TAPA, Sept 06 (LETA–AFP–BNS) – NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday he saw no “imminent threat” from Russia’s military exercises with Belarus next week but condemned Moscow for a lack of openness about the drills.
The Zapad event, which Moscow says will involve some 12,700 troops, has caused unease in Poland and the Baltic states, with Lithuania and Estonia saying as many as 100,000 soldiers could take part, though Russia insists the event is “purely defensive” in nature.
NATO has deployed four battle groups — around 4,000 troops — to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in recent years in response to growing Russian assertiveness in the region, particularly after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Stoltenberg, visiting NATO troops at a base in Tapa, northern Estonia, said the troop presence sent a clear message “that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance.”
“We will monitor the (Zapad) activity closely and we are vigilant but also calm, because we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally,” he said.
Western officials have said the preparations for Zapad suggest it could be much bigger than Moscow has admitted, and Stoltenberg said Russia’s openness about the drills did not meet international standards.
Three NATO experts have been invited to attend as observers, but Stoltenberg said this “fell short of the transparency required by the OSCE.”
“Transparency and predictability are even more important when tensions are high, to reduce the risks of misunderstandings and incidents,” Stoltenberg said.
Moscow has said the exercises in western Russia, Belarus and the western Russian exclave of Kaliningrad will involve around 7,200 troops from Belarus and 5,500 from Russia.
Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said Tallinn and the other Baltic states felt “secure and safe” with NATO backing, but echoed Stoltenberg’s concerns about the lack of transparency.