The end of the past and the beginning of this century were relatively calm. Of course, military conflicts continued, but the end of the “cold war” gave hope that the bloody wars were left behind and the world would only strengthen. Unfortunately, the hopes were deceptive ‒ Russia is more and more like an insatiable predator and the world must respond to its aggression. NATO exercises have recently been completed, the most ambitious in the last three decades.
Who, where, when?
Training Trident Juncture – 2018 lasted almost two weeks, from October 25 to November 7, in Norway, the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic. About 50 thousand military men, up to 150 aircraft and 60 ships took part in the manoeuvres. The event involved 31 countries, two of which are not members of the North Atlantic Alliance but are included in the NATO Partnership for Peace program ‒ Sweden and Finland.
“First of all, the exercises were aimed at fulfilling Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which means that an attack on one of the countries of the alliance is considered an attack on the entire bloc”, explained Petro Garashchuk, Military Representative, Minister Counselor of Ukraine’s Mission to NATO in 2008–2011, to Opinion. “And the entire bloc will use all its forces and means — political, economic, military — to preserve and restore its security”.
“NATO once again demonstrates the power and ability to plan and conduct combat operations in northern latitudes, both on land and sea”, said Oleg Zhdanov, a military expert, to Opinion. “The main goal is to test the ability of various types of armed forces from different NATO member countries to organize cooperation in planning and conducting combat operations according to a single plan. We can assume that the goal is achieved”.
The fact that the participants of the exercises have achieved their goals, considers the leadership of NATO, calling the Trident Juncture successful.
“The training demonstrated the preparedness of European states for coordinated actions in the case of the military threat, showed cooperation between the Alliance member states”, said Iryna Vereshchuk, President of the International Center for Baltic-Black Sea Studies. “They are carried out on such a scale not for the first time, taking into account the hybridity of challenges, cyber-attacks and massive disinformation”.
Thinking about Russia…
As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg assured, the event is not directed against the Russian Federation. It was defensive in nature and imitated the Alliance’s response to an armed attack on one of its members. According to the scenario, the troops of the fictional country Murinus (from Latin – “spider”) invade Norway, and it initiates article 5 of the NATO collective defence treaty.
However, it is the Russian Federation that is guessed from the outlines of this Murinus. And experts are convinced: the need for powerful military exercises after the end of the “cold war” is a reaction to Russia’s militarist appetites, its aggression in Ukraine and Syria. Oleg Zhdanov noted that the armed forces of the Russian Federation were meant as a conditional opponent, it was not by chance that the climate zone was chosen ‒ an analogue of the northern coast of Russia. The world is gradually waking up, ridding itself of illusions about the true goals of the Kremlin.
“Of course, such large-scale exercises that require huge financial investments not to just happen”, said Petro Garashchuk. “They are in response to events, related to the annexation of the Crimea and the occupation of Donbas”.
“It is important that NATO somehow reacts already to the fifth year of the Russian-Ukrainian war, which is being fought practically in the center of Europe, where there are millions of refugees, thousands of dead, tens of thousands of wounded”, said Serhii Dzherdzh, the Chairman of the Public League “Ukraine-NATO”, to Opinion. “The North Atlantic Alliance has been planning some actions for a very long time. First, there was a concern, then a deep understanding of the process. Recently, NATO created a centre for studying and countering Russian propaganda, although it was necessary to understand this propaganda long ago. Actually, training is a particular desire to show European countries that border Russia and Norway is one of such countries, that NATO is capable of responding to Russian threats”.
The exercises were open. All OSCE countries, including the Russian Federation, received an invitation to send their observers to them. Ukrainian officers were also present at the manoeuvres. Does this mean that Ukraine is approaching NATO?
“If the Ukrainian officers were simply allowed to see how vehicles are on the range, soldiers are shooting, fighters are flying, this is one thing. If they were present at planning at headquarters, this is a completely different level of trust”, said Mykola Bielieskov, Deputy Director of the Institute for World Politics, to Opinion. “There is one more thing. This was the active phase of the exercise, and then they continue command post exercises. To disassemble manoeuvres. If our officers are allowed to be present, it will be a plus, a certain experience”.
“Large-scale exercises took place on land, sea and in the air, and, of course, they were to some extent open to our military”, Petro Garashchuk noted. “Observers will come with certain documents that will provide NATO, will consider the experience gained by representatives of the Alliance countries, the troops during these exercises. Of course, they will use it in combat training, use it by our Armed Forces in the east of the country. It is of great importance for Ukraine”.
Despite all the desire and efforts, our country is still far from the real possibility of becoming a full member of NATO. Opinion wrote about the story of its relationship with the most powerful military bloc this summer.
“I don’t think that the exercises will help Ukraine to get closer to the goal”, Iryna Vereshchuk assured. “But in the geopolitical dimension, they will help to visually see the need for a quick modernization of the army, which, apart from undoubtedly strong fighting spirit, still suffers from the terrible pathologies of the corrupt system: scandals of abuse during tenders for the purchase of weapons, which continue to kill the belief in the possibility of our defense industry in society, fires in warehouses, carelessness of commanders, etc.”
During the NATO exercises in Norway, it was reported that the Ukrainian army is in tenth place in the Global Firepower ranking for 2018 among the strongest in Europe. Unfortunately, the Russian is called the most powerful army in the Old World.
Provocation is everything to them
Despite the invitation to the exercises, the Russians expressed dissatisfaction. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mariya Zakharova said that Russia will take measures to ensure its own security over strengthening NATO’s presence in northern Norway. Such irresponsible actions, according to her, destabilize the military-political situation in the North, undermine the Russian-Norwegian relations.
