RIGA, Oct 9 (LETA) – Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics today participated in the meeting of Central and Eastern European Foreign Ministers, or the so-called “Bucharest Nine” format, taking place in Warsaw, the Latvian Foreign Ministry said.
The meeting addressed preparations for the NATO Summit to be held in Brussels in summer 2018.
Collective defence and further adaptation of the Alliance to the present situation should be at the core of discussions at the upcoming NATO Summit in 2018, the Latvian foreign minister said.
“It is vital to move forward with the implementation of the decisions taken at the Wales and Warsaw summits by enhancing the sea and air components of collective defence capabilities in the Baltic States. It is also essential for us that Georgia and Ukraine remain on NATO’s agenda, and therefore we support the highest possible level of their representation at the Summit. The participation of Sweden and Finland in the NATO agenda is just as important,” Rinkevics said.
The meeting addressed the recent ZAPAD military exercise held by Russia and Belarus, which points to the overall increase in Russia’s military capabilities and their concentration close to the border of the Baltic States and Poland.
The Latvian foreign minister welcomed the current intensification of cooperation on security and defence at the level of NATO and the European Union. However, care should be taken that NATO’s functions and capabilities are complemented, not duplicated.
The countries of the “Bucharest Nine” format – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania – maintain a regular dialogue at various levels. The previous Foreign Ministers’ meeting in this format took place on November 7-8, 2016.
Outgoing EU envoy to Moscow says Brussels should help Ukraine by offering it a path to membership.
Relations between Russia and the EU are stuck in a “deep and acute” crisis and are unlikely to improve until President Vladimir Putin leaves office and the conflict in Ukraine is resolved – events that could be many years away, the outgoing EU ambassador to Moscow has said.
Vygaudas Ušackas, who has been in the post since 2013, said the EU must offer Ukraine a path to membership of the bloc if it wants to resist Russian attempts to bring the former Soviet state more firmly back under Moscow’s control.
“As I leave my post, I am pessimistic that we will be able to return to a normal partnership in the near future,” Ušackas wrote in a letter published in the Observer on Sunday. “The differences between us are vast and hinge on principles of European security.”
He detailed growing attacks on “core European values” of democracy, free speech and the rule of law and said the apparatus of the Kremlin is focused on returning Putin to power in 2018 elections that it can present as “smooth and credible”.
“Over the course of a six-year presidential term that will follow, it seems probable that the current clash of world views between Moscow and the west will continue,” he said, adding that Russia will attempt to exploit divisions inside Europe to undermine it.
Efforts to influence elections and politics through propaganda are well-documented, but Moscow is also using business deals to try to splinter the bloc by rewarding countries that challenge sanctions and the broader EU position on Russia, he said.
“In unity lies our strength. It is precisely our internal problems that Moscow is exploiting to undermine the credibility of the EU model,” he said.
Member states are not doing enough to protect themselves, he said, noting the new North Stream II gas pipeline, a project which, he said, hands Moscow more control over Europe’s energy, in direct opposition to Europe’s goals of diversifying suppliers.
Europe must focus on managing Brexit and the refugee crisis, both of which have been exploited by Russia, improve transparency to build the trust of citizens around Europe, and focus on remaining united.
European leaders must also stand up for rights which are under attack in Russia. “As Soviet dissident and leading human rights champion Lyudmila Alexeyeva reminded me recently: ‘Please tell Brussels not to give up on the Russian people,’” he said.
Ušackas expects Moscow to push for greater control over Ukraine and Georgia. “Russia respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours only as long as their geopolitical choices align with Moscow’s interests,” he said.
The EU needs to step up efforts to negotiate peace in Ukraine, he said, calling on Brussels to name a special envoy to the country, a position the US has already created, and questioned why the EU was not part of current multilateral efforts to broker an agreement.
“We need a greater focus on ending the Ukrainian conflict, because it will be difficult to normalise relations while it continues,” he said.
That should include offering Ukraine a path to EU membership. The prospect of EU membership would send Russia a clear message about commitment to Ukrainian and Georgian democracy, and give the governments motivation to make important reforms.
“It must be made very clear: the road to Europe goes via Kiev, with respect of Ukraine’s European choice, and adherence to the European security order. It cannot go through ‘managed’ democracy in Russia itself.”
Warsaw: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland has published details of Exercise Dragon 17 and the countries that are taking part from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as their allies from Georgia and Ukraine.
“The training and combat readiness drills of Dragon-17 are proceeding well. Dragon-17 is being attended by 17,000 soldiers from nine NATO countries, as well as Georgia and Ukraine, “the ministry said.
