Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary ma­neu­vers con­cern NATO

They could be seen as ‘se­ri­ous prepa­ra­tion for big war,’ gen­eral says

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Llazar Sem­ini, The Associated Press

TI­RANA, Al­ba­nia — There’s rea­son to be con­cerned about the large-scale mil­i­tary ma­neu­vers now be­ing con­ducted by Rus­sia and Be­larus, a se­nior NATO of­fi­cial said Satur­day, be­cause they could be seen as “se­ri­ous prepa­ra­tion for big war.”

Gen. Petr Pavel, head of NATO’s mil­i­tary com­mit­tee, said in an in­ter­view that NATO was in­creas­ing ef­forts to re-es­tab­lish mil­i­tary-tomil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Rus­sia to avoid any “un­in­tended con­se­quences of po­ten­tial in­ci­dents dur­ing the ex­er­cise.”

The de­fense chiefs of NATO mem­ber coun­tries were hold­ing their an­nual con­fer­ence this year in the Al­ba­nian cap­i­tal, Ti­rana, to dis­cuss fight­ing ter­ror­ism, the sit­u­a­tion in the Western Balkans and the new U.S. strat­egy on Afghanistan.

The Za­pad 2017 mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, be­ing con­ducted this year mostly in Be­larus, run un­til Wed­nes­day and in­volve 5,500 Rus­sian and 7,200 Be­laru­sian troops, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sia.

De­spite as­sur­ances from Moscow that “NATO is not con­sid­ered as an en­emy” and that “the ex­er­cise is not aimed at NATO,” Pavel said Rus­sians have not been trans­par­ent about the facts of the ex­er­cises. He says the num­ber of troops in the ex­er­cises could ac­tu­ally be be­tween 70,000 and 100,000.

“Al­to­gether, what we see is a se­ri­ous prepa­ra­tion for big war,” he said. “When we only look at the ex­er­cise that is pre­sented by Rus­sia, there should be no worry. But when we look at it in the big pic­ture, we have to be wor­ried be­cause Rus­sia was not trans­par­ent.”

Two weeks ago Pavel met with the Rus­sian mil­i­tary’s gen­eral staff chief, Gen. Valery Gerasi­mov.

The supreme al­lied com­man­der for Europe, Gen. Cur­tis Sca­parrotti, had a phone call with Gerasi­mov at the be­gin­ning of Za­pad 2017. Pavel said it was “mainly fo­cused on trans­parency and risk re­duc­tion and avoid­ance of un­in­tended con­se­quences of po­ten­tial in­ci­dents.”

“We have high con­cen­tra­tion of troops in the Baltics. We have a high con­cen­tra­tion of troops in the Black Sea, and po­ten­tial for an in­ci­dent may be quite high be­cause of a hu­man mis­take, be­cause of a technology fail­ure,” Pavel said. “We have to be sure that such an un­in­tended in­ci­dent will not es­ca­late into con­flict.”

Sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity in the western Balkan coun­tries was also dis­cussed dur­ing the NATO con­fer­ence. Pavel said trou­ble in the re­gion could come from rad­i­cal­ism, or­ga­nized crime, mi­gra­tion, eco­nomic prob­lems or “ma­lign in­flu­ence from Rus­sia.”

“We do not com­pete with Rus­sia for the western Balkans,” he said. “We are pri­mar­ily fo­cused on the Balkans be­ing sta­ble and se­cure.”

Llazar Sem­ini/The Associated Press

”When we only look at the ex­er­cise that is pre­sented by Rus­sia, there should be no worry,” says NATO’s Gen. Petr Pavel. “But when we look at it in the big pic­ture, we have to be wor­ried be­cause Rus­sia was not trans­par­ent.”

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