Connect with us


#NATO-#Russia relations: Messages from Zapad 2017



National strategy requires us to analyze across all dimensions relations of power and observe the ways implemented to realize it. When we think about military strategy, we examine operational and tactical doctrine and its application during military exercises  writes Dr. Vira Ratsiborynska, research analyst, NATO Defence College.

We further analyze the adversary’s behavior for a glimpse into their narratives. Military exercises inform and give us valuable insights into the future, they demonstrate capabilities and challenge our ways of thinking about things that well beyond the present. They also serve as a form of communication to potential adversaries as well as allies or partners. Zapad 2017, an important Russian military exercise, delivered to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) some key messages and strategic perspectives on NATO-Russia relations.

One of these messages is geopolitical and touches Russia’s sphere of influence. Since the invasion of Crimea in 2014, Russia has been demonstrating its ability to use conventional military improvements with non-military means to assert influence in the Eastern neighborhood and to position itself internationally as a powerful military player. Military exercises that Russia was conducting since 2008 (such as Caucasus Frontier for example) are used as a part of a strategic message that Russia is conveying to its Eastern neighborhood and to NATO. This message remains the same: the Eastern neighborhood is a zone of Russia’s geopolitical interests and a rapprochement of the Eastern Partnership countries[1] with the West may be costly for them and may create different undesirable military and non-military effects such as happening in Ukraine now. The Eastern neighborhood is a privileged zone of Russian extended defense and will be likely staying so in the nearest future.

From a Russian perspective, any Western aspirations of the Eastern Partnership countries will generate a negative reaction from Russian side and will be seen as a provocation. Any possibility of an open-door policy to the Eastern Partnership countries from NATO’s side will be rejected by Russia. From Russian perspective, a geographical proximity of NATO’s presence is already lying way ahead, at the NATO’s Eastern borders and should not be extended further to the zone of a privileged interest of Russia. Grey zones of conflict will stay buffer zones that Russia will be using in its hybrid actions against West.

Another message from Zapad-type exercises targets NATO and its Member States. This is a slightly different message but follows the same logic: an escalation of the conflict with Russia will be costly for NATO and its Member States, especially for those ones close to the Eastern neighborhood, mainly Baltics and Poland. During Zapad 2017 Russian militaries demonstrated that they are able to maintain great combat readiness and general preparedness at the NATO’s borders and that their forces are mobile, flexible, and interoperable with the armed forces of their allies (Belarus). Although the amount of time that Russia needs to assemble forces for such a large exercise is debatable, it provides a large intelligence signature to NATO.

Zapad 2017 demonstrated that the Russian military is focusing on strengthening new command and control systems and are testing new types of weapons and equipment as well as new capabilities across multiple domains to include electronic warfare, drones and cyber. Such demonstrations create a lot of anxiety amongst NATO’s Eastern European members currently exposed to the Russia’s Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) bubbles in Kaliningrad and in Crimea. In this regard Zapad 2017 seeks to improve Russia’s military posture and may be a test for NATO’s credible deterrence. Moreover, these exercises may also increase tensions along NATO’s eastern flank as Russia exerts external pressure on these countries.

What can be a solution for NATO? One possibly lies within the Alliance’s adaptation, continued support to Atlantic Resolve, enhanced forward presence, and exercising the VJTF and portions of NATO graduated response plans. These measures reassure members and demonstrate Alliances’ will and capability to defend each other. NATO’s continued emphasis on the speed of identification, decision, and assembly can enhance NATO’s credibility in the East. In this way the effects of Russia’s military exercises will not be seen as an existential threat and reduce the likelihood for future conflict.

Overall, the success of the NATO rests on the unity of its member states and their ability to maintain a common shared vision that manages the risks with Russia. Zapad 2017 demonstrated that military exercises are a form of communication where messages from both sides improve understanding.

[1] The Eastern Partnership countries (the Eastern neighborhood) are the post-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.


USEUCOM demonstrates readiness to support NATO in Exercise Austere Challenge



US European Command (USEUCOM) leaders, strategists, planners and operators joined forces with their NATO counterparts in exercise Austere Challenge 2021 (AC21) to practice a co-ordinated response to a fictional major crisis this week. While the exercise was conducted virtually to protect the health of the participants and our communities from COVID-19 more than 4,000 military and civilian personnel participated.

The exercise brought together USEUCOM and its components who joined Joint Forces Command-Brunssum and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO for the weeklong, computer-based, biannual command post exercise, which culminated today (23 October).

