The military provocations between NATO and Russia reached a new post-cold war high yesterday when Poland became the host to the largest joint NATO war game in eastern Europe since the end of the cold war. The purpose of the massive drill, according to the Guardian, is for NATO "partner countries to mount a display of strength as a response to concerns about Russia’s assertiveness and actions." The 10-day military exercise dubbed Anaconda-2016, involves 31,000 troops and thousands of vehicles from 24 countries.
US Army Europe, which heads the exercise, says that the massive war games are “to train, exercise and integrate Polish national command and force structures into an allied, joint, multinational environment.” Anaconda-2016 will be formally closed by officials at a ceremony in Warsaw on June 17. While the scenario for the drill is kept secret, the statement briefly says it will be focused on conventional warfare, meaning the bloc will be testing its capacity to “deploy, mass and sustain combat power” against an enemy more capable and well-trained than the rebel groupings which the US and its allies fought against in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The massive war games also play well with the current right-wing government in Warsaw which frequently argues that NATO must permanently deploy troops in eastern Europe to deter what the bloc keeps calling “Russian assertiveness.”
As the Guardian admits, defense experts warn that any mishap could prompt an offensive reaction from Moscow. A defence attache at a European embassy in Warsaw said the “nightmare scenario” of the exercise, named Anaconda-2016, would be “a mishap, a miscalculation which the Russians construe, or choose to construe, as an offensive action”. Sure enough, earlier today Moscow said that the NATO military presence is unjustified. Speaking to journalists on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “I am convinced that every serious and honest politician is well aware that Russia will never invade any NATO member. We have no such plans.”
Lavrov asserted that “there are no threats in this part of the world whatsoever, that would justify [NATO’s] build-up here.” In the meantime, Lavrov said, NATO’s decision to move its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders and accept new members will be seen in a negative light in Moscow. “Here, Russia’s sovereign right to ensure its security will come into force, [making use] of methods adequate to [respond to] today’s challenges.”
For the time being there is no end in sight in this reciprotcal tit-for-tat provocation between the two military blocs.
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Right on cue, in a headline right out of the cold war, Reuters reported that "tension between Russia and the West may be distracting them from cooperating to prevent an accidental nuclear confrontation or a dirty bomb attack by militants, nuclear policy experts said on Tuesday."
Former U.S. Secretary of Defence William Perry said he regretted the current lack of communication between the United States and Russia, which went into a deep freeze after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. "We are about to recreate the conditions that nearly brought us to the brink of nuclear war" during the Cold War, Perry said.
Anatoly Adamishin, a former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, argued that the U.S. has focused on a policy of "strangling Russia" and hoping for the departure of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has the effect of putting Russia at the forefront of a list of U.S. enemies.
"The U.S. simply has to rethink its own policy: what should be in focus is nuclear reductions," he said. "Russia and the U.S. are not inherent enemies."
They made their comments at a conference organized by the Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. Other attendees included former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Swedish diplomat Hans Blix and Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The forum's head, Moshe Kantor, said the threat of a 'dirty bomb' attack on a European city was at its highest level since the end of the Cold War. Security experts have raised concerns since the attacks in Paris and Brussels by Islamist militants that poorly guarded European nuclear facilities pose a risk.
Kantor cited chemical weapons attacks carried out by Islamic State in Iraq, their stated desire to carry out more attacks in Europe, and evidence militants linked to the attacks in Paris had also been studying a Belgian nuclear power plant.
"This, combined with poor levels of security at a host of nuclear research centers in the former Soviet Union mean the threat of a possible ‘dirty-bomb’ attack on a Western capital is high," Kantor said.
He urged the United States and Russia, both nuclear powers, to cooperate on using their technological resources to monitor the illegal transportation of radioactive materials.
Gorbachev, appearing by satellite link, said he was alarmed by the increasing readiness of many nations to use military force to resolve conflict rather than negotiation. "I note that these have not solved the problems, but they have served to undermine international law and weaken international relations," he said.