The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 79/No. 28      August 10, 2015

(front page)
US, NATO expand military
exercises on Russian border

Washington and the U.S.-led NATO military alliance have ramped up their activities in eastern and northern Europe to a level not seen in decades. In June they carried out major exercises in Poland and the Baltic states — countries that border Russia — and are increasing the positioning of troops and weapons in the region. While not posing an immediate threat of war, these moves increase tensions and the possibility of sharper conflicts with Moscow, which is also stepping up military maneuvers.

Responding to the Russian government’s occupation and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year and intervention in support of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, the rulers of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have pressed for more NATO involvement as a deterrent to Moscow, which regards those countries as part of its “near abroad.” The governments of Finland and Sweden, who are not NATO members, are increasing participation in the alliance’s cooperation and training.

NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — is a U.S.-dominated imperialist military bloc formed following World War II. It was directed against the workers states in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the so-called Cold War. Since the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in those countries more than two decades ago other governments were brought in. There are now 28 member states in NATO, including five that border Russia.

In September last year, NATO adopted a “Readiness Action Plan” of measures “in, on and around the territory of NATO Allies in Central and Eastern Europe” as a “direct result of Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.”

These measures include increased air patrols over the Baltic states and deployment of fighter jets to Romania and Poland; intensified maritime patrols in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean; and deployment of ground troops to NATO countries in eastern Europe for training and exercises.

NATO doubles ‘response force’

The NATO Response Force will more than double from 13,000 to 30,000 troops. It will be spearheaded by a new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force of around 5,000 troops capable of deployment within 48 hours to be drawn from all member states.

Multinational NATO command and control posts will be established in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said June 22 that Washington will station dozens of tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers in these six countries and this weaponry will be moved around Europe for training purposes.

The new Joint Task Force conducted its first training exercise in June, staging a mock attack on a beach near Ustka in northern Poland to defeat enemy forces occupying the coast, as part of the naval exercise BALTOPS. It was one of a string of drills in eastern Europe, the Baltics and the North Atlantic that month, each involving thousands of troops from a dozen or more NATO member states.

In March U.S. troops conducted a weeklong, 1,100 mile vehicular road march. That show of force, dubbed Operation Dragoon Ride, involved some 100 vehicles, including 60 Stryker armored tanks, traversing Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. They were accompanied by combat helicopters, NATO jets and U.S. warplanes.

In April defense ministers of the Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — announced a plan for closer military cooperation, citing increased military activity by Moscow in the region.

Increased military spending

Washington has long criticized its European allies for not footing enough of NATO’s bill. “They are not doing enough,” Carter said in April. “They are spending a smaller share of their GDP than they have done in the past, [than] we do now and [than]many, like Russia, are spending. It’s too low.”

NATO’s target is that every member state should have military spending be at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product. Estonia, Greece, the U.S. and the U.K. do so. Turkey and France are close.

The Polish government plans to increase military spending by 19 percent in 2015, Lithuania by 50 percent, Latvia by 15 percent. Stockholm will increase military spending by 5 percent this year, reversing decades of cuts.

The Russian government aims to renew equipment for 70 percent of its armed forces by 2020. In June, President Vladimir Putin said Moscow will add over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear arsenal. The military buildup is centered in Crimea, Kaliningrad and the Arctic Coast. Kaliningrad is a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland, separated from the rest of Russia. It is Russia’s only ice-free European port.

Putin celebrated Navy Day July 26 in Baltiysk in Kaliningrad, home to part of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, attending a massive naval parade. Many young people there regularly visit Poland but have never been to mainland Russia. The economic situation is dire. In local elections in Baltiysk in May, Putin’s United Russia Party failed to get a single candidate elected. Moscow is trying to increase Russian patriotism with a program called, “We are Russians.”
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