Written by Matthew Barbari
With the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea still fresh in the minds of many Eastern European countries, leaders like Polish President Andrzej Duda have publicly called for a larger NATO presence within the region to deter Russian expansionism as his country prepares to host the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw.
In addition to biannual summits, NATO is pushing for more exercises involving multiple member countries. The Anakonda military exercise in Poland, starting on June 6th and running until the 17th, will involve 31,000 troops form nearly 20 NATO countries to train with the Polish military in exercises meant to simulate a conflict in the region. While the Anakonda exercise has been on the same two-year cycle since 2006, the current one is the largest ever.
The event also coincides with the announcement that nearly 4,000 troops forming four battalions would be stationed in the Baltics and Poland. These decisions, announced at a gathering of the alliance’s defense ministers, have Russian officials on edge: there has been an increasing NATO and U.S. military presence throughout the region, with Washington pledging to quadruple its defense budget for Europe in 2017.
The troop increase announcement and the Anakonda military exercise come weeks before the NATO Summit takes place in Warsaw. The Summit meets on July 8th and 9th and gathers NATO heads of state to discuss the strengthening of NATO’s defense and deterrence posture.
This will include an assessment of the long-term implications of the crisis in NATO-Russia relations, what are the areas that the Alliance must strengthen (intelligence and early warning, cyberdefense, interoperability of forces, increased cooperation with Nordic partners, forward presence in NATO’s eastern border) and what are the emerging risks facing its members (the migrant crisis, terrorism).
Russian officials have criticized the recent exercises involving NATO troops, calling them a threat to Russian sovereignty. While an important part of Russian foreign policy under Putin has been to increase Russia’s influence and presence in what it considers its near abroad, the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula was a turning point, with many no longer seeing Putin as a defender against NATO expansion, but rather as an imperialist attempting to revive the Soviet Union’s former glory.
Europe seems to be a the precipice of a new “Cold War” where again U.S. and NATO forces are pitted against Russia in a tug of war over influence and power in the continent. However, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg says that the Alliance is not looking to engage in a conflict with Russia. The NATO Summit in Warsaw will do a lot to either elevate or alleviate tensions and could set the precedent for what the relations between NATO and Russia will look like for the foreseeable future.