Tag: Latvia

175th Wing Deployment ÄMARI AIR BASE in Estonia

A-10C 175th Wing Air National Guard. Photo by SMSgt Jim Foard) (RELEASED) Officila Photo by: Jim Foard,SMSgt,,, United States

For just over a week now, ten A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft and approximately 270 Airmen have been stations at Ämari Air Base, Estonia, to participate in a flying training deployment.

The deployment and training efforts are funded by the European Reassurance Initiative as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which allows the U.S. to work with allies and partners to develop and improve ready air forces capable of maintaining regional security.

“The long-standing relationship between Estonia and Maryland reinforces U.S. commitment to regional security,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Jason Burns, Bilateral Affairs officer assigned to the Office of Defense Cooperation. “The exercise presents the opportunity for both nations to engage in critical military movements and hone individual skill sets.”

The 175th Cyberspace Operations Group deployed with a Virtual Interconnected Training Environment. The VITE from the 175th Wing, Warfield Air National Guard Base, Maryland, deployed in support of an overseas training exercise for the first time ever.

“The VITE allows us to simulate networks, any network we want, to conduct exercises and training,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jori Robinson, 175th Cyberspace Operations Group commander. “It allows us to do real world training in a simulated environment where it is safe to conduct these types of exercises.”

During the exercise, the A-10Cs will train with multi-national Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Combat Control Teams at Amari and Jagala, Estonia.

In addition, an MC-130J Commando II from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom, and a combat communications team will deploy from the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

175th Wing MC-130J Hercules

While deployed, the A-10C’s will also train with the Finnish air force F/A-18 Hornets in Finland, Spanish air force F/A-18 Hornets in Estonia and multinational JTACs in Latvia. Flight operations will take place in Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and international airspace. This training will focus on maintaining joint readiness while building interoperability capabilities.

Spanish Air Force F/A-18 Hornet

“Working with various countries allows us to share and learn new experiences, thoughts and ideas while training for optimal preparedness,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Tony Queen, 175th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight chief. “After all, you train the way you fight.”

 

Canadian Forces Ends Mission in Poland

The Canadian Forces wrapped up a three year-long deployment in Poland under Operation REASSURANCE. The Land Task Force (LTF) ended its mission with a parade in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland.

OPeration REASSURANCE in Poland. 2014-2017

From May 2014 to August 2017, Canada deployed more than 1,000 soldiers from CFB Edmonton, CFB Petawawa, and CFB Valcartier. Throughout the three-year mission, the Canadian soldiers participated in more than 35 exercises in eight different countries:

  1. Bulgaria
  2. Estonia
  3. Germany
  4. Hungary
  5. Latvia
  6. Lithuania
  7. Poland
  8. Romania

According to the National Defence website: “various rotations of troops have served on Canada’s LTF in Poland since May 2014, and have participated in military exercises throughout the region to improve interoperability with Allies and demonstrate NATO’s resolve to protect Alliance territories and partners. Op REASSURANCE refers to the military activities undertaken by the CAF since 2014 to support NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Eastern and Central Europe with the aim of reassuring nations in the region of NATO’s commitment to support their stability and security.”

With the end of the Canadian deployment in Poland, Canada is now leading the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup (eFP BG) in Latvia. More than 1,000 soldiers from seven NATO countries are directly working with the Latvian Land Forces Infantry Brigade. The Canadian Forces is contributing more than 450 troops to the eFP BG, including headquarters staff, an infantry company with Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV), military police, and logistical and communications support.

Canadian Armed Forces and Italian soldiers cover their arcs of fire during a relief-in-place exercise at the training grouds of Camp Adazi, Latvia, as part of the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup’s training during Operation REASSURANCE on August 2, 2017. Image by MCpl Gerald Cormier.

The Canadian-led eFP BG in Latvia consists of soldiers from the following countries:

  1. Albania
  2. Canada
  3. Italy
  4. Poland
  5. Slovenia
  6. Spain

“Today’s ceremony marks the implementation of one of Canada’s key NATO commitments. Leading NATO efforts to deter and defeat potential aggression is a core mission in Canada’s new Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged. As the leader of an enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup, Canada is committed to ensuring a peaceful and stable Europe. We stand united with our NATO Allies and the people of Latvia,” said Harjit S. Sajjan, Defence Minister.

According to the National Defence, the eFP BG’s mission is to counter Russia’s decision to use military force against its neighbour, and its military buildup in the region. Its mission is to prevent conflict and preserve regional stability.

