At a defense conference in Moscow on April 16, Russia warned European countries planning to host installations for a US-led missile-defense shield that Russian forces would be forced to target them.
Further speeches at the conference coincided with a series of high-level Russian leaders repeatedly warning of the perceived threats the United States and NATO pose to Russia.
NATO swiftly responded by saying its missile defense system is not designed or directed against Russia.
“It does not pose a threat to Russia’s strategic deterrent,” said a statement issued by the organization following the Russian allegations. “Geography and physics make it impossible for the NATO system to shoot down Russian intercontinental missiles from NATO sites in Romania or Poland. Their capabilities are too limited, their planned numbers too few, and their locations too far south or too close to Russia to do so," the NATO statement said.
“The aim of NATO missile defence is to protect our European Allies against the increasing threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles. The Iran framework agreement does not change that fact.”
Nevertheless, Russia claims NATO is escalating tensions by holding nuclear exercises inEastern Europe, which NATO says is untrue.
"At no point have we moved nuclear weapons to Eastern Europe," NATO said. Furthermore, NATO’s nuclear posture is fully consistent with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is Russia that has started to use its nuclear weapons as a tool in its strategy of intimidation.”
NATO added that, “Russia has increased nuclear rhetoric and stepped up its nuclear exercises. Russian nuclear-capable bombers are flying close to alliance borders. Russia has also threatened to base nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad and Crimea. This activity and this rhetoric do not contribute to transparency and predictability in the context of a dramatically changed security environment due to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.”
The latest Global Watch column in the upcoming April/May issue of Homeland Security Today highlights the tensions between Russia and the West, which is fueled by rhetoric and airspace infringements by both sides as was reported in the February/March issue of Homeland Security Today.
On April 7, Russia said it intercepted a US spy plane flying towards its border. Washington denounced the incident, saying it was due to pilot error. There have been similar incidents off the UK border, with the Ministry of Defense scrambling jets to escort Russian Bear bombers away from British airspace as recently as April 14.
The NATO statement issued on April 16 closed with its own warning: “NATO is a defensive alliance, so in response to Russia’s actions, we have increased our military presence in the eastern part of our alliance.”
NATO operatives are currently in Scotland for the Joint Warrior 15-1 exercise, which runs from April 11 through April 24 in which 14 NATO ships have joined more than 40 additional warships and submarines and 70 aircraft. In total, around 13,000 personnel from 14 countries are participating in the exercise.
The exercise provides complex coordinated training at the joint level, increasing interoperability between Allied forces and providing experience integrating land, air and maritime forces. NATO’s Standing Naval Forces will test theiranti-air and anti-submarine warfare skill sets, as well as conducting mine counter-measures training in advance of amphibious landings.
Prior to this, NATO completed the first military drills for its new rapid reaction force on April 9th. More than 1,500 troops took part in Exercise Noble Jump, which was designed to test whether troops assigned to NATO’s new Spearhead Force, or Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, could be ready to deploy 48 hours after receiving an order-to-move.
Across Europe, headquarters personnel from Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Norway, Slovenia, Poland and Portugal tested their responses to NATO alert orders. In the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, troops and equipment were assembled quickly at airfields and railway stations as if they were about to depart. The units involved in the exercise will also be involved in further trials in Poland in June.
“These measures are defensive, but are a clear indication that our alliance has the capability and will to respond to emerging security challenges on our southern and eastern flanks,” said General Philip Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
The new high readiness force – NATO’s response to the changing security landscape in Europe – will include about 5,000 land troops with supporting maritime, special operations and air units. Lead elements of the new force will be able to travel within as little as 48 hours. In addition, the NATO Response Force is being increased to a force level of around 30,000 troops.
In the coming weeks, NATO military staff will conduct an analysis of the results from Noble Jump and allied units will refine their tactical procedures. Lessons will be shared and NATO will continue to refine the overall alert and deployment process, as well as ensuring it is integrated in overall plans for the NATO Response Force.
NATO said increasingly complex exercises, trials and evaluations will be conducted. Examples of future training activity include part two of Exercise Noble Jump June 9-20, in which units will deploy to the Zagan Military Training Area in Western Poland, as well as Exercise Trident Juncture 2015 in Italy, Spain and Portugal from October 21 through November 6, 2015.
Russia’s claims of Western threats and NATO’s verbal and active responses coupled with the aerial confrontations smack of more than just saber rattling. In fact, there are shades of some of the most tense periods of the Cold War. What is most worrisome from a security standpoint is that neither side appears to be seeking a thaw to recent tensions; quite the contrary, raising the question – how far will this go?