any role in the conflict, blamed the flare-up on Ukrainian aggression.

Local spokesmen for the Russian-occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in east Ukraine said Ukrainian forces shelled themselves as a pretext for new hostilities.

MH17

Russian state media, on Wednesday, also reacted to a report by Dutch investigators into the MH17 disaster last summer.

The Dutch Safety Board, leading the enquiry, said it found “possible Buk missile parts” at the crash site, which are “of particular interest”.

The prevailing theory is that Russian proxies shot down the passenger plane with a Russian-supplied Buk system because they thought it was a Ukrainian military plane.

The Dutch statement noted that “at present” the conclusion “cannot be drawn that there is a causal connection between the discovered parts and the crash of flight MH17”.

Russia’s flagship broadcaster, RT, said, in its headline, this means there is “no proof” of Russia’s guilt.

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