Monday

25th Mar 2019

Russian wargames played dirty, Nato says

  • Stoltenberg: Russian trop numbers "significantly exceeded" Vienna threshold (Photo: nato.int)

Nato has said Russia misled allies about the size of its recent Baltic wargames and voiced concern on Russian phone-jamming.

It also said "fundamental differences" remained on the conflict in Ukraine, with heavy weapons on the contact line over two years after a ceasefire accord.

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  • Grushko: Alarm over Zapad 2017 was part of Nato "propaganda" (Photo: wikimedia commons)

"The number of troops participating in the [Baltic] exercises significantly exceeded the number announced before the exercise, the scenario was a different one, and the geographical scope was larger than previously announced," Nato head Jens Stoltenberg told press in Brussels on Thursday (26 October) after a meeting of the Nato-Russia Council.

He said Russia's military drill - Zapad 2017, in September - violated the Vienna Document, a Cold War pact on military transparency.

"Every nation has the right to exercise its forces, the same goes for Russia. But … it's important to do it in a predictable and transparent way," he said.

Under the Vienna accord, drills of 13,000 or more troops are subjected to enhanced monitoring, such as Nato fly-overs and interviews with Russian soldiers.

Nato says 100,000 troops took part in Zapad 2017, but Russia says there were fewer than 13,000 and invited just three Nato experts for two one-day visits.

Asked by the press about reports that Russia had jammed the mobile phones of Nato soldiers in Latvia, as well as ordinary people's phones in some areas in Norway and Sweden, as part of its manoeuvres, Stoltenberg said "at least two allies reported that".

The drill took place in Russia and Belarus, prompting concern that Russian forces would stay behind in its neighbour.

But Stoltenberg said: "We don't have any information indicating that Russia has left any troops behind in Belarus".

He also said a Russia-Nato working group on air safety in the Baltic region had made "promising" progress.

The Nato chief said allies "continue to have fundamental differences" with Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

He urged it to implement its part of a ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk in 2015.

He said Russian forces were still "destabilising" the east of the country and that there were heavy weapons on the contact line in contravention of the Minsk accord.

He also said the conflict was having an "impact on the [whole] Euro-Atlantic region" and that Nato had stationed four battalions in Poland and the Baltic states as part of an allied "defensive" posture.

International monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a security body in Vienna, said the same day there had been an increase in ceasefire violations in Ukraine.

The OSCE reported 90 explosions in one part of the Donetsk region in the east of the country and another 110 explosions nearby. It also observed 14 multiple launch rocket systems and three tanks on the move in a Russia-controlled area.

Thursday's Nato-Russia Council was the third such meeting this year.

… Russia says

Speaking in Brussels afterward, Russia's ambassador to Nato, Alexander Grushko, accused Nato of an "unprecedented propaganda attack" on Zapad 2017.

He said Nato had falsely counted all troop in movements in Russia during the drill as being part of the exercise.

Referring to the Nato battalions in the Baltic region, he said "if Nato policy is aimed at military deterrence of Russia, then no confidence-building measures will help" to mend relations.

He also said Stoltenberg's remarks on non-transparency were "strange", because Nato itself had frozen some military talks as part of diplomatic sanctions over Ukraine.

He noted that Russian armed forces chief Valery Gerasimov had recently met with a senior Nato commander, Petr Pavel, to exchange views.

"There is a hope that these contacts will persist and become systemic," Grushko said.

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