Tom Whitehead, Security Editor / The Telegraph – 2015-05-06 00:03:19
Britain and NATO Launch Biggest War Games
On Russia’s Doorstep as Tensions Grow
Tom Whitehead, Security Editor / The Telegraph
(May 5, 2015) — Britain and NATO have launched their biggest war games on Russia’s doorstep amid growing tensions over Vladimir Putin’s military aggression. The largest ever NATO anti-submarine exercise, including the Royal Navy, is under way off the coast of Norway just weeks after reports of Russian submarines encroaching in to foreign waters.
At the same time, British troops are taking part in the biggest military exercise seen in Estonia since the Baltic nation regained its independence more than two decades ago.
The war games come as tensions grow with Russia over Ukraine crisis and fears that the Baltic nations could be next in President Putin’s sights. The commander of the NATO manoeuvres said recent incidents by the Russian military were a “cause of concern” and added “relevance to the exercise”.
At least 18 ships and submarines are taking part in Operation Dynamic Mongoose which involves 10 NATO members and Sweden. The submarines will take turns trying to approach and target the ships, including HMS Portland, undetected to simulate an attack in one of the world’s most hostile sea areas.
Last month, Latvia said it had detected a Russian submarine near its water and last week Finland fired depth charges at an unidentified submarine along its coast. Russian aircraft have also repeatedly approached and violated Nordic and Baltic airspace in recent months, challenging air defences and triggering allied responses.
US Rear Admiral Brad Williamson, commander of the exercise, said: “Russia has a right to be at sea, just as we do. But the incidents we have seen are not in line with international regulations and that’s been the cause of concern. This is not a response to that but provides relevance to the exercise.”
Nordic defence ministers issued a strongly worded condemnation of Russia last month, calling it the biggest threat to security, prompting Russia to say that Finland’s and Sweden’s closer ties with NATO were of “special concern.”.
“The Russians have increased their activity a lot and so have we,” said Kai Nickelsdorf, the commander of Germany’s U33 submarine, which is playing the role of an enemy in the exercise.
Captain Iain Breckenridge, the most senior British officer taking part, said: “This exercise provides a great opportunity for these surface and air units to test their skills, equipment and tactical procedures against our extremely capable submarines.”
In Estonia, British troops have joined around 7,000 local Reservists for the country’s biggest military exercise since leaving Soviet Union control in 1991. Britain and its NATO allies are attempting to reassure the Baltic states they will be protected against any Russian aggression.
In February, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, warned that the Baltics, who have many ethnic Russians, could be next in Mr. Putin’s sights for a Crimea-style annexation.
NATO and Russia Hold Rival
Military Exercises on Estonian Border
Colin Freeman, Tom Parfitt, Rosa Prince, Szu Ping Chan, and Peter Dominiczak / The Telegraph
MOSCOW (February 25, 2015) — Russian and NATO troops took part in rival exercises on either side of the Estonian border on Wednesday, highlighting fears that the tiny Baltic state could be the next target of the Kremlin’s territorial ambitions.
NATO forces put on a show of strength within yards of Estonia’s Russian border, with armoured personnel carriers, tanks and 1,300 Estonian soldiers forming a military parade. The parade, which also included 100 troops from Britain and other European nations, followed warnings from David Cameron on Tuesday that the Baltics could be next in Russia’s sights for a Crimea-style annexation.
The parade took place in the snow-bound Estonian frontier town of Narva, where a majority of residents are ethnic Russians. The choice of location was a pointed warning to Moscow, which regards the Russian community there as de facto evidence that Estonia is part of Russia’s “back yard”.
The Kremlin responded with its own military drills, sending 2,000 paratroopers into Russia’s western Pskov region, which borders both Estonia and neighbouring Latvia.
The military exercises came amid fresh political wrangling in Britain over how to respond to Russia’s renewed assertiveness. Ken Clarke, the former Conservative Cabinet minister, attacked Mr. Cameron’s plan to send 75 British troops to provide logistical advice to Ukraine’s beleaguered forces as pointless.
“Military conflict doesn’t help,” he said. “I don’t have strong feelings about retraining the Ukrainian army, but it’s not going to solve anything because no matter how well trained and equipped the Ukrainian army are, the Red Army could defeat them by the end of this week if they wanted to.”
Meanwhile, Rory Stewart, the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee, said it would be a “big mistake” for spending on Britain’s military to fall below the NATO target of two per cent of the national budget.
The Tory MP and former diplomat warned that Russia’s ongoing invasion of eastern Ukraine showed that spending needed to be maintained as a “symbolic” message to President Putin.
George Osborne, the Chancellor, is believed to have told Mr. Cameron that spending was on course to fall below the target within two years, and that he was content for it to do so.
Mr. Stewart told Radio 4’s Today programme: “The view of the Defence Committee is that that would be a big mistake, because that commitment came out of a NATO summit that was directed against what’s happening in the Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, a Russian newspaper claimed to have found a secret strategy document that advised The Kremlin to break up Ukraine and absorb its pro-Russian regions even before the country’s president fled in the wake of pro-European street protests a year ago.
Novaya Gazeta said the “plan” for annexing Crimea was passed to Vladimir Putin’s presidential administration between February 4 and 12, 2014, at least 10 days before Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s then leader, sought sanctuary in Russia.
The newspaper published parts of the document, which urged the Kremlin to “play on the centrifugal ambitions of different regions of the country with the aim, in one way or another, of initiating the joining of its eastern areas to Russia.”
The document also argues that the European Union wanted to take over Ukraine, and Russia must “intervene in the geopolitical intrigue of the European community” in order to maintain some control of gas pipelines through Ukraine and avoid losing energy markets in central and south Europe.
Novaya Gazeta said it believed the document was prepared with the help of Konstantin Malofeyev, a well-known pro-Kremlin businessman with links to the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, although Mr. Malofeyev reportedly denies that.
On the ground in eastern Ukraine, there were signs that an internationally brokered ceasefire might finally be starting to hold, with the Ukrainian army saying on Wednesday that it had suffered no casualties in 24 hours for the first time in weeks.
The lull at the frontline came amid further economic meltdown for Kiev, with the central bank forced to intervene over a further collapse in the price of the Ukrainian hryvnia, which has already dropped by at least 40 per cent this year.
There were also signs of a renewed dispute over gas supplies, with energy companies reporting that their pre-paid shipments had been halted from Russia. There was speculation that it was in response for Kiev curbing gas supplies to separatist-controlled areas in the east last week.
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