"We are looking forward to drawing on the lessons learned we have from this exercise as we prepare for future activities together," said German Gen. Jörg Vollmer, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum. AC21 is part of an exercise series planned and executed since the 1990s and focused upon training combatant command co-ordination, command and control and the integration of capabilities and functions across USEUCOM’s headquarters, its component commands, US interagency and NATO.

The exercise was linked globally to other US combatant command exercises, including US Strategic Command and US Space Command’s Exercise Global Lightning 2021 and US Transportation Command’s Turbo Challenge 2021. “Exercises like AC21 prepare the USEUCOM staff to respond to crises in a timely and well-coordinated manner with our NATO Allies, which ultimately supports regional stability and security,” said US Army Maj. Gen. John C. Boyd, USEUCOM’s director of training and exercises.

While the ongoing pandemic forced a variety of USEUCOM exercises to be modified or canceled this year, training and partnership-building has carried on. “We remain postured and ready to support NATO against any enemy or threat – be it a military crisis or an invisible virus,” Boyd added. “Together on innumerable instances, the US and NATO have demonstrated a strong, unbreakable working relationship to counter any threat to the alliance. AC21 is yet another example of the strength and solidarity of the NATO alliance and USEUCOM’s contributions to Europe’s collective defense.”


US European Command (USEUCOM) is responsible for US military operations across Europe, portions of Asia and the Middle East, the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean. USEUCOM is comprised of approximately 72,000 military and civilian personnel and works closely with NATO Allies and partners. The command is one of two US forward-deployed geographic combatant commands headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. For more information about USEUCOM, click here.

Continue Reading


President Sassoli to EU leaders: Help get the budget negotiations moving again



President Sassoli with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel at the 15 October summit © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP 

In a speech at the EU summit on 15 October, Parliament President David Sassoli insisted it is now up to EU leaders to unlock the stalled negotiations on the 2021-2027 budget.

President Sassoli urged the EU heads of government to update the negotiating mandate they have given to the German Council presidency to make agreement on the EU long-term budget possible.

He noted that Parliament’s negotiators have asked for an additional €39 billion for key EU programmes that benefit Europeans and promote a sustainable recovery. “This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1.8 trillion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies,” President Sassoli said, referring to the total amount of the seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Sassoli noted that if Parliament’s compromise proposal is accepted by the Council, the budget spending ceiling will have to be raised by only €9 billion and this will bring the ceiling of those programmes to exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.

He said that the interest payments for the debt that the EU plans to issue to finance the recovery must be counted on top of the programme ceilings so as not to further squeeze the financing of these policies. The recovery plan “is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the [budget] programmes”.

The President also stressed the need for a binding timetable for the introduction of new types of budget revenue over the coming years and for flexible provisions in the budget to finance unforeseen future events.

Sassoli defended Parliament’s demand for ambitious emission reduction targets. “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. We need a target, which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.”

“We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind,” he added.

Commenting on the ongoing negotiations on future EU-UK relations, Sassoli expressed concern about the lack of clarity from the UK side. “I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences,” he said, adding that the UK should honour its commitments and remove the controversial provisions in its internal market act.

Sassoli also called for a de-escalation of tensions with Turkey. “The Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice,” he said.

Continue Reading


Parliament launches the Daphne Caruana Galizia journalism prize



Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb explosion in October 2017 

The European Parliament has launched a journalism prize in tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist murdered in 2017. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism, launched on the third anniversary of her death, will reward outstanding journalism reflecting EU values.

"The Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize will recognize the essential role that journalists play in preserving our democracies and serve as a reminder to citizens of the importance of a free press. This prize is designed to help journalists in the vital and often dangerous work they do and show that the European Parliament supports investigative journalists," said Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala.

Prize money of €20,000

The €20,000 annual prize will be awarded as of October 2021 to journalists or teams of journalists based in the European Union. Candidates and the eventual laureate will be chosen by an independent panel.

Who was Daphne Caruana Galizia?

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, blogger and anti-corruption activist who reported extensively on corruption, money laundering, organised crime, sale of citizenship and the Maltese government’s links to the Panama Papers. Following harassment and threats, she was murdered in a car bomb explosion on 16 October 2017.

The outcry over the authorities’ handling of her murder investigation ultimately prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Critical of failings in the investigation, in December 2019, MEPs called on the European Commission to take action.

Parliament strongly advocates the importance of a free press. In a May 2018 resolution, MEPs called on EU countries to ensure adequate public funding and to promote a pluralist, independent and free media. Parliament has once again underlined the importance of media freedom in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the Facebook live interview about the Daphne Caruana Galizia Journalism Prize.

Continue Reading