Russian soldiers conducting training in eastern Russia

That said, Canada’s decision to support its NATO allies is justified. As an alliance members, especially as a founding country, Canada had to show its commitment to its allies. However, justifying such a deployment due to Russian military buildup in the region is clearly unjustified.

Russia has the right to move troops and deploy them as they please in their country. As far as I know, Russia has not been actively readying its troops for a possible invasion of the Baltic States. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin said it would be madness to do so more than two years ago.

I do not believe Russia has the intention to do so. Yet, when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia and the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted, Canada openly supported Ukraine and started training Ukrainian soldiers. While Canadian Foreign Minister, Christina Freeland has been supporting the Ukrainian government through diplomatic measures, its government has been sending non-lethal equipment to Ukraine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ottawa ink a deal on lethal weaponry in the next few years. Light Armoured Vehicles would be one of the main pieces of equipment in the deal if you ask me, especially since Saudi Arabia has been using them against its own people and that Canada could very well cancel the deal over it.

Canada could very well follow in the United States footsteps and supply lethal weaponry to Ukraine.

The main concern here is that Ukraine is not part of NATO, and I believe that NATO’s move in the Baltic States is solely based on the events in Ukraine. By doing so, NATO is putting themselves in a situation where it’s using their resources to support a non-NATO country under the pretext of a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

The events in Ukraine gave NATO a perfect justification to move more troops to Russia’s border and influence the regional situation — an eastward march.

Canada, in this particular scenario, has been openly talking tough to Russia and has been committed its largest number of troops in Europe since the end of the Cold War. By training Ukrainian soldiers and stationing troops in Latvia, Canada is sending a message to Russia that it will stand with its allies. However, Canada’s decision to train Ukrainian troops is only fuelling the tension in the region as Ukraine is quickly becoming a new proxy war between NATO and Russia.

A Joint Task Force – Ukraine instructor provides guidance and safety support to a Ukrainian soldier during section attack practice, part of small team training, at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Starychi, Ukraine, on March 3, 2017. Photo : Joint Task Force – Ukraine

Unfortunately, all possible outcomes through diplomatic solutions have been failing and will most likely never succeed due to the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine.

With Canada leading an eFP BG in Latvia, it is taking a key leadership role in NATO’s mission to deter Russia in the region. Meanwhile, Canada has cut its diplomatic talks with Russia and keeps its interaction with the Russian Embassy in Ottawa to a bare minimum.

Honestly, I believe NATO actions in eastern Europe justify a massive military hardware modernization program and reviving the Cold War-era fear of Russian invasion of neighbour countries is a perfect justification to do so.

Canada should lead in diplomatic talks, not with troops on the ground.

 

CONFLICT OBSERVER

 

Latvia hosting annual international ordnance disposal drill Open Spirit

NATO Mine Clearance Diver prepare to submerge

The Latvian Navy is hosting this year’s edition of the international annual mine clearance and ordnance disposal drill Open Spirit which is taking place between August 18 and 31.

The exercise aims to reduce the threat of unexploded ordnance throughout the Baltic Sea region, including seabed communications lines, international shipping routes, and fishing areas.

It is hosted on a yearly rotational basis since 1997 by one of three Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Fourteen nations are participating in Open Spirit 2017, including Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, the United States. Ships from NATO’s Standing Mine Counter Measure Group 1 will be among the participating units.

This year, the exercise is joined by eleven Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) clearance divers and support personnel who will be operating from the naval base in Mikeltornis.

Lieutenant-Commander William Barter, Commanding Officer of Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic), is the Task Force Commander of Open Spirit 2017.

 

Cultural Diversity is Enduring in Canada’s NATO Mission

Canadian Armed Forces members from NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Latvia arrive at Riga International Airport as part of Operation Reassurance on June 10.   Photograph By MCpl True-dee McCarthy

When artillery Sgt. Jayden Cormier gets his morning coffee, the Victoria man, now on a mission in Latvia, stands in a United Nations mix of grinds and brews.

Spanish soldiers show up with a fine-ground coffee, the Italians with something dark and the Canadians with a coarse grind of Tim Hortons’ brand. And every country seems to have a different coffee-making device.

“Everyone comes out in the morning and seems to have their own little method of brewing their coffee,” said Cormier in a telephone interview from Latvia. “But everyone still seems to bond over that morning cup.”

The 28-year-old reservist from the Victoria-based 5th (British Columbia) Field Artillery Regiment is one of 450 Canadians leading a multinational battle group in Latvia. It’s a posting expected to last into 2018.