The Kremlin didn’t do it alone, the Russians tried to tickle the nerves of the participants of the exercises. At the beginning of November, the Russian Federation planned rocket tests in international waters off the coast of Norway. True, the Russians informed the Alliance about this. On November 2, already without any warning, the Russian Tu-142 reconnaissance aircraft flew low over the American headquarters Mount Whitney.
Russians don’t like it ‒ everything happens at a distance close to them”, emphasized Mykola Bielieskov. “Another thing is that the Russians cannot understand ‒ this is the answer to their policies. It is believed that the provocations are carried out by the Alliance, and not by them. And the aforementioned military demonstrations show that Russia does not like it. This is logical. Any great power does not like the fact that such a grouping of forces is concentrated on its periphery and such scenarios are being worked out. The only problem is that they do not conclude that there is a need to change the policy, and then there will nothing like that”.
Small provocations of the Russians did not scare the participants of the exercises. As for the Kremlin, NATO’s manoeuvres are like a bone across the throat, it carries out something like that regularly oneself, and even more ambitious ones. So, in September of this year, the Russians together with the Chinese organized the Vostok-2018 exercises in Siberia and the Far East. These were the most manoeuvres in the history of the Russian Federation. According to the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Serhiy Shoigu, 300 thousand soldiers became the participants of the event, more than 1 thousand aircraft were involved, helicopters and UAVs, up to 36 thousand tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles. True, even some Russian experts noted that the numbers are greatly exaggerated. Russia is simply bullying the world.
But Zapad-2018 exercises on the territory of Belarus were not so ambitious. Then the Russians, on the contrary, hid the real number of military men involved in the manoeuvres. They declared less than 13 thousand people, although Western experts assure that there were 60-100 thousand of them. Important detail: the Russian Federation, unlike NATO, does not seek transparency and openness of military exercises and doesn’t hurry to invite foreigners to them. Moreover, its manoeuvres are offensive, not defensive in nature.
“The Russian government is not satisfied with the role of the Russian Federation in world politics”, explained Ivan Zayets, MP of several convocations, to Opinion. “The policy of global revanchism does not give rest to the Kremlin. And Russia needs Ukraine as a territory with human and creative potential. Therefore, the Russian Federation has unleashed a war against Ukraine as a stage to the revision of the world order. Its strategy is to destroy international institutions, and then sit down at the negotiating table with Western countries and begin to build new security architecture. Very slowly, the West understood this threat, but the manoeuvres (Trident Juncture ‒ ed.) is a response to the policy of Russia’s global revanchism”.
On the eve of the war?
The ghost of the Third World War is gaining ever clearer outlines. Some experts argue that in fact the war is already happening, but disguised as hybrid forms. Nowadays, this is not necessarily a broad theatre of military operations with tanks, cannons, aircraft, but also economic and informational factors.
“As for me, the Third World War is already underway”, Serhiy Dzherdzh assured. “Russia started it in 2014 against Ukraine as an element of impunity, which the Russian Federation carried out in previous years. Despite her war against Georgia in 2008, the conflicts she played out, warmed up, frozen in Transnistria and other parts of the world. The world did not respond properly to these threats, underestimated Russia. Europe has invested millions of dollars in the democratization of the Russian Federation, but this has done nothing. Hard totalitarian regime won, which is a threat to humanity. And precisely the fact that Ukraine is opposing this aggression has allowed international organizations and many countries to understand this threat”.
But it launched a new arms race. In the West, they understood that Ukraine, which had made a huge contribution to nuclear disarmament, having got rid of the world’s third largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, remained virtually defenceless. Therefore, it is now difficult to convince the states with nuclear weapons to get rid of them.
“There are more opportunities for the emergence of a third world war”, Mykola Bielieskov is convinced. “From the beginning of this decade, we are all sharpened on Russia, but China, too, has militarized foreign policy, and it began to do it much earlier. I would not tie to the teachings of Trident Juncture when we are talking about the Third World War. As practice shows, an incident that leads to an escalation of a conflict can occur in another part of the world. It is difficult to predict. We can look at the Norwegian Sea, and it will arise in Syria”.
“I think the Third World War will not be fought with military measures”, People’s Deputy Ivan Vinnyk, secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense, told to Opinion. “After the Second World War, all conflicts have hybrid signs, and a hybrid war is fought not only by military methods but also informational, diplomatic, economic”.
You cannot disregard nuclear weapons. According to Petro Garashchuk, it has accumulated so much that it is possible to destroy all life on Earth six times. 93% of the total nuclear potential falls on the United States and Russia. And only 7% for China, England and France combined.
“If someone starts the Third World War with this weapon, it will be the last in the history of mankind,” continued Mr Garashchuk. “In 1962, in times of the Caribbean crisis, there were not so many nuclear weapons yet. The danger is that the leaders of the major nuclear powers are well over 60. How long do they have to live? It is necessary to put the younger ones in leadership positions ‒ experienced, honest, untainted in corruption”.
“There are threats of regional conflicts, but the answer to them should be just an increase in NATO’s defence capability”, said Ivan Zayets. “We should not stand aside from this process. We are Europe’s part, a country that seeks its future in the policy of European and Euro-Atlantic integration”.
Ukraine’s accession to NATO will enhance stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. But for now, Ukrainians have been assigned the role of observers, not participants.
Text by Viktor Tsvilihovsky