The fact that Russia more than likely intends to initiate military action against Ukraine is finally being accepted. For weeks now NATO, the European Union and the United States have been operating under the premise that diplomacy would break through and alleviate the crisis before it reached the critical stage. Now that it has become apparent Vladimir Putin has always intended for it to reach this point, NATO and the US are becoming serious about the defense of the alliance’s Eastern Flank. There is a significant amount of military activity going on in Eastern Europe. USAFE (United States Air Force Europe) is moving US warplanes into Romania and Poland to reinforce NATO air forces in the east. F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany have arrived in Romania and F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron/49th Fighter Wing have deployed to Lask Air Base in Poland. Great Britain is expected to deploy RAF assets to Romania as well as 1,000 troops and the US announced today that another 3,000 paratroopers will be moved to Poland by early next week.
Western governments are also advising their citizens to leave Ukraine as quickly as possible. The US, British and Israeli governments are just three of the many now issuing warnings as it becomes clear the amount of time for them to leave Ukraine could be running out.
Author’s Note: Very short update tonight and I apologize. Work interfered this afternoon. I had intended on a longer, more detailed update but unfortunately, that will have to wait until tomorrow. –Mike
In the last 24-36 hours there has been increased military activity in Russia as well as a number of NATO member-states. The failure of Monday’s talks between the French and Russian presidents to deescalate the crisis has prompted Denmark and the United Kingdom to begin preparing forces for movement east. The alliance is also preparing to hold military exercises in close proximity to the frontiers of Belarus and Russia to demonstrate NATO resolve in the face of growing Russian troop numbers. Simultaneously, Russia continues its military buildup, moving more assets and troops into Crimea, Belarus and along the Ukrainian border. Military exercises in Belarus and on the Black Sea will also begin to get underway later this week.
Denmark is moving decisively even as her larger fellow NATO member-state to the south Germany dithers. The Danish military will increase the readiness of a combat battalion that is earmarked for NATO operations. Preparations are underway for the battalion of 800 troops to be ready for a deployment east within five days instead of the thirty days generally needed. Additionally, the Royal Danish Air Force will be moving a flight of F-16 fighters to Bornholm in the Baltic, should the situation call for it.
Great Britain will be moving more troops and equipment to Poland. 350 Royal Marines from 45 Commando have been diverted from exercises in Norway and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he’s prepared to go further. Deployments of RAF Typhoons to Romania and Bulgaria, as well as moving warships to the Black Sea are all being considered by London right now.
For Russia, the final pieces of its pre-hostilities military deployment puzzle could be coming into place. Considerable attention is being paid to the Black Sea where a trio of Russian Navy amphibious assault ships and a Kilo class conventionally-powered submarine were expected to pass through the Bosphorus this morning. They will join three other amphibs that entered the Black Sea for naval exercises according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. Their arrival is raising concerns from Ankara to NATO headquarters in Belgium as leaders, diplomats and military leaders attempt to decipher whether their presence is a sign that Russian military operations will begin soon.
The fact Russia is serious about Ukraine appears to finally be kicking in for NATO, the EU and Western governments. Whether this will end up being a matter of ‘too little, too late’ remains to be seen. But for the moment, there are at least some decisions being made in Western capitals which will lead to prudent action in the near future. The Western media is also coming around to the idea that all of this might very well be real. The media is almost always at least 48 hours behind events though, and we’re seeing that in their reporting today.
-Wall Street is responding negatively to the worsening situation in Europe. The Dow Jones Industrial Average cratered this morning, dropping more than 1,000 points. The immediate reason for the drop was news that President Biden will be holding a video call with European leaders this afternoon to discuss Ukraine and Russia’s growing military buildup. There are other factors contributing to the Dow’s slide into correction territory, however, the realization that the Ukraine crisis is worsening appears to be the catalyst.
-The US is moving ahead with plans to withdraw dependents of embassy staff from Ukraine starting this week. The plan was announced on Friday but did not garner much media coverage until the official authorization was given. Apparently, the US State Department has also decided to remove non-essential staff from the Kiev embassy as well. Great Britain has also announced the planned withdrawal of family members of diplomats and other embassy staff. London has also indicated it will be reducing its embassy staff in Kiev along lines similar to what the US is doing with its people. The European Union, on the other hand, will not evacuate its diplomats from Ukraine for the moment.