Most of the Canadians are mechanized infantry drawn from the Edmonton-based 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and are part of a mission the Department of National Defence has called Operation Reassurance.

It’s part of a NATO effort to demonstrate a resolve to stand against any Russian incursions into neighbouring Baltic nations Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and Poland. It was a demonstration agreed at a NATO summit in 2016 in response to Russian interference in Ukraine and a 2008 incursion into Georgia.

Canada leads one of four battle groups in the Baltic states and Poland. The U.K. leads in Estonia, Germany in Lithuania and the U.S. in Poland.

But Canada’s 1,200-strong battle group is the most culturally diverse, with troops from Spain, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Albania. Only the German-led group comes close, and its members are all from or closely allied with the European Union: Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway.

For soldiers such as Cormier, officers and analysts, it’s Canada’s ability to accommodate various ethnic groups and languages that makes it one of the most valued and trusted in the world today.

“We are a multicultural nation, and I think that’s one of our strengths,” said Cormier. “We can bring that multiculturalism we have learned as Canadians to the table and strengthen NATO with that experience.

Christopher Kilford, a military analyst with the Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy now living in Victoria, said despite any controversy about military spending, Canada remains a bulwark welcomed all over the world.

Kilford noted Saudi Arabia and South Korea spend more on their armed forces. But neither country is ever asked to lead overseas missions.

Also, besides a reputation for honour and trustworthiness, Canada’s armed forces in particular have always been an expeditionary force.

Other nations will concentrate on missions closer to home; South Korea looks to match North Korea, for example. But Canada’s forces have long expected and been prepared to undertake or support missions overseas.

So Kilford said the Canadian Armed Forces are good at what he calls “exporting security,” a feat that usually comes with more than just arms. It can require analysts, diplomats and aid workers, often non-governmental.

“There are only a handful of countries that can go around the world and make a difference,” he said. “We are able to get people out and in the door just about anywhere, and we do it with a minimum of fuss.

“So when the world needs someone to take charge of a battle group, they will come to Ottawa.”

Kilford also said Operation Reassurance is something of a return to NATO’s traditional role of watchdog on the Russians.

It’s mostly about deterrence.

That Canada leads a force made up of so many different nations adds to the deterrent value: any country that engages with the group risks offending six countries, as well as the NATO alliance.

Kilford speculated any move by Russia would be covert instead of a direct military invasion — economic embargoes, closed borders or clandestine gifts of weapons or explosives to sympathetic forces inside Latvia.

He noted even to be stationed in Latvia will require a level of cultural sensitivity from Canadians. Many Latvians speak Russian, some as their first language. And many might find the presence of NATO to be objectionable.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of the Canadian defence staff, warned in February that troops should be on guard against any misinformation or propaganda. At the time of Vance’s warning, a false report had already been circulated in Lithuania contending four German soldiers had raped a teenage girl.

“There are a million ways the Russians could cause problems in Latvia without ever sending a single soldier across the border,” said Kilford.

Canadian Air Force Capt. Dan Mazurek, information officer for the battle group in Latvia, said in a phone call he is aware of the local ties to Russia.

“The other day, I got to see a movie and there was Latvian and Russian subtitles,” said Mazurek. “But I haven’t seen any animosity.”

“So far I’ve enjoyed what I can only describe as a warm welcome,” he said.

He said the battle group is training regularly and maintaining a high level of readiness.

But at the same time, in a spirit of multiculturalism, regular language classes are put on by volunteers from various national units within the battle group, even if English is NATO’s default language.

“It’s been a great feeling out here, right across the battle group,” said Mazurek.

And enlisted people such as Victoria’s Master Cpl. Kathryn Holmberg, a reservist with 39 Signal Regiment, who volunteered for Latvia, is doing what soldiers overseas always do: missing family, hers in Nanaimo.

“I’m having a good time over here,” said Holmberg, 27, in a telephone interview. “But I always miss my mom when I go away.”

 

 

Estonian military to accept invitation of Belarus to attend Zapad

Chief of General Staff of the Estonian Defence Forces Riho Terras

Estonia will accept the invitation by Belarus to send observers to the Zapad military drill to be jointly held by Russian and Belarusian armed forces this September, the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces has stated.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces General Riho Terras has said this week in an interview with Eesti Päevaleht newspaper that Zapad exercises have taken place for decades already, also during the Soviet times.

Terras noted that this summer, Belarus and Russia have already conducted preparatory joint exercises testing communications in July and currently a demonstrative drill is taking place in Pskov, not far from Estonia and Latvia.