In addition, according to information from the Polish Foreign Ministry, 3,500 units of equipment are involved in the exercise. The exercise is to be held in Poland from 20 to 29 September.
Among the NATO countries taking part in Dragon 17 are Poland, USA, Germany, Great Britain, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Italy, Bulgaria, as well as their allies from Georgia and Ukraine.
Russia will restore the former format of relations with NATO, including within the Russia-NATO Council, within a couple of years, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle on Wednesday.
“We wouldn’t want that cooperation [between Russia and NATO] to remain prehistoric. We believe that there is history, and there is the present. But I am sure that very soon, there will also be a future,” he said. “And I am sure that we will restore our relationship with NATO and we will return to the wonderful form of cooperation that is the Russia-NATO Council.”
“I think that it will happen in the next year or two at most,» he added.
As for the Russia-Belarus joint military exercise Zapad-2017 (West-2017) that are to kick off on Thursday, they are of purely defense nature, he stressed.
“I can calm our dear neighbors straightaway. The exercise is absolutely peaceful, and absolutely defensive in nature. In this case, the ‘West’ isn’t to be taken in the broad, political sense of the geographic term as the countries of the West, of the European Union or the members of NATO.
The term ‘West’ designates west of the Russian Federation and of Belarus – which is even further west than Russia,” Fomin noted. “There are no plans for any sort of invasion into the territory of neighboring countries. The main goal of the exercise is to practice relevant strategies for the battle against terrorism and to practice the use of the armed forces for that battle.”
The Russia-NATO Council was established in 2002. Before 2014, it met in Brussels at least once a month at the ambassadorial level and twice a year – at the level of foreign and defense ministers and chiefs of general staffs. Over that period, it had three summit meetings. The most efficient areas of cooperation between Russia and NATO were anti-terror efforts and Afghanistan.
Russia-NATO relations lived through three periods of chills due to political crises, namely in 1999-2000 over bombing of the former Yugoslavia, in 2008-2009 over NATO’s negativism about Russia’s actions during the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, and from 2014 to the present over developments in Ukraine.
In April 2014, NATO froze for three months all types of practical military and civil cooperation with Russia to say in June 2014 that there was no resuming strategic partnership with Russia at the moment. However, the Alliance decided to preserve the format of the Russia-NATO Council to continue political dialogue. Since then, the Council has been meeting at the ambassadorial level.
At a regular ambassadorial meeting on July 13, 2017, Moscow briefed NATO ambassadors about the forthcoming Zapad joint drills with Belarus. Following it, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he saw no threats from the drills to the NATO member countries.
Russia’s military is preparing to hold its biggest war games in several years, dubbed Zapad-2017. NATO’s eastern members are alarmed by these plans, and claim similar drills preceded clashes in Georgia and Crimea.
Tomorrow, the armies of Russia and Belarus are set to conduct joint military maneuvers, with thousands of troops taking part in war games in both countries and Russia’s heavily militarized exclave of Kaliningrad. The drill, designated Zapad-2017, comes after similar exercises were held in the region in 2013 and 2009. “Zapad” is the Russian word for “West.”
According to Moscow, some 13,000 service people are set to participate this year. However, NATO puts little faith in the estimates published by the Russian defense ministry and worries that the actual scope of the drill might be many times larger. Representatives of some NATO members, such as Estonia, believe that Russia intends to involve some 100,000 soldiers and officers in the exercise.
The number of troops is more than just a demonstration of power. According to the 2011 Vienna Document set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), any country holding military exercises involving more than 13,000 service members must invite observers to monitor at least some of the drills. Russia, a member of OSCE, agreed to these terms. However, NATO has repeatedly accused Russia of cheating by underreporting the number of participants.
Scenario: Attacked from Baltic
Representatives of NATO remain unconvinced, pointing to the Zapad-2013 drill held four years ago. In it, Russian and Belarusian forces simulated defense from armed “terrorists” moving in from the Baltic.
Moscow’s official statistics put the number of troops at around 12,000. Foreign analysts, however, estimated that between 70,000 and 90,000 soldiers took part in 2013. Even more troubling for NATO’s eastern flank, the Russian military displayed the use of new tactics and technologies, such as scouting drones, that were later used in Crimea, in eastern Ukraine and Syria. The 2013 exercise ended with a mock nuclear strike against Sweden, according to NATO.