-NATO is starting to reinforce its Eastern Flank, albeit in limited fashion. A number of alliance members have pledged to deploy additional fighter aircraft and warships to the region in the near future. Denmark is sending four F-16s to bolster the Baltic Air Policing mission in Lithuania as well as a frigate to the eastern Baltic Sea. The Netherlands has pledged two F-35s for Bulgarian air policing duties, yet they will not arrive until April. Spain, we discussed last week, has committed two warships and possibly fighter aircraft to Bulgaria. France has revealed it is open to deploying ground troops to Romania and Bulgaria under NATO command. The United States is considering reinforcing its own forces in Europe but no further details have yet been made available.
The prospect of NATO’s eastern expansion advancing deeper into the Russian sphere of influence remains an undeniable fear for the Russian government. It continues to color the Kremlin’s decision making and forms the foundation of Russia’s defense and foreign policy to a great extent. NATO’s eastern expansion is at the heart of Russia’s growing involvement in Ukraine, Belarus and on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. It has been, for all intents and purposes, the thorn in Moscow’s side for decades. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s warning at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Sweden made it clear his nation is reaching the point where its actions will not be constrained by Western threats and military maneuvers in close proximity to Russia’s frontiers.
Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met at the conference in Sweden. Whereas Blinken warned of “serious consequences” if Russia sought a military conflict with Ukraine. His Russian counterpart responded with a warning that Europe might be returning to the “nightmare of military confrontation.” He followed up with a proposal to establish a new security pact in Europe to prevent further NATO expansion. Essentially, Lavrov was proposing a return to the Cold War.
Yesterday in a speech, Lavrov accused NATO refusing to consider proposals to lessen tensions and prevent dangerous incidents. “The alliance’s military infrastructure is being irresponsibly brought closer to Russia’s borders in Romania and Poland, deploying an anti-missile defense system that can be used as a strike complex,” he said. “American medium-range missiles are about to appear in Europe, bringing back the nightmare scenario of a military confrontation.” Lavrov then went on to warn the alliance against transforming nations bordering Russian into “bridgeheads of confrontation.”
So, there it is. In the space of a handful of sentences, Lavrov laid out the heart of the matter for Russia: Halting NATO expansion. He also, in a less than surreptitious fashion, listed the issues Russia would be willing to negotiate on in exchange for a solution to the manufactured crisis in Ukraine. There’s no plausible scenario where Washington would agree to a withdrawal of the US military presence from Eastern Europe in exchange for a promise by Russia not to invade Ukraine. On the other side of the coin, Russia will not stand by idle and allow NATO expansion to advance unchecked forever. This crisis may pass without a military confrontation, but the problem is not going to dissolve anytime soon.
There has been a considerable amount of speculation and debate concerning the recently announced plan to reduce the number of US troops stationed in Germany by half. On one side is the almost customary argument that such a move will weaken NATO, strengthen Russia’s military position, and generally have a negative effect on American national security. We have seen and heard this argument presented a multitude of times since the 90s. It has never really held water, at least not to the level that its proponents would be satisfied with. A second argument being made loudly these days, especially by President Trump’s detractors, is that the planned withdrawal is a politically motivated move. Well, it was partly, and the Trump administration has made no bones about it. The fact is that one of the main reasons for this troop reduction is Germany’s failure to meet NATO’s defense spending goals. In 2014 NATO set a standard for its member-states to halt defense budget cuts and begin moving back towards spending 2% of their GNP by 2024. President Trump has said himself that until Germany pays more for its own defense, US troop levels will be reduced. He has left open the possibility of reversing the reduction plan if Germany starts to devote more money towards its military. To add insult to injury at least half of the troops set to be removed from Germany will find new homes in other European nations from Belgium, and Italy to Poland.
The mention of Poland brings up a third argument, and one that I personally stand behind. The US move is the latest component in what has been a consistent trend towards Eastern Europe for the US military. Deterring Russia has become a top priority for the US, and NATO in recent years. As a result, more US units are being based in Eastern Europe, right now mainly on a rotational basis however there are also permanent bases being constructed, and opened in places such as Romania, and Poland. So it makes sense to move troops, units, and facilities from Germany to Eastern Europe where the combat units will be better able to conduct their mission of deterring Russia, and support elements will be nearer to those combat units.
I have wanted to discuss this topic since the Pentagon made the first announcements about a possible troop reduction in Germany back in June. Unfortunately, Asia has been receiving the lion’s share of geopolitical focus lately. But with July coming to a close, and the subject receiving some attention from the media in recent days, I felt this was an opportune time to get some of my thoughts on the matter written up and placed out there for consumption. 😊