«It is important that we know what is going on. (..) That we know in detail what is going on, that we keep track of it and be prepared. But we must also be prepared when exercises aren’t being conducted. I don’t think that anything will occur in the framework of field exercises which could spill over to our side or which we will tangibly be able to see,» ERR cited Terras as evaluating in the interview.

 

Airmen deploy to support Estonia FTD

Ten A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, a MC-130J Commando II, and approximately 270 Airmen and associated equipment from bases across the U.S. and Europe will deploy to Amari Air Base, Estonia, Aug. 4-20.

Ten A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, a MC-130J Commando II, and approximately 270 Airmen and associated equipment from bases across the U.S. and Europe will deploy to Amari Air Base, Estonia, Aug. 4-20.
The deployment is funded by the European Reassurance Initiative as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which ensures U.S. European Command has a ready persistent rotational presence of American air, land and sea forces in the region.

The A-10s from the 175th Wing, Warfield Air National Guard Base, Md., will train with multinational Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Combat Control Teams at Amari and Jagala, Estonia.
The MC-130J is from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, U. K. and a combat communications team will deploy from the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

While deployed, the A-10s will also train with the Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Hornets in Finland, Spanish Air Force F/A-18 Hornets in Estonia and multinational JTACs in Latvia. Flight operations will take place in Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and international airspace.

This training will focus on maintaining joint readiness while building interoperability capabilities.

 

Pence and Estonian PM discuss deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system

The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, and the Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas, discussed the possibility of deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system in Estonia.

Ratas, having met Pence, who was visiting the tiny Nordic NATO member from 30-31 July, told the main news programme of the Estonian public broadcasting that he discussed the deployment of the Patriot anti-missile system, but there were no talks about a potential date when the system would be deployed.

“We discussed it today,” Ratas said, replying to a reporter’s question about the defence system. “We didn’t discuss specifically when it would happen,” he added.

“The main messages from both sides were that both Estonia and the United States are active allies in NATO,” Ratas told the public broadcasting.

“We also discussed the [Russian] military exercise to take place at the Estonian border – Zapad – and how Estonia, the United States and NATO monitor it and exchange information,” Ratas added.

Increased cooperation in cyber security

The two leaders also discussed opportunities for increased cooperation in the digital field and cyber security. Pence praised Estonia as a model for innovation and the use of technology to develop solutions for global economic, security and social challenges, and he thanked the country for hosting the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn.

After meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Tallinn on 31 July, the US vice president again offered reassurances.

“Under President Donald Trump, the United States stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defence – an attack on one of us is an attack on us all,” Pence told reporters.

In Tallinn, he also met allied troops from France, the UK and the US that are stationed in Estonia.

 

NATO jets intercept Russian aircraft near Estonian airspace

Spanish Air Force F/A-18 Hornet

NATO jets intercepted three Russian military aircraft near Estonian airspace Tuesday, an alliance spokesman told CNN.

“Two Spanish F-18 jets assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled from Estonia’s Amari Air Base on Tuesday morning to intercept unidentified non-NATO military aircraft near Estonian airspace,” acting NATO spokesman Dylan White said in a statement.

He added that Finnish jets also scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft which he identified as two MiG-31 fighter jets and an AN-26 transport plane.

A pair of Russian Aerospace Force MiG-31 Foxhounds

NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission involves allied aircraft securing the airspace of the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The incident between NATO and Russian military aircraft comes less than 24 hours after US Vice President Mike Pence visited Estonia where he reaffirmed America’s commitment to NATO’s collective defense clause in the face of Russian aggression.

“No threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east,” Pence said an appearance with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

“Under President Donald Trump, the United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation, or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies,” he added.

The incident also saw the Spanish aircraft “accidentally” entering Finnish airspace.

An Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force) F/A-18 Hornet

“In handing over the intercept to the Finnish jets, the Spanish jets accidentally entered Finnish airspace. NATO’s Air Command has explained the incident to the Finnish Air Operations Centre to improve future coordination,” White said.

Finland, which is not a member of NATO, appeared to confirm the incident Tuesday with its ministry of defense issuing a statement saying the two Spanish jets were “suspected of having violated Finland’s airspace on Tuesday morning.”

“We have seen an increase in air activity in the Baltic region, but with few exceptions, the vast majority of the intercepts are conducted in a safe and responsible manner by all parties,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters last month following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.

