The US has significantly boosted its forces in Europe, while preparing a “military Schengen” to allow easy movement across borders.
With military divisions streaming into the EU to take part in exercises, the serious buildup will create a potentially offensive posture, as US forces prepare for a Russia-US summit. The NATO military alliance has deployed weapons and troops eastward, to “make clear that an attack on one Ally would be considered an attack on the whole Alliance,” NATO’s website declared.
NATO is following the advice of two US war hawks Catherine Harris and Frederick Kagan. In a March joint report for the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, the US think tank cranked up the “Russian threat” considerably.
“The Russian military is well-positioned to launch a short-notice conventional war in Ukraine and a hybrid war in the Baltic states, the opposite of what Western leaders seem to expect in each theater. Leaders and their European allies are unprepared for the ways in which Putin is poised to wage war in Ukraine and the Baltics,” Harris and Kagan wrote.
But Ukraine now boasts “an entire new generation of combat-hardened commanders who know Russian weaknesses and how to exploit them,” says Phillip Karber, president of The Potomac Foundation, who together with Wesley Clark, NATO’s former supreme allied commander in Europe produced a report for the other influential Washington think tank.
A US deployment involving an entire division in a Reforger type of exercise, with troops coming over to use the pre-positioned hardware, is being planned. These forces could potentially see a surge, with a division-level deployment in late 2018 or 2019.
The Fourth Combat Aviation Brigade and the 4th Infantry Division will deploy to the old continent as part of its Operation Atlantic Resolve. Based in Germany, the forces will participate in multiple exercises near the Russian border in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and the Baltic States.
NATO is rotating four battalion-size, combat-ready, air-power-supported battle groups in Poland and the Baltic States.
Poland will host Anakonda 2018, the largest ever NATO military exercise. It will involve about 100 000 troops, 5000 vehicles, 150 aircraft, and 45 warships.
The scenario is based on the premise of a surprise attack against Russia assembled for offensive, not defensive reasons. It is a clear violation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, signed between NATO and Russia in 1997, which contains a passage about NATO refraining from the “stationing of substantial combat forces”.
The battle plans include the creation of a rear-area operations command to be hosted by Germany. Another planned command will ensure mobility in the North Atlantic shipping lanes.
“We are painfully aware that if there is a medium-intensity conflict and we are going to be part of it, it is going to be against Russia,” Maj. Ivo Zelinka, deputy commander of the Czech Republic army’s 43rd Airborne Battalion, told The Daily Signal.
Ukraine’s national security doctrine now officially refers to Russia as the “aggressor nation”. But Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu says Europe is intimidating itself by “a non-existent Russian threat” because Russia has no such plans, reported a UNIAN correspondent.
“Non-stop strengthening of US forces in Eastern Europe is a matter of concern. There is a paradoxical situation: NATO is trying to build up and modernize its military infrastructure at Russian borders, while a myth about the growing danger for Europe is being formed in the public opinion. That is, they intimidate themselves by a non-existent Russian threat, and then systematically increase their military potential,” Shoigu said at the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security on April 4.
“The activity of the US and other NATO fleets in the Black Sea and Baltics is growing. The number of NATO drills that are clearly anti-Russian has increased, too,” Shoigu added, noting the already 10 000-strong contingent with all types of offensive weapons deployed at Russia’s borders.
Shoigu says NATO is not interested in starting a dialogue. “In Brussels, they are not ready for a respectful conversation. In turn, Russia is not going to knock on the closed door, and we do not intend to ignore attempts of forceful pressure on us,” he said.
In February, the US Army held the largest artillery exercise in Europe since the Cold War, called Dynamic Front 18. Seven rocket-launching systems, 94 artillery pieces, including eight German Panzerhaubitze 2000 armored howitzers, 14 British L118 light guns, and 18 US M777 155 mm howitzers were put to use.
But to launch a conventional invasion of the Baltics for example, Russian commanders would have to shift mechanized forces to the region, and expose Kaliningrad to a NATO counterattack. Currently, there is just one Russian airborne division near the Baltics, signalling the total absence of any large-scale mechanized offensive planned.
With its many reconnaissance assets, NATO would notice Russian movement immediately anyway. Despite the absence of a threat, the US is nevertheless pushing for a massive build-up.
The USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group in the Mediterranean may remain in the European command’s area of responsibility. Presently, a large number of US war vessels are concentrated in the vicinity of Syria, which is under US Central Command.
Some 3 600 American soldiers have meanwhile arrived in Jordan. They are participating in the two-week US-Jordanian exercise, Eager Lion, which started on April 15. The training event is a drill for AV-8B Harriers, MV-22 Ospreys, and attack helicopters, following the US, UK, and French air strikes on Syria.
Reviving existing agreements, such as the 1989 Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities Agreement or the Incidents at Sea (INCSEA) agreement of 1972, could prevent escalating tensions further, but the US seems uninterested in pursuing such available options.
The INCSEA prevented a military clash between the Soviet and US navies during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.