The U.S. and its NATO allies flexed their muscles along Russia’s western border this week with military exercises and a pledge of new troops that have deepened Moscow’s fears of U.S. intentions in the region.
Thousands of U.S. and European service members and 50 ships are staging mock assaults on the Baltic coast near Russia as part of the largest U.S.-led exercises there since Russia invaded Crimea five years ago. President Trump on Wednesday committed 1,000 extra troops to Poland, which has become an important military hub. Thousands more troops from North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies are training in Poland to show how quickly they can deploy in case of attack.
For governments in the region, the growing American activities provide reassurances even if Mr. Trump occasionally has appeared to question the U.S. commitment to the alliance.
“Deterrence works when you have capabilities to back it up,” said Sven Sakkov, director of the International Center for Defense and Security, based in Estonia, a NATO member and Baltic country bordering Russia. “This is the region where Russia is at its strongest and NATO at its weakest, with the bulk of its forces far away.”
For Moscow, which watches the exercises for insight into NATO’s sea and amphibious operations, the size of the exercises has raised fears that the war games are cover to deploy more alliance troops around Russia’s borders. The U.S. and NATO say they are defensive.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the lack of trust between the countries as well as a lack of military-to-military contacts have created a dangerous situation for Russia and the U.S., which have clashed over the fate of Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.
“Mistrust is predominant,” Mr. Ryabkov said in an interview.
The Kremlin hasn’t commented directly on the Baltic Sea exercise. The Russian defense ministry, suspicious over NATO’s intentions, has boosted troop-readiness levels and deployed reconnaissance units around the war games.
SOURCE: James Marson and Thomas Grove
The Wall Street Journal