He also referred to a Finish Initiative which recently convened a working group of representatives from Russia, NATO, Sweden and Finland to discuss the issues involving the congested Baltic airspace.

“They are working in a good way,” Stoltenberg said.

Vice president: U.S. stands with, will always stand with Baltic states

The President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid (L), with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

TALLINN- The United States stands now and will always stand with the Baltic countries and their peoples, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in Tallinn on Monday.

“It is my great privilege to be here today to bring you a very simple message from the President of the United States of America Donald Trump,” Pence said at a joint press conference with the heads of state of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

“The president sent me here to say: we are with you. We stand with the people and nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And we always will,” the vice president said.

“Under president Donald Trump, America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation or malign influence on the Baltics states or against any of our treaty allies,” Pence said.

Speaking about NATO in a broader context, the vice president said that the biggest danger is Russian aggression and a strong and united NATO is more necessary today than at any point since the collapse of communism a quarter of a century ago.

“And no threat looms larger today than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east,” Pence said.

“At this very moment Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine democracies of sovereign nations and divide the free nations of Europe, one against the other,” the vice president added.

Pence emphasized that Russia’s decision by September 1 to send 755 employees of U.S. diplomatic missions out of the country “will not deter the commitment of the United States of America to our security, the security of our allies and the security of freedom loving nations throughout the world.”

“Under President Donald Trump the U.S. stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defense — that an attack on one of us is an attack on all,” the vice president said.

“Today the bond between the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania — is strong. And under President Donald Trump and with the leadership of these presidents gathered here I know our bond will only grow stronger as time goes on,” Pence said.

 

Russia’s military drills near NATO border raise fears of aggression

WASHINGTON — Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

The troops are conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The drills will feature a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit, the First Guards Tank Army. Its establishment represents the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that so much offensive power has been concentrated in a single command.

The military exercise, planned for many months, is not a reaction to sweeping new economic sanctions on Russia that Congress passed last week. So far, Russia has retaliated against the sanctions by forcing the expulsion of several hundred employees in American diplomatic posts in the country.

But the move is part of a larger effort by Mr. Putin to shore up Russia’s military prowess, and comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive Russia. Beyond Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of the Trump campaign, which has seized attention in the United States, its military has in recent years deployed forces to Syria, seized Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine, rattled the Baltic States with snap exercises and buzzed NATO planes and ships.

Even more worrying, top American military officers say, is that the maneuvers could be used as a pretext to increase Russia’s military presence in Belarus, a central European nation that borders three critical NATO allies: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

“The great concern is they’re not going to leave, and that’s not paranoia,” Gen. Tony Thomas, the head of the United States Special Operations Command, told a national security conference in Aspen, Colo., in July.

Peter B. Zwack, a retired one-star Army general who was the American defense attaché in Moscow from 2012 to 2014, said: “First and foremost, the messaging is, ‘We’re watching you; we’re strong; we’ve learned a lot; don’t mess with Russia.’”

Western military officials caution that the United States and Russia are not on the brink of war. But they expressed concern that the heightened Russian military activity could lead to unintended confrontations.

For this installment of the Zapad maneuvers, a Cold War relic revived in 1999 and held again in 2009 and 2013, Russia has requisitioned enough rail cars to carry 4,000 loads of tanks and other heavy equipment to and from Belarus.

Distribution of Russian, Belarussian and NATO forces in Eastern Europe.

The Russians already have about 1,000 air defense troops and communications personnel stationed in Belarus, and logistical teams are surveying training sites there. By mid- August, advance elements of the thousands of Russian Army, airborne and air defense troops that are to participate in the exercise are expected to arrive. The rest of the force is expected to reach Belarus by early September ahead of the Zapad exercises, scheduled for Sept. 14 to 20.

The United States is taking precautions, including sending 600 American paratroopers to NATO’s three Baltic members for the duration of the Zapad exercise and delaying the rotation of a United States-led battle group in Poland.

U.S. 173rd Airbourne arrive in Poland.

“Look, we’ll be ready; we’ll be prepared,” said Lt. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, the head of United States Army forces in Europe. “But we’re not going to be up on the parapets waiting for something to happen.”

In 2014, Russia’s stealthy forays into eastern Ukraine and its rapid capture of Crimea were seen as skillful exercises in “hybrid warfare,” a combination of cyberwarfare, a powerful disinformation campaign and the use of highly trained special operation troops and local proxy forces.

But there is nothing subtle about the tank-heavy unit at the heart of the coming Zapad exercise.

