On Friday, NATO leaders agreed to the deployment of military forces to Eastern Europe to bolster Baltic states against the threat of Russian incursion.
Following the launch of the Western alliance’s unprecedented military exercise known as Anakonda-16 — ten days of war games in Poland involving some 30,000 troops from over 20 NATO member nations — the announcement backs up posturing over supposed Russian aggression in the region.
Anakonda-16 has been described as the largest military exercise since the Cold War — but Russian President Vladimir Putin has understandably perceived such moves as aggressive and a threat, with Russian officials referring to the exercise as “the summer of provocation.”
As areas along the border with Russia grow tense, NATO’s mixed messages about the deployment indicate the situation could explode at any time.
“These battalions will be robust and they will be multinational,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference following the first session of the alliance summit, Reuters reported. “They make clear that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on the whole alliance.”
In fact, the announcement to deploy four battalions — consisting of between 3,000 to 4,000 troops, 1,000 of whom will come from the U.S. — has been expected since June, when chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Petr Pavel, claimed troop buildup would remain limited because no imminent threat from Russia exists.
“Deployment of substantial military force is not being considered,” Reuters reported Pavel said at the time.
“It is not the aim of NATO to create a military barrier against broad-scale Russian aggression, because such aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing.”
Now, however, as Reuters reports, the announcement codifies explicitly the Russian threat to Baltic states and Poland as the reason for that deployment.
Western — and particularly, U.S. — sabre-rattling in the area has placed Putin on the defensive.
As America celebrated Independence Day, Zero Hedge cited Russian news agency TAAS, that Putin — responding to last month’s deployment by the United States of two aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean — “will respond to the double aircraft escalation, by deploying its own aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsoz, to Syria where its unofficial role will be as a counterpoint to U.S. naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.”
NATO war games and troop deployment must be viewed contextually in light of correspondence from 2014, revealed earlier this month, from former head of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander of Europe of NATO, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, to senior advisor to the Atlantic Council, Harlan Ullman, which stated:
“I think POTUS sees us as a threat that must be minimized,… ie do not get me into a war????”
Breedlove, who earlier this year called Russia “a long-term existential threat to the United States and our European allies” — and whose reputation for hawkishness on Ukraine and Russia was well known — claimed he’d been hacked “several times,” intimating the emails may not be authentic. But, if valid, the correspondence clearly indicates a belligerent stance underpinning NATO’s actions with the U.S.’ old Cold War foe.
Breaking with other NATO member nations, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier sided with Russia in denouncing the Anakonda-16 exercise as heightening the possibility of all-out military conflict.
“What we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation further through sabre-rattling and warmongering,” Steinmeier cautioned in an interview published by German newspaper, Bild am Sonntag.
“Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken. We are well-advised not to create pretexts to renew an old confrontation.”
Steinmeier added it would be “fatal to now narrow the focus to the military, and seek a remedy solely through a policy of deterrence.”
As precipitous as such sabre-rattling might be, in February, Ret. U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski offered insight in an interview on why the U.S. continues to stir hostilities with Russia.
“The Pentagon needs and wants Russia to be the next big enemy that they are arming against it, budgeting against it, that they are arming,” Kwiatkowski explained. “Certainly we have talked for a long time about China and China plays an important role as the enemy of choice for the U.S. military. But Russia is ideal in part, because we don’t import a lot of things from Russia, in part because we don’t have the debt relationship with Russia that we do with China. So, Russia makes for a very convenient enemy for the Pentagon in terms of its mission, its budgeting, and its intelligence organization.
“The Pentagon needs that kind of enemy. And [U.S. Secretary of Defense] Ashton Carter, if you listen to what he says continually — even from the beginning of time he was put in office — his job is fundraising, just like the university president’s job is not education but rather fundraising. Ashton Carter’s job is also fundraising, and he fundraises through the process of identifying, pushing, and delivering up an enemy that will justify their budgets.”
Despite Kwiatkowski’s explanation of China as an inconvenient enemy to provoke, the U.S. hasn’t ceased in the escalating tensions with that nation, either.
After the deployment of a number of U.S. warships to the hotly-contested waters of the South China Sea, China’s Maritime Safety Administration announced, also on July 4th, it would be conducting its own military exercises from July 5 through July 11.
“The drills are a very symbolic expression of China’s resolve,” Zhu Feng, dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Nanjing University, told TIME. “It is definitely also responding to the recent American warships patrolling the South China Sea.”
China even claimed it would be ready to fight U.S. aggression — and would be backed by Russia in the event support became necessary.
While the U.S. boils over with outrage following the prominent killings by police of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the subsequent murders of five police officers during an otherwise peaceful protest of those deaths, NATO and the U.S. inch ever-closer to a third world war that appears otherwise preventable — if Western leaders would simply put down their sabres.