Posturing about a fictitious Russian threat will be remembered in later times for bringing about World War III — particularly as that narrative has allowed NATO and the United States to extensively bolster troops and military equipment along Russia’s Eastern and Northern European borders.
However, you will find no mention of this in the corporate mainstream media as their attention has been conveniently directed toward who died on the Walking Dead.
President Vladimir Putin has not taken these putatively defensive measures, including the installation of anti-missile systems, as anything less than a direct threat — and has repeatedly warned the amassing military presence provides ample justification for a first strike against the Western Alliance.
“If someone threatens our territories, it means that we will have to aim our armed forces accordingly at the territories from where the threat is coming. How else could it be?” Putin cautioned in a press announcement on June 16, 2015. “It is NATO that approaching our borders, it’s not like we are moving anywhere.”
Tangibly tempting fate just over a week later, NATO announced the tripling of its 13,000-strong Response Force along member states’ Russian borders to at least 40,000 troops next year — as well as the formation of a new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, also called Spearhead Force, of an additional 5,000 combat-ready troops.
“We have just taken another step forward in adapting NATO to our changed and more challenging security environment,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced, adding NATO is “carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities.”
Since that time, the Western alliance has performed a number of massive drills, including, among many others, Operation Anaconda 2016 in June, which included 31,000 participants testing readiness in Poland, and Slovak Shield 2016 earlier this month — all thoroughly monitored by Russia for potential errant actions.
Acting as perhaps the sole Western voice of reason, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier denounced NATO’s arrogant war games as counterproductive to any chance for diplomacy with Russia and peace in Eastern Europe.
“What we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation further through saber-rattling and war cries,” Steinmeier told Bild am Sonntag, as quoted by Reuters. “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security, is mistaken.
“We are well-advised to not create pretexts to renew an old confrontation.”
Not long afterward, NATO solidified plans to deploy an additional 4,000 multinational troops to Poland and the Balkan states — again for the dangerously misperceived threat of Russian invasion — as part the same unprecedented military expansion along Russia’s borders since the Cold War.
But that expansion has not been limited strictly to border lines — on October 10, Norwegian media reported plans in the works to bring 300 U.S. Marines to Norway’s Værnes military airbase in Stjordal — and that plan was just approved by the Norwegian government today. Notably, as part of the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, the U.S. announced in February that Cold War-era cave complex in Norway is being used to store enough military equipment, such as tanks and artillery, to accommodate 15,000 Marines should the need arise.
And as Peter Korzun points out in Strategic-Culture, “The only purpose for the deployment is preparation for an attack against Russia. After all, the Marines Corps is the first strike force. And it’s not Russian Marines being deployed near US national borders, but US Marines deployed in the proximity of Russian borders.”
Russia, in response to an emboldened and ever-growing NATO presence, has performed a number of military exercises of its own — the most recent of which, just 90 miles from the Estonian border, panicked several alliance nations for the inclusion of the Iskander-M ballistics system. A mobile unit, the Iskander can fire both conventional and nuclear warheads to a range of 310 miles — although Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevičius reportedly affirmed missiles can be modified to reach up to 434 miles.
In other words, the escalation can be summarized simply: NATO acts, Russia reacts, and the West blames Russia for growing tensions. This would all seem laughable were it not for the treacherous likely consequences.
Indeed, the West’s arrogant provocations might soon prove to be an epic miscalculation in how seriously Russia perceives an existential threat — particularly given the running assumptions the Russian military would be no match for the United States and NATO, that Putin would not follow through with vows to strike first, and that the use of nuclear weapons is mostly off the table.
According to the alliance’s own assessment earlier this year, the aforementioned 5,000-strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force would be too vulnerable during deployment to respond to war with Russia without being overrun, two unnamed senior NATO generals told the Financial Times.
“Russia has anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, both land and sea-based, as well as combat aircraft based in the Kaliningrad Oblast and other parts of its territory that are able to cover huge areas,” a NATO spokesperson cited by the Times concurred.
Perhaps designed as a propagandic vehicle for precisely the increase in military presence along the Russian border as previously mentioned, if a valid assessment, the report shows potential vulnerabilities Putin would likely readily exploit in a time of war.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley echoed those concerns in a belligerent diatribe during an annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army in which he vowed to smash any nation daring the threaten the West. Quoting an unnamed Russian official, Milley asserted,
“Russia can now fight a conventional war in Europe and win.”
Further evidencing active preparations for war, NATO has begun assessing member states’ preparedness for facilitating rapid troop movements — newer members’ infrastructure, as Foreign Affairs reported, cannot support heavy military equipment or massive troop numbers.
More to the point, the alliance began working to remove the complex administrative barriers to rapid response — a military Schengen Zone — in which troops would be allowed to cross borders without the restrictions currently in place.
In Europe’s Schengen Zone nations, civilians are not required to show passports for border crossings — but nothing parallel yet exists for NATO’s military.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, admitted naivete in not predicting the logistical nightmares associated with mobilizing international forces, telling Foreign Affairs,
“I assumed that because these were NATO and EU countries we’d just be able to move troops. But ministries of defense are not responsible for borders.”
In many of the Eastern European nations, clearance for troops to enter averages around four to five days — no small impediment to responding should war break out.
Putin’s diplomatic attempts to reason with an increasingly bellicose NATO having fallen on willfully deaf ears, Russia has significantly shored up forces to match the apparent growing Western threat.
In 2015, three divisions of between 10,000 and 20,000 troops each were deployed along the western Russian border — and although the exact size of those divisions remain unknown, Russian media vaguely cited by state-run Voice of America reported at the time the move comprised at least 30,000 troops. Murky reports of additional troops being deployed to Russia’s western edge, however, speak to a significant total.
Those numbers also don’t include Russian missile installations, unannounced troop deployments, and a Navy, which after significant modernization, ranking in the top five in the world, according to National Interest — ranking just below one of Russia’s newer allies, China.
However, perhaps the least discussed and touchiest topic of this potential for all-out world war has been the possibility for a nuclear turn. Understand clearly: this is not intended as fearmongering — nor is this to say world war would necessarily deteriorate into the use of nuclear weapons — but given modern warfare, the discussion must be undertaken.
While the West continues pronouncing Russia a nuclear threat, it must be noted Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has made perfectly clear the U.S. maintains the use of nukes as an option to, ironically enough, deter enemies from using nuclear weapons. Acknowledging the need for strategic deterrence in diplomacy and conventional weapons, in September this year, Carter nevertheless stated:
“You help convince potential adversaries that they can’t escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression. You assure allies that our extended deterrence guarantees are credible — enabling many of them to forgo developing nuclear weapons themselves, despite the tough strategic environment they find themselves in and the technological ease with which they could develop such weapons.”
He added ominously, “And, if deterrence fails, you provide the president with options to achieve U.S. and allied objectives — a responsibility that I know President Obama takes with the utmost seriousness, as you do — all to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons being used in first place.”
And judging by the entire statement, Carter intended the ‘risk of nuclear weapons being used in the first place’ to indicate an absolute, unequivocal American exception.
Whether or not Putin would strike with nuclear weapons first is the subject of heated debate too broad to delve into for the scope of this article — but with U.S. chest-puffing and provocation at heights not seen in decades, the American exceptionalist view of a nuclear option must be considered.
As Syria remains enmeshed in conflict sharply highlighted by the United States’ proxy war with Russia, it would be easy and hugely remiss to forget additional potential flash points for the two superpowers — and Eastern Europe more than qualifies as a possible near-future battleground.
NATO and the U.S. are indeed playing the most dangerous game.