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Thursday, November 24, 2016

ANDREI AKULOV -- President Putin: Russia Pledges Response to NATO Expansion

President Putin: Russia Pledges Response to NATO Expansion
ANDREI AKULOV | 23.11.2016 | WORLD

President Putin: Russia Pledges Response to NATO Expansion

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would take countermeasures in response to NATO expansion.
The remarks were part of an interview with American filmmaker Oliver Stone, a famous Academy Award winner. It was broadcast on November 21. The interview was part of Mr. Stone’s documentary titled Ukraine on Fire. The Russian leader noted that he was «concerned» about what NATO is doing and put into question the bloc’s decision making process.
The president emphasized that NATO members could hardly resist the pressure of the United States. Talking about Crimea, he said there was a possibility of NATO deploying new bases, strike systems or missile defense sites in the peninsula before it became part of Russia. Vladimir Putin said the situation is tense as Russia has to target the NATO systems that pose a threat to its security.
Also on November 21, it was reported that Russia had deployed Bastion mobile coastal defense missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland. It is to deploy its S-400 air missile defence system and Iskander mobile short range surface-to-surface missile system in that region. Viktor Ozerov, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defence and Security, stated that Russia sees the deployment as a response to the US deployment of missile shield in Europe. Russia has been provoked into taking urgent measures to ensure its security.

For instance, NATO defense ministers meeting confirmed the decisions to boost the military posture against Russia along its borders on October 26-27. Four multinational battalions stationed in the Baltic States and Poland will be operational in early 2017.
Despite NATO’s pledge to refrain from deploying substantial forces along the NATO-Russia border on a permanent basis, frequent war-games and rotational deployments essentially amount to permanent military presence.
The NATO-Russia Founding Act, which states no substantial forces are to be deployed, appears all but dead amid the alliance's push to beef up its presence on its eastern flank. The document has played a very important role in the relationship for almost 20 years. Now the legal foundation for Russia-NATO relationship is valid only on paper.
The arguments that the forces will be deployed on temporary basis do not hold water. Actually, stationing forces abroad under the pretext of holding exercises cannot be done on a non-rotational basis, because each unit has an operational cycle, including training events.
Earlier this year, the US Defense Department requested $3.4bn for its operations in Europe in 2017, a four-time increase compared to its $789-million budget this year. The American forces will begin receiving continuous troop rotations of US-based armored brigade combat teams to the European theater next year, bringing the total Army presence in the continent up to three fully-manned Army brigades.
The US Army will deploy pre-positioned stocks to store the equipment in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany for contingency operations. The stocks will be sufficient for another armored brigade to fall in on. With the rotating brigade to bring its own equipment, the move will add hundreds of the Army’s most advanced weapons systems to beef up the European Command. It will also free up an entire brigade’s worth of weapons currently being used by American forces training on the continent to enable more US troops to be rushed in on short notice.
An armored brigade combat team comprises about 4,200 troops and includes approximately 250 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Paladin self-propelled howitzers, plus 1,750 wheeled vehicles. The US military has about 62,000 permanently assigned service members in Europe.
NATO is pushing ahead with its military «Schengen zone» on the continent. There will be no need to ask for permissions to move forces across national borders to undermine the sovereignty of member states but facilitate the cross-continent operations instead. The restrictions still in place make more difficult the rapid movement of the 5,000 strong «Very High Readiness Joint Task Force». The formation of the much larger 40 thousand strong NATO Response Force (NRF) is on the way.
NATO says it is concerned over the situation in the Baltic Sea. There has been a surge in airspace violations and instances where aircraft are scrambled to intercept foreign jets amid a sharp rise in tensions in the region. NATO surveillance aircraft occasionally operate without transponders, especially on missions near the Russian border.
In September, Russia came up with a proposal to reach an agreement of flight safety in the region with all military planes flying with their transponders on, emitting an identifying signal in response to other radio signals. The proposal was rejected by NATO.
The US and Norway are discussing the deployment of American marines at the Værnes military base near Trondheim, about 1,000 kilometres from the Russian-Norwegian frontier. The facility also serves as part of Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway that allows storing thousands of vehicles and other major pieces of equipment in temperature-controlled caves ready for combat contingency. In February, it was revealed that US Marines were using Cold War era Norwegian caves to store new tanks, artillery and other military equipment to ramp up their presence near the Russia-NATO border. With stocks in place, the 300 Marines can be easily reinforced anytime.
Recently, NATO has been ratcheting up tensions in the Black Sea. Next year, Romania and Bulgaria are to host increased air patrols in the region. The UK, Canada and Poland will send aircraft to be based in the Romanian southeastern Mihail Kogalniceanu air base. In 2017, Romania plans to head a multinational force. The US supports the Romania’s initiative to establish a multinational naval brigade in the region.
With the naval brigade on the agenda, Bulgaria has agreed to participate with 400 troops in the multinational brigade in Romania. The unit is intended to facilitate the flow of forces throughout the region. It amounts to a new land presence in NATO’s southeast. Georgia and Ukraine will be fully involved in the plans.
Romania already hosts a ballistic missile defense (BMD) and the plans are underway to have another operational BMD system deployed on Polish soil in 2018. Russia believes the weapons threaten its response capability in case of US nuclear attack. With Iran nuclear deal in force, nothing justifies the implementation of the plans hostile to Russia.
There is a related problem. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – the agreement to prevent the deployment of nuclear-tipped intermediate missiles from Europe – is threatened by ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployment. Aegis Ashore uses the naval Mk-41 launching system capable of firing long-range cruise missiles. This is a flagrant violation of the INF Treaty provisions.
It should be clear that the countries that host BMD sites automatically become targets for Russia’s Iskander surface-to-surface missiles and aviation. The Russian president confirmed it in his statement.
NATO has plans to deploy modernized US B61-12 nuclear warheads in Europe. About half of the munitions are earmarked for delivery by national aircraft of these non-nuclear states, although they all are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 that prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons from nuclear-weapons states to other countries. Russia views these forward-based tactical nuclear weapons as an addition to the US strategic arsenal that is capable of striking deep into its national territory.
As a result, tensions are running high and a spark may be enough to start a big fire. There is an urgent need to address these burning issues. With Donald Trump in office, there is a hope to move Russia and NATO from abyss. Fresh winds are blowing in Europe too. New faces appear in European politics to call for changes in NATO’s policy on Russia. Some members of the alliance taking a more independent stance regarding their relationship with Moscow.
The NATO-Russia Council offers a chance to focus on the issues that divide the parties. Moscow is ready to revive the dialogue with NATO but it won’t betray its national interests and it cannot be intimidated. That was the essence of President Putin’s message as Russia and the West are expected to take yet another run at trying to improve the relationship.
Andrei AKULOV
Colonel, retired, Moscow-based expert on international security issues

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