Russia and Nato are actively preparing for war with one another amid the greatest build up of military tension in Europe since the end of the Cold War, a new report says.
Rival exercises by the Russian armed forces and Nato have led to several near-miss incidents that could result in confrontation between the two sides, and leaders need to consider a new arms control treaty to avert the possibility of heightened tensions spilling into war.
The report by the European Leadership Network, a think tank, comes amid the most intense fighting for six months in eastern Ukraine and as Michael Fallon, the defence minister, pledged to expand a British army training mission to Ukraine.
“We do not suggest that the leadership of either side has made a decision to go to war or that a military conflict between the two is inevitable, but that the changed profile of exercises is a fact and it does play a role in sustaining the current climate of tensions in Europe,” the authors write.
The report outlines how both Nato and Russia have primed their forces to respond to an escalation since the Ukraine crisis erupted in early 2014.
The preparations include major military exercises by both Russia and Nato that appear designed exclusively to respond to one another’s capabilities and potential war plans.
”Whilst spokespeople may maintain that these operations are targeted against only hypothetical opponents, the nature and scale of the operations indicate otherwise,” the report writers say.
In March 2015, Russian conducted “snap exercises” that saw 80,000 troops engaged in long-range deployments and simulate combat on a scale that made the United States or Nato the only possibly adversary.
Nato’s exercise “Allied Shield,” in June this year, saw 15,000 allied troops engaged in a series of mock operations including response to a Crimea-style infiltration of irregular forces.
In both cases, the report writers find, the exercises focused on what the two sides perceive to be their most vulnerable areas, with and Nato moving to defend the Baltic States and Russia rushing reinforcements to the Arctic, its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, occupied Crimea, and Sakhalin island in the far east.
Allied Shield also included the first deployment of the Very High Readiness Taskforce, a rapid-reaction unit established at the Nato summit in Wales in 2014 in response to the annexation of Crimea.
The exercise, called ‘Noble Jump’, deployed 2,100 troops in a simulated a response to ‘unattibutable infiltration by an ally by irregular or special forces’ – essentially the scenario seen in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine since Early 2014.
The report recommends improvements in Nato-Russian communication to avert near misses and suggests working on a new arms treaty to restrict the use of conventional forces in Europe.
“If Russia or NATO decides at some point that they want to reduce tensions, showing restraint in terms of size or scenarios used for the exercises might be a good place to start,” the report writers conclude.