Four years before that, Russia ended the Zapad-2009 drill with a simulated nuclear strike on Poland. The same drill saw NATO scramble German “Eurofighter” jets to intercept a Russian radar plane above Estonia. Finland, which is not a NATO member, also responded by deploying its own F-18s.
Drilling for war
Such border incidents are also possible with the upcoming drill in September, with NATO-Russia tensions still running high and NATO troops deployed on the alliance’s eastern flank. Russia also stirred concerns by repeatedly holding massive snap exercises in recent years. Unlike the long-scheduled Zapad drills, they require no advance notice.
NATO analysts also point out that Russia held a large exercise just ahead of its takeover of Crimea, presumably to provide distraction and cover for the move. Some 150,000 troops allegedly took part in the anti-terror drill near Ukraine’s borders in late February 2014, and remained in the area as Russia annexed the peninsula in March the same year.
In a similar scenario in July 2008, Russia conducted military drills in regions near to Georgia, including Chechnya and North Ossetia. The war between Georgian forces on one side and Russia and their Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists on the other broke out only weeks later.
In the meantime, the Swedish military has begun its largest joint military drill with Nato in 20 years over fears about the growing encroachment of Russia.
Aurora 17, started on Monday and is designed to strengthen the country’s defences and create a “credible and visible” deterrent to make its neighbours “carefully consider the risks of attacking” it, the Swedish Armed Forces said in a statement.
It said: “The overarching mission of the Swedish Armed Forces is to defend the country’s interests, our freedom and the right to live the way of our choice.”
The exercises will take place in the air, on land and at sea. They will take place across the entire country but will focus on the Mälardalen Valley, the areas around cities of Stockholm and Gothenberg and on the strategic island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.
Around 21,150 total personnel from all branches of the Swedish Armed Forces, as well as troops from foreign nations will participate. One fourth of them will consist of Home Guardsmen. Civilian authorities, such as police and social services will also participate.
Several NATO nations have planned to take part in the exercise. As of January 2017, the participating nations include France, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Germany, and the United States.
The designated exercise area will cover most of Sweden, but will be focused on the Mälaren Valley, Stockholm, Gotland and in Gothenburg.
The exercise is expected to cost the Swedish government 583 million Swedish krona (approx. $65,6 million USD).
It comes after Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to “eliminate” the Nato threat if Sweden decided to join the organisation.
In June, he told the state news agency Itar-Tass: “If Sweden joins Nato this will affect our relations in a negative way because we will consider that the infrastructure of the military bloc now approaches us from the Swedish side.
“We will interpret that as an additional threat for Russia and we will think about how to eliminate this threat.”
Currently only tiny Montenegro is on the list of countries which are due to be inducted into Nato, as the military alliance steps up its presence in eastern Europe over fears about Russian encroachment.
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commanding officer of the US Army forces in Europe, said no island was as strategically important at Gotland and said he was looking forward to working with the Swedes.
“We have to react to that, and not just the US, but the whole of Nato. The countries closest to the bear have historical experience. They feel the hot breath of the bear – and they are the ones most worried.”
“The fact that Sweden decided that they have to put troops back on Gotland is a very clear indication of what’s going on. Sweden is known as moderate, credible and alliance free. Nevertheless Sweden felt that this was necessary.”
AURORA 17 Schedule
Monday, 11: Exercise starts.
Wednesday, 13/9: Supreme Commander will visit Gothenburg, where host nation support will be exercised with the American and French Air Defense Units.
Monday, 18/9: Air-drop, Gotland.
Wednesday, 20/9: Defence of Sweden, support from Finland. Hagshult Air Force Base will host Swedish and Finnish aircraft and pilots on site.
Saturday, 23/9: Land Combat, Kungsängen.
Sunday, 24/9: Consequences of Conflict (Total Defense), Gotland.
Sunday 24/9: Supreme Commander will attend the Defence Information Day at Gärdet, Stockholm.
The USS Porter is training with the Romanian navy this week as part of its mission to augment security in the Black Sea region, where tensions remain high because of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Stars and Stripes reported Friday.
The Spain-based destroyer entered the Black Sea last week to beef up allied defenses and show the United States’ commitment to protecting waters that are of great economic and military importance, the Navy said, according to Stars and Stripes.
U.S. warships have sporadically patrolled the Black Sea for decades, but Russia has viewed their presence as aggressive posturing since 2014, when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula and began backing separatist forces fighting in eastern Ukraine. The recent U.S. and European sanctions against Moscow have raised tensions throughout much of Eastern Europe.
Navy officials declined to say whether the ongoing conflict in Ukraine played a part in their sending the guided-missile destroyer to patrol the sea.