The First Guards Tank Army, made up mainly of forces transferred from other units, including elite motorized and tank divisions near Moscow, has an extensive pedigree. The unit battled the Germans during World War II on the Eastern Front and eventually in Berlin before becoming part of the Soviet force that occupied Germany. In 1968, it participated in the invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring.

After the end of the Cold War, the unit was withdrawn to Smolensk, near the border with Belarus, before being disbanded in 1998. But it was reconstituted by Mr. Putin to give the Russian military more offensive punch and present a visible demonstration of Russian power.

“That name was chosen for a reason,” said Philip M. Breedlove, a retired four-star Air Force general who served as NATO commander. “It sends a very clear message to the Baltics and Poland.”

In addition, the Russians have fielded a new motorized division near Smolensk, close to the border with Belarus, which could be used in conjunction with the tank unit. In combination with the highly mobile tank army, that force has about 800 tanks, more than 300 artillery pieces and a dozen Iskander tactical missile launchers.

That is more tanks than NATO has in active units deployed in the Baltic States, Poland and Germany put together, not including armor in storage that would be used by reinforcements sent from the United States, noted Phillip A. Karber, the president of the Potomac Foundation, who has studied Russian military operations in and around Ukraine.

“There is only one reason you would create a Guards Tank Army, and that is as an offensive striking force,” General Hodges said. “This is not something for homeland security. That does not mean that they are automatically going to do it, but in terms of intimidation it is a means of putting pressure on allies.”

Mr. Karber cautioned against exaggerating the First Guards Tank Army’s capability, noting that not all of its units were fully manned and that some of the most modern tanks earmarked for it have not arrived.

“There is only one reason you would create a Guards Tank Army, and that is as an offensive striking force,” General Hodges said. “This is not something for homeland security. That does not mean that they are automatically going to do it, but in terms of intimidation it is a means of putting pressure on allies.”

4th Tank Brigade of the 1st Guards Tank Army. The Russian 1st Guards Tank Army has been reactivated in Russia’s Western Military District.

But if fully deployed into Belarus, he said, it will be a powerful offensive formation and a way for the Russian military to rapidly project power westward, which is all the more important for Moscow. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant that Russian forces lost Belarus and Ukraine as buffers.

“Just the presence of the First Guards Tank Army near the Polish border would put NATO on the horns of a dilemma,” Mr. Karber said. “Does NATO reinforce the Baltics or defend eastern Poland? NATO does not have enough forces to do both in a short period of time. It adds to the political pressure Russia can bring to bear to keep the Baltic nations and Poland in line”.

The Russians have also announced that the First Guards Tank Army will be the first formation to receive the T-14 Armata tank, a new infantry fighting vehicle, as well as advanced air defense and electronic warfare equipment.

A more immediate concern, however, is whether Russia will use the Zapad exercise to keep Belarus in line. Belarus has long worked closely with Moscow, and its air defense units are integrated with Russia’s to the east.

But with friction between the nation’s autocratic president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, and Mr. Putin have come reports that Belarus is reluctant to host more Russian forces permanently.

As part of the maneuvers, units of the First Guards Tank Army are expected to establish a forward command post in western Belarus, and to hold exercises in training areas near Brest, on the Polish border, and Grodno, near Poland and Lithuania.

Russian officials have told NATO that the maneuvers will be far smaller than Western officials are anticipating and will involve fewer than 13,000 troops. But NATO officials say the exercise is intended to test Russia’s contingency plans for a major conflict with the alliance and will also involve Russian civilian agencies.

“We have every reason to believe that it may be substantially more troops participating than the official reported numbers,” Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said in July.

Adding to the concern, the Russians have yet to agree that international observers can monitor the Zapad exercise. American officials have long said that monitoring is important, given the difficulty of Western intelligence in determining whether Russian military activity is merely an exercise or a preparation for an armed intervention.

At least two battalions of First Guards units, or some 3,000 armored troops, are expected to participate in the Belarus maneuvers. The total number of Russian troops, security personnel and civilian officials in the broader exercise is expected to range from 60,000 to as many as 100,000.

The question NATO officials are asking is whether all of the troops and equipment in Belarus will leave.

Said General Hodges, “I am very interested in what goes in and what comes out.”

US vice president Pence wants Patriot missiles in Estonia to deter Russia

The Patriot Missile and Air Defense System

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.

Estonian troops conducting an exercise on NATOs Eastern Flank.

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.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, right, and Estonia’s Prime Minister Juri Ratas.

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.

Source: NEWEUROPE.