Much has been said about the Trident Juncture 2018 NATO exercise being held in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders. This is the largest training event since the Cold War, but it’s only part of a broader picture, in which military war preparations targeting Russia are in full swing. Exercises are being coordinated, along with infrastructure facilities that are being built, expanded, and modernized. For instance, last week the construction of an aircraft maintenance hangar at Estonia’s Amari Air Base, the first military project fully funded by the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), was completed.
The event was celebrated by US and Estonian air force officials with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. More than $38 million in EDI funds are being invested in that base. Beyond the training, a joint maintenance facility will also support the NATO aircraft that are conducting air policing in Eastern Europe. The Air Force Times cited US Air Forces Europe Commander Gen. Tod Wolters, who promised that even more funding was coming down the pipe for other projects.
“Looking into fiscal year 2019, we are proposing a [European Defense Initiative] budget that demonstrates the US commitment to NATO,” he noted. According to him, “Our total [US European Command] request includes a significant funding increase from $4.7 billion to $6.5 billion."
The NATO infrastructure modernization plans include upgrades to the Kecskemet Air Base in Hungary so that it can accommodate US F-15 fighters, A-10 attack planes, and C-5 transport aircraft, in addition to building a munitions storage facility at Malacky Air Base, Slovakia and a taxiway at Rygge, Norway. These steps are part of a larger effort to prepare for offensive operations against Russia.
The fiscal 2018 defense budget authorizes the US Air Force secretary to purchase land and build installations in other countries. There are plans to invest some $214 million into air bases in Europe, including a $13.9 million investment in Estonia’s preeminent military air base, Amari, plus the Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia is to receive a $3.85 million investment. The biggest chunk of the money, $67.4 million, goes to the Sanem Air Base in Luxembourg. The Kecskemet Air Base in Hungary will get another $55.4 million investment.
To all this can be added the US Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) for permanent storage in Europe that have been modernized and replenished since 2017. The APS will be sufficient for another armored brigade to fall in on. The militarization of Northern Europe is underway and Poland is being rearmed and prepared to host American bases, such as Fort Trump. The US Air Force is expanding its presence on the European continent, along with NATO’s growing naval might in the Black Sea.
In October, the Ramstein Air Base in Germany received the largest shipment of ammunition in many years (since 1999). Some 100 containers have been delivered to “support NATO's European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) and augment the Air Force's War Reserve Materiel in Europe," said Master Sgt. Arthur Myrick, 86th MUNS munitions flight chief.
NATO is aiming for territorial expansion. Only 36.9% of eligible voters participated in Macedonia’s Sept. 30 referendum over changing the country’s name and thus paving the way for NATO and EU membership. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US Defense Secretary James Mattis, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were part of the West’s “Skopje landings” team that stormed that nation’s capital to influence the results of that vote. The voters said yes, but turnout was stunningly low — poor enough to stoke doubts about the plebiscite’s legitimacy.
On October 18, the decision to rename the country was pushed through the Macedonian parliament. This move also lacked overwhelming support from lawmakers, with the ruling coalition barely able to secure the required majority of 80 out of 120 votes to ram the measure through and jump-start formal accession talks at NATO headquarters. The US ambassador to Macedonia was actually inside the parliament building at the time of the vote, but US officials don’t think that counts as “pressure.”
The restoration of Macedonia’s Krivolak army training center to its full capacity, offering thousands of NATO soldiers a venue for drills, is already underway. Next year, Macedonia will host the Decisive Strike 2019 joint exercise that will involve about 1,000 US and Macedonian soldiers.
Albania is offering its territory for NATO bases. Kosovo is on its way to creating its own army. This is a blatant violation of international law. The UN Security Council has never approved it. But NATO nations support the move. US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, Wess Mitchell, believes that “[n]obody can place a veto on Kosovo’s right to develop its armed forces." According to him, Kosovo "has the right to form professional forces" and this would not pose a threat to either Serbia or Kosovo’s Serbs.
UN Security Council Resolution 1244 states explicitly that no other military presence except KFOR and Serbia’s army shall be permitted without the mandate of the UN Security Council. The declaration of independence in 2008 by Kosovo’s parliament without a previous UN-monitored referendum was a flagrant breach of that resolution. Kosovo, which is part of Serbia, is turning into “NATO Land” without the consent of the Serbian government. It has actually been annexed by the alliance. This entity was also created specifically in opposition to Russia. Hashim Thaci, the leader of Kosovo, makes no secret of it. He claims a threat is emanating from “the Russian military bases in Serbia, from Russia's MIG jets in Serbia and from the Russian military exercises in Serbia."
Whatever Russia does is being portrayed by Western officials and media as a demonstration of hostile intent. Should Russia sit idly by, watching all these preparations going on in full view? If those are not considered provocative behavior, then what is? Any nation would be concerned if an infrastructure were being built that was designed for offensive operations against it.
The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) is scheduled for October 31. Perhaps any expectation of progress is nothing but the slimmest of hopes. After all, this will be the eighth time the NRC has met in the last two years and no progress in any area has been achieved. But hope is the last to die. The escalation has gone too far. NATO’s war preparations have become too large-scale and provocative and have turned Europe into a hotbed. The time is right for the alliance — or at least its European members who have been negatively affected by these developments — to start talking seriously. On Oct. 31 they’ll have such a chance.