According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russia is threatened by expansion of the military alliance and the increasing strength of NATO military assets near its borders.
At a time of increased tensions between Russia and the U.S.-led military alliance, Moscow has accused NATO of preparing for conflict with Russia. Shoigu claims that the number of NATO military assets stationed in eastern Europe has increased dramatically in the past twelve months, according to Sputnik News.
Russian Defense Minister claims NATO will continue to expand
“In the past year alone NATO has deployed thirteen times more troops, eight times more military aircraft and up to 300 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to the Baltic states, Poland and Romania,” Shoigu told an annual meeting of top Russian military officials in Moscow.
The North Atlantic Alliance currently counts 28 nations among its members, and its continued expansion is a source of great concern for Russia. Shoigu claims that NATO is working to bring the former Yugoslav republics, Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance and also hopes to add Finland, Sweden and Moldavia to its ranks.
Shoigu said that NATO has also set up a cybersecurity center in Estonia and a propaganda center in Latvia. However more worrying is the continued deployment of additional military forces, including 70 U.S. tanks that have been sent to Romania.
Defense analyst says NATO planning military action against Russia
The motivations behind the deployment are not clear, but they may be related to recent tensions between Turkey and Russia after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane. However defense analyst Vladislav Shurygin believes that there might be a more sinister reason behind the move.
“NATO is the only military organization around which aims to contain Russia, whose forced military buildup in the Middle East will be used by NATO as a justification for its own,” Shurygin told Zvezda television channel in Moscow. “It is with this idea in mind that the United States is going to set up a special military grouping in Turkey, and the deployment of US armor in Eastern Europe is part of this plan,” Shurygin added.
As part of planned military exercises, NATO is set to send approximately 12,000 tanks, armored vehicles and artillery pieces to Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania. The majority of the forces are already stationed in Germany ready for deployment.
Russia-NATO tensions continue to mount
After Russia annexed the Crimea and started supporting pro-separatist rebels in Ukraine, the Baltic nations in particular became worried that we might be entering an age of renewed aggression from Russia. With that in mind, politicians began petitioning the U.S. to send more armed forces in a show of support.
However Shurygin reminds the Estonians in particular that a Russian paratroop division based in the city of Pskov would take just 40 minutes to reach the Estonian capital of Tallinn. The security situation in eastern Europe has become incredibly tense, and tensions will not be reduced by further military exercises.
Shurygin believes that despite public pronouncements regarding the war on terror and peacekeeping missions, NATO is in fact obsessed with containing Russia. He believes that new members in Eastern Europe will be used as a bridgehead for a war against Russia.
“With NATO’s military infrastructure edging ever closer to the Russian border, Moscow has been forced to meet the challenge by demonstrating its own military might. It is Russia’s refusal to roll over which is apparently making the Americans so nervous,” he said.
Geopolitical situation remains highly complicated
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed an anti-ISIS alliance between Russia and the U.S.-led coalition that is currently undertaking airstrikes in Syria. Such an alliance would appear to be a strange proposition given ongoing tensions in Europe.
If both sides can compartmentalize the conflict with ISIS, coordinated airstrikes against the Islamic militants make a lot of sense. However the tensions in eastern Europe are not going to go away, not least because Putin himself has repeatedly expressed his desire to disrupt the existing world order which made NATO possible.
In order to stop the slide towards conflict leaders from both sides should commit to a policy of deescalation involving a commitment to ending military exercises in border areas. NATO exercises in eastern Europe may help to reassure local populations, but they contribute to increasing tensions with Russia.
For its part Russia must end its increasingly common incursions into foreign airspace and demonstrate a renewed commitment to international norms. Without genuine action from both sides we could see a continued slide towards World War 3.