By Manali Joshi
For more than two decades, NATO has striven to build a partnership with Russia by developing dialogue and practical cooperation in areas of common interest. Although NATO remains concerned by Russia’s continued destabilising pattern of military activities and aggressive rhetoric, which goes well beyond Ukraine, political and military channels of communication remain open.
A history of the bittersweet relation
Relations between NATO and Russia started after the end of the Cold War when Russia joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (1991) and the Partnership for Peace programme (1994), created as a forum for consultation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe for peace and security. In the year 1997, NATO-Russia Founding Act provided the formal basis for their relation. Dialogue and cooperation were strengthened in 2002 with the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) to serve as a forum for consultation on current security issues and to direct practical cooperation in a wide range of areas. However, Russia’s disproportionate military action in Georgia in August 2008 led to the suspension of formal meetings of the NRC and cooperation in some areas, until spring 2009. The Allies continue to call on Russia to reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Again, in April 2014 all civilian and military cooperation under the NRC with Russia was suspended in response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, channels of political dialogue and military communication were kept open. The NRC is an important forum for dialogue and information exchange, to reduce misunderstandings and increase predictability; meetings are being held periodically on the basis of reciprocity.
At the NATO Summit in Wales in September 2014, NATO leaders condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and demanded that Russia comply with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities. The leaders insisted that the country end its illegal and illegitimate occupation and annexation of Crimea and refrain from aggressive actions against Ukraine.
At the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, Allied leaders reiterated their concerns about Russia’s destabilising actions and policies, and the risks posed by its military intervention and support for the regime in Syria. NATO has responded to this changed security environment by enhancing its deterrence and defence posture. NATO and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements; however, the alliance does not pose any threat to Russia.
Russia’s strategic military advantage
Russia enjoys favourable geography and a numerical lead over NATO in manpower and in every major category of combat weapons and equipment that can be used during the attacks.
Russia has twenty-two manoeuvre battalions deployed in the Western Military District and three in Kaliningrad, and some of the best units are assigned to the defence of Russian forces in and around Ukraine. The Baltic States’ forces and other NATO forces, on the other hand, have a defence of roughly seventeen battalions. After the United States and its NATO allies implement their force improvement plans for the eastern flank over the next two years, the alliance will have an additional four multinational battalions for deployment in the Baltic States. Though this is not a terribly lopsided numerical advantage in Russia’s favour, it does not take into account the substantial qualitative differences in the type of units on each side.
When it comes to surface missiles, Russian forces can employ far more direct and indirect fire systems, which would severely stress the ability of NATO forces to halt Russia’s initial assault and hold territory. Russia has ten artillery battalions in the Western Military District, and most of these systems have greater range and rates of fire than their NATO counterparts. Also, five surface-to-surface missile battalions back these artillery formations. In comparison, NATO forces suffer from a severe deficit in terms of land and air weaponry.
Russia has twenty-seven combat air squadrons deployed in the Western Military District and six battalions of assault helicopters, almost all of which are among the most advanced aircraft in Russia’s order of battle. NATO combat air forces, on the other hand, are nineteen squadrons, that too only if Sweden abandons its neutrality and allows some of these units to operate out of Swedish bases. Like Russia, these units feature the alliance’s most modern and capable aircraft. This is not a terribly lopsided numerical advantage on paper for Russian forces, but NATO air forces would be operating in a highly contested environment over the battlefield.
In conclusion, Russia would attack with a much larger and heavier force, supported by advanced armour, weapons, and sensors and by sophisticated air defence system and long-range direct fire systems in comparison to the US and the NATO members. Until U.S. and NATO force improvement plans are implemented over the next few years, the alliance would have to repel the initial assault with whatever resource they have.
How does it impact the proxy wars?
Moscow’s proxy war in Ukraine is a prime example of increasing military capabilities and imperialistic ideology of Russia, and should not be taken lightly. It’s time for the Western allies in NATO to act together against the authoritarian and imperialistic behaviour, and send a message that it is unacceptable.
Since April 2014, Russia has been waging a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, through its increasingly escalating support of pro-Russian separatists in the ersatz Donetsk Peoples Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic. Although Moscow repeatedly denied supporting the pro-Russian separatists, it is clear that these rebel militants are not some self-declared self-defence organisations, protecting the Russian speaking population in eastern Ukraine, but were well-trained, well-equipped, and seasoned fighters.
Though no war was declared in Ukraine, Russia kept providing personnel, financing, equipping, and supplying intelligence to the pro-Russian separatists. In terms of Russia’s role in providing personnel, most of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 pro-Russian separatists were Russian citizens who either once served in or were serving in the Russian military, or were connected to the Russian military intelligence community. However, the issue did not come to light until the rebels shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, with a Russian-supplied BUK surface-to-air missile. It was then that the Western media realised the state of the disorder and Moscow’s significant physical and material support for the pro-Russian separatists.
Social media posts in the form of pictures from soldiers in the Russian military, which appear to show their GPS location within the borders of eastern Ukraine, gave increasing evidence of Russia directly supplying pro-Russian separatists with personnel.
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and de facto invasion of eastern