The US and NATO have been making aggressive noises towards Moscow for several years now. However, we are now seeing NATO make expansions eastward that Russia can only see as aggressive. The subsequent escalation of tensions takes us back into a Cold War scenario that we all hoped was a thing of the past.
New NATO division becomes partly functional in Romania
Bucharest: The NATO Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE) became partly functional here on Wednesday, announced the headquarters of the division.
“I am honoured to be here to mark the significant progress made toward strengthening the NATO alliance,” said Mark Ferguson, US Navy admiral and visiting Allied Joint Force Command Naples commander.
The first exercise has been underway since last week to test the ability of MND-SE to command and control the NATO Force Integration Units in Romania and Bulgaria during a contingency operation within the southeastern region, Xinhua reported.
The exercise, titled “Dacian Lynx 2016,” is a command post and computer-assisted exercise involving more than 250 personnel from 11 NATO nations who are training in three locations in Bucharest, as well as in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“From what I have witnessed today, and from the reports I received from my staff as they observed exercise ‘Dacian Lynx,’ the MND-SE is not only on track but exceeding our very stringent requirements,” Ferguson told the press.
“The exercise has been a great training opportunity and a good start for initially reviewing all the standard operating procedures and instructions, and subsequently preparing the new division to lead exercises and operations in southeast Europe,” said the MND-SE commander, Romanian Armed Forces Brigadier General Ovidiu Uifaleanu.
“We have the command and control on the two force integration units in Sofia and Bucharest. We are trying to prove to ourselves whether we are capable of coordinating the two units to ensure a quick movement and intervention of Allied forces in southeastern Europe,” he added.
NATO first opened the MND-SE in August 2015. The headquarters should become fully operational by 2018 with some 280 officers, including 75 from other NATO states, working together.
The plan, built on decisions taken at NATO’s 2014 summit in Wales, also includes six NATO force integration units to be set up in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and the three Baltic states which will plan exercises and organise reinforcements for those countries in an emergency.
Along with the ground troops, the US has also installed a missile defence system in Romania:
Breaking News, Ireland
The US is activating a defence system in Romania aimed at protecting Europe from ballistic missile threats.
The system has been under development for years and is aimed against potential long-range threats from the Middle East, according to officials from the US and Nato.
But the development has angered Russia, which is opposed to having the advanced military system in such close proximity.
The US and Nato said the missile shield, which is able to track and shoot down incoming missiles, is purely defensive and powerless against Russia’s large stockpile of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
US assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, Frank Rose, said: “Russia has been building an advanced system for a long time and they do it very well. We don’t have the technical capability to deal with that threat.”
Russian officials have dismissed claims the planned missile shield is intended to fend off missile threats from Iran. President Vladimir Putin has pointed to the determination of the US and Nato to pursue the project after a nuclear deal with Iran as proof that it is aimed at Russia. This is something Western officials deny.
Nato deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero said: “Ballistic missile proliferation is a growing threat. More and more countries are trying to develop or acquire ballistic missiles.
“Moreover, missile technology is becoming more sophisticated, lethal and accurate, and increasing in range.
“For us to discount or ignore that very real missile threat would be irresponsible.”
Russia has also threatened to react to another planned defence site in Poland by deploying Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, the Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania that is the most militarised zone in Europe.
The Iskanders, which can be fitted with either nuclear or conventional warheads, have a range of up to about 300 miles, putting much of Poland in reach. They were temporarily deployed to Kaliningrad during military manoeuvres last year to demonstrate Russia’s quick deployment capabilities.
Polish defence officials are convinced some are still there.
Michal Baranowski, the Warsaw office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an institute devoted to trans-Atlantic affairs, said: “What the Russians are protesting against are forces that are unable to threaten them.
“Their protests are disingenuous. We know – and they know – that these are defence forces that are at a level that could be easily overwhelmed.”
US, Nato and Romanian officials will hold a ceremony on Thursday to mark the start of operations of the site in Deveselu, a village in southern Romania, with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg due to deliver a speech.
A day later Polish and US officials will break ground at a planned site in the Polish village of Redzikowo, near the Baltic Sea. It is set to go online in 2018.
Both sites will be part of a system called the European Phased Adaptive Approach.
The system also currently includes radar in Turkey and four naval destroyers with a home port in Spain. With only interim capabilities, it is now under command of the US Navy but will be transferred to Nato once fully operational.
The programme was launched by former US president George W Bush but adapted significantly by President Barack Obama, who eliminated a component intended to be in the Czech Republic.
Ties between Russia and Nato took a sharp turn for the worse when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and began supporting a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. That led Nato to ratchet up military exercises in Central and Eastern Europe to reassure allies who fear they could be targeted next.
Nato is also discussing a plan to deploy a continuous rotation of about 4,000 troops to the Baltic states and possibly Poland to reassure nervous allies. Nato defence ministers are expected to discuss that in June, with a final decision on deployment to be taken the following month by Mr Obama and other Nato leaders at a summit in Warsaw.
Predictably, the Russian response to this US move is to point out that it is aggressive and violates existing treaties.
As a new Romanian interceptor missile base prepares to go live Thursday, Moscow has slammed NATO’s expanding defense shield, calling it a threat to security, and a violation of a key international treaty.
“The creation of a European and global missile defense shield has an adverse effect on strategic stability,” Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the Russian foreign ministry’s department for proliferation and arms control issues, said on Wednesday.
NATO will formally declare its missile defense base in the remote location of Deveselu, Romania, operational on Thursday, bringing to fruition a plan to construct a shield in eastern Europe that was first announced by George W. Bush as far back as 2007.
“Our direct interests, the interests of our national security are affected by the decision,” said Ulyanov.
The Russian official said that not only was the missile defense aimed at neutralizing Russia’s offensive capability – an accusation the Pentagon has repeatedly rejected – but that Deveselu’s MK 41 launching systems it uses could be re-equipped with offensive cruise missiles.
Ulyanov said that Washington was acting in breach of the 1987 INF treaty, under which Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed their respective countries up to obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”
The US embassy in Moscow produced a counter-statement, condemning Moscow’s allegations as “unacceptable and irresponsible.”
“The missile defense system is not aimed at Russia, or undermining its strategic potential. From the point of view of geography and physics, it is impossible to shoot down Russian inter-continental missiles from Romania or Poland,” said the document, penned by embassy spokesman William Stephens, and obtained by RIA news agency.
Washington says that the eastern European missile defense segment is meant to thwart a potential threat from Iran, but in a separate statement on Wednesday evening, Russia’s foreign ministry said that worries that Tehran posed a threat to NATO were “unfounded.”
The missile shield uses a network of radars that track potential threats in the atmosphere, before launching an interceptor missile from a stationary base, or a fleet.
Simultaneously with Romania coming online, construction work is beginning on a complementary base in Poland, which will complete the eastern European segment of the shield in 2018.