Washington Puts US Tanks in Putin's 'Backyard'; Activates Missiles on Russia's Romanian Border
May 17, 2016 Flora Drury / MailOnLine & Robin Emmott / Reuters
The Pentagon's two-week Noble Partner 2016 military exercise, which began on May 11, 2016, included about 650 US soldiers, 150 British and 500 Georgians along with an entire mechanized company -- including eight Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and eight M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks. Some of the activities took place on a former Russian base inside the former Russian state. The exercise angered Russian officials who said it could destabalize the region.
American Tanks in Putin's 'Backyard': US and British soldiers join the Georgian army
on two weeks of military drills -- angering Russia Flora Drury / MailOnLine & Reuters
(May 11, 2016) -- The Georgian army has begun two weeks of military exercises with the United States and Britain -- despite Russia's anger as American tanks rolled into its backyard. Hundreds of soldiers gathered at the military base of Vaziani -- once used by Russia, just outside the capital Tbilisi -- for the opening ceremony of the exercise, dubbed 'Noble Partner 2016'.
As the sky filled with paratroopers while some 650 American, 150 British and 500 Georgian soldiers watched on in front of a fleet of tanks, Moscow's anger was almost palpable.
Last week, it said the decision to hold the exercise on its doorstep was 'provocative' and 'aimed at deliberately rocking the military-political situation in the South Caucasus'.
The Russian Foreign Ministry went as far as to accuse the United States -- which has also dispatched an entire mechanised company, including eight Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and, for the first time, eight M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks -- was indulging the 'revanchist desires of Tbilisi'.
It is a charge which Georgia has strongly denied.
"These exercises are not directed against anyone. There is no trace of provocation," Georgia's Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili said in a statement. Georgia's Defence Minister Tina Khidasheli said the drills were an important event for the South Caucasus republic.
"This is one of the biggest exercises that our country has ever hosted, this is the biggest number of troops on the ground, and the largest concentration of military equipment," Khidasheli said.
Russia defeated Georgia in a short war in 2008 over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. Moscow continues to garrison troops there and to support another breakaway region, Abkhazia.
Russian forces used to be based at the base where the exercises are being carried out until they withdrew at the start of the last decade under the terms of a European arms reduction agreement.
The importance of these exercises is to improve interoperability between Georgia, the United States and the United Kingdom . . . . It enables us to prepare Georgia's contribution to a NATO response force,' Colonel Jeffrey Dickerson, the US director of the exercises, told Reuters.
The United States has spoken favorably of the idea that Georgia might one day join NATO, something Russia firmly opposes.
DEVESELU, Romania (May 12, 2016) -- The United States switched on an $800 million missile shield in Romania on Thursday that it sees as vital to defend itself and Europe from so-called rogue states but the Kremlin says is aimed at blunting its own nuclear arsenal.
To the music of military bands at the remote Deveselu air base, senior US and NATO officials declared operational the ballistic missile defense site, which is capable of shooting down rockets from countries such as Iran that Washington says could one day reach major European cities.
"As long as Iran continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles, the United States will work with its allies to defend NATO," said US Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, standing in front of the shield's massive gray concrete housing that was adorned with a US flag.
Despite Washington's plans to continue to develop the capabilities of its system, Work said the shield would not be used against any future Russian missile threat. "There are no plans at all to do that," he told a news conference.
Before the ceremony, Frank Rose, deputy US assistant secretary of state for arms control, warned that Iran's ballistic missiles can hit parts of Europe, including Romania.
When complete, the defensive umbrella will stretch from Greenland to the Azores. On Friday, the United States will break ground on a final site in Poland due to be ready by late 2018, completing the defense line first proposed almost a decade ago.
The full shield also includes ships and radars across Europe. It will be handed over to NATO in July, with command and control run from a US air base in Germany.
Russia is incensed at such of show of force by its Cold War rival in formerly communist-ruled Eastern Europe. Moscow says the US-led alliance is trying to encircle it close to the strategically important Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet and where NATO is also considering increasing patrols.
"It is part of the military and political containment of Russia," Andrey Kelin, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, said on Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported.
"These decisions by NATO can only exacerbate an already difficult situation," he added, saying the move would hinder efforts to repair ties between Russia and the alliance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's office said Moscow also doubted NATO's stated aim of protecting the alliance against Iranian rockets following the historic nuclear deal with Tehran and world powers last year that Russia helped to negotiate.
"The situation with Iran has changed dramatically," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Joe Cirincione, an American nuclear expert who is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security organization, told reporters in Geneva that the shield should be scrapped.
"It was designed to protect Europe from a missile from, well, the only country we were afraid of was Iran. The system was designed to protect against an Iranian nuclear missile. There is not going to be an Iranian nuclear missile for at least 20 years. There is no reason to continue with that program."
The readying of the shield also comes as NATO prepares a new deterrent in Poland and the Baltics following Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. In response, Russia is reinforcing its western and southern flanks with three new divisions.
Poland is concerned Russia may retaliate further by announcing the deployment of nuclear weapons to its enclave of Kaliningrad, located between Poland and Lithuania. Russia has stationed anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles there, able to cover huge areas and complicate NATO's ability to move around.
The Kremlin says the shield's aim is to neutralize Moscow's nuclear arsenal long enough for the United States to strike Russia in the event of war. Washington and NATO deny that.
"Missile defense . . . does not undermine or weaken Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the Deveselu base.
However, Douglas Lute, the United States' envoy to NATO, said NATO would press ahead with NATO's biggest modernization since the Cold War. "We are deploying at sea, on the ground and in the air across the eastern flanks of the alliance . . . to deter any aggressor," Lute said.
At a cost of billions of dollars, the missile defense umbrella relies on radars to detect a ballistic missile launch into space. Sensors then measure the rocket's trajectory and destroy it in space before it re-enters the earth's atmosphere. The interceptors can be fired from ships or ground sites.
The Romanian shield, which is modeled on the United States' so-called Aegis ships, was first assembled in New Jersey and then transferred to the Deveselu base in containers.
While US and NATO officials are adamant that the shield is designed to counter threats from the Middle East and not Russia, they remained vague on whether the radars and interceptors could be reconfigured to defend against Russia in a conflict.
The United States says Russia has ballistic missiles, in breach of a treaty that agreed the two powers must not develop and deploy missiles with a range of 500 km (310.69 miles) to 5,500 km. The United States declared Russia in non-compliance of the treaty in July 2014.
The issue remains sensitive because the United States does not want to give the impression it would be able to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles that were carrying nuclear warheads, which is what Russia fears.
(Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs, Andrew Osborn and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Andrew Heavens)