The Porter is there to improve teamwork with allies Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine, the U.S. Navy said.
But speaking in Ukraine on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said that countering Russian aggression against Ukraine was a priority.
Mattis condemned Russia’s seizure of Crimea, saying it and undermines the region’s stability. “We support you in the face of threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity and international law,” Mattis said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at his side.
Mattis said Washington would not accept Russia’s takeover of Crimea, which breached international accords dating from the 1990s.
Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard Company H, 121st Infantry (Airborne) Long Range Surveillance Unit conducted an airborne insertion with British ‘C’ Coy, 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment as part of Exercise Noble Partner 2017. Noble Partner 2017 is a U.S. Army Europe-led exercise designed to support the training, progression, and eventual certification of Georgia’s 2nd Light Infantry Company’s contribution to the NATO Response Force.
Moscow respects its neighboring countries’ relations with the United States but is concerned over the expansion of military infrastructure towards the Russian borders, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
While commenting on the US Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to the Baltic States and Georgia, Peskov said that the countries in question are independent states having the right to develop relations with other countries as they wished. “There is no issue [for Russia] in that, and there can never be,” he added.
“Such cooperation only becomes a problem for us when it leads to the expansion of various alliances and their military infrastructure towards our borders,” the Russian presidential spokesman went on to say. “This is what causes us concern. We certainly respect our neighboring countries’ relations with the United States, as well as with other countries,” Peskov said.
When asked to comment on Pence’s statement in which he said that Moscow’s decision to reduce the US diplomatic staff would not deter Washington’s commitment to its security and the security of its allies, Peskov stressed that “this decision [to reduce the staff at the US diplomatic missions in Russia – TASS] has nothing to do with security.” “This is why I would refrain from commenting the US vice president’s statement, I don’t see the connection,” the Kremlin spokesman noted.
The US is considering deploying Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Estonia, US Vice President Mike Pence told Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas on Sunday.
The U.S. Patriot defense system is a mobile, ground-based system designed to intercept missiles and warplanes.
Estonian Prime Minister Ratas said the two leaders talked about the upcoming Russian military manoeuvres planned for near the Estonian border, “and how Estonia, the United States, and NATO should monitor them and exchange information.”
Pence, on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Georgia and Montenegro, said in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, that Washington stands with the Baltic nations and other allies in Eastern Europe that have expressed concerns about Russia’s intentions in their respective regions.
“Our message to the Baltic states — my message when we visit Georgia and Montenegro — will be the same: To our allies here in Eastern Europe, we are with you, we stand with you on behalf of freedoms,” Pence said in an interview with Fox News.
Ratas said in a statement that the US was vital to the security of the region.
“NATO’s collective position of deterrence and defense has strengthened in the Baltic region and the USA is indispensable to ensuring the security of our immediate neighborhood, as well as all of Europe,” Ratas said.
Lithuania said it was eager to have Patriot missiles when the US military displayed the system in the country earlier this month after using them in an exercise there. Anti-aircraft defense is seen as one of NATO’s weaknesses in the Baltic states.
From Estonia, Pence is scheduled to make stops in Georgia and the newest NATO member, Montenegro.
Estonia and Montenegro are members of NATO, while Georgia has expressed hopes of joining the Western alliance.
Asked about Trump’s commitment to NATO’s mutual-defense provision, Pence told reporters in Tallinn that the U.S. administration has “made it clear that the policy of our administration is to stand firmly with our NATO allies and to stand firmly behind our Article 5 commitment that an attack on one is an attack on all.”
In Georgia, officials said Pence will highlight U.S. support for the Caucasus nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on July 27 that Pence’s visit will demonstrate that the United States continues to support Georgia in building a stronger military force.
During Pence’s visit, some 800 Georgian and 1,600 U.S. troops are taking part in the previously planned Noble Partner 2017 exercises. Pence is scheduled to meet with U.S. troops.
Troops from Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Armenia are also taking part.
“The vice president’s presence here is definitely showing that this is not only about military exercises, but it is also showing unification with our values, with our foreign policy targets, and showing a clear message that we are together,” Margvelashvili said.On the last stop, Pence will welcome NATO’s newest member with his stop in Montenegro, whose accession to the alliance in June has infuriated Russia.
On August 2, he will attend the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, U.S. officials said.
Pence was expected to highlight the U.S. commitment to the Western Balkans and stress the need for good governance, political reforms, and rule of law in the region.
The leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia are also scheduled to attend the summit.
TBILISI (Reuters) – The Georgian army began two weeks of military exercises with the United States and other partner countries on Sunday, a day before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits the ex-Soviet nation.
About 2,800 soldiers from the United States, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, Armenia and Georgia were taking part in the maneuvers, with Washington dispatching an entire mechanized company including several Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks.
Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said the drills were an important event for the South Caucasus republic.
“These exercises will help Georgia to get closer to NATO standards and to strengthen stability in the whole region,” Kvirikashvili said at the opening ceremony on Sunday.
The “Noble Partner” exercises are being held in Georgia for the third time. Russian officials had not commented on the event yet, but in previous years Moscow warned that drills could destabilize the region, a charge denied by Georgian officials and U.S. diplomats.
“This exercise is not directed against any country. It’s about to help Georgia to grow its capacity to interoperate in international operations,” U.S. Ambassador Ian Kelly told Reuters.
Russia and Georgia fought a war in August 2008 over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. Moscow continues to garrison troops there and to support another breakaway region, Abkhazia.
The exercises were being run out of the Vaziani military base near Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
Russian forces used to be based there until they withdrew at the start of the last decade under the terms of a European arms reduction agreement.
Pence plans to attend the drills and address participants on Tuesday.
The United States has spoken favorably of the idea that Georgia might one day join NATO, something Russia firmly opposes.
Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Dale Hudson.
Fort Carson Mountaineer, By Staff Sgt. Ange Desinor, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division, 3 July 2017
GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany — Soldiers of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducted a quick turnaround on equipment maintenance and rail operations to move five battalions to the Black Sea region for an upcoming series of multinational exercises.
Exercise Saber Guardian 17, a U.S. Army Europe-led multinational exercise, will take place in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania from July 11-20, 2017. The exercise is the largest of 18 Black Sea region exercises and will draw approximately 25,000 service members from 23 allied and partner nations to showcase collective deterrence capabilities.
For the 3rd ABCT, the series of exercises is further opportunity to assemble and move the majority of its forces across central and eastern Europe as it demonstrates the ability to mass at any given time to respond to a crisis anywhere in Europe.
It’s the “Iron” Brigade’s eighth movement of a battalion or larger since arriving in Europe in January to serve in a deterrent role as U.S. Army Europe’s regionally allocated land force under Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The brigade just concluded a force-on-force scenario hosted by the Joint Multinational Readiness Center as part of Combined Resolve VIII. Immediately following that intense nine-day fight, Soldiers cleaned and prepared armor and wheeled vehicles for rail movement at Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas.
“I’m really excited to be going to Romania,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Graybill, platoon sergeant, Company C, 588th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd ABCT. “Going to Romania with a new mission will allow us to apply the lessons learned to Saber Guardian. I feel that it will allow us to have more time to polish up on areas and prepare to go to Combined Resolve IX back in Germany later this summer.”
Graybill and his Soldiers are going to provide upper and lower tactical internet communications to Soldiers participating in the exercise.
“We are loading up equipment and vehicles and leaning forward to ensure we are all set up and ready. We ensure that the commander is able to communicate with all the Soldiers on the battlefield,” he said.
Along with the brigade headquarters, the five battalions relocating from Germany to participate in the Getica Saber exercise, a U.S.-led fire coordination exercise and combined arms live-fire exercise July 10-15, 2017, at Cincu, Romania, are the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment; 588th Brigade Engineer Battalion; and 64th Brigade Support Battalion.
The 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, moves to Varpalota Training Area, Hungary, to participate in Brave Warrior 17, which focuses on joint maneuvers. The squadron joins its Troop A, which has been training in Hungary since February.
A sixth Iron Brigade unit, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, already has been training in Romania and Bulgaria as part of its Atlantic Resolve mission. The battalion will participate in the Eagle Sentinel and Peace Sentinel live-fire exercises in Bulgaria as part of Saber Guardian 17.
Despite the quick transition from Combined Resolve VIII to Saber Guardian, 3rd ABCT Soldiers were looking forward to a new venue to train with NATO allies and partners.
“I’m always able to adapt to new areas and new experiences,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Kelly, geospatial engineer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “This is my first time going to Romania and being part of something big. I feel very fortunate to be part of the team.”
Later in July and August 2017, a company from 1st Bn., 66th Armor Reg., will participate in Noble Partner 17 in the Republic of Georgia.
This collective training throughout the region is designed to further partner capacity and improve interoperability as part of a profound demonstration of U.S., allied and partner commitment to security and stability in the Black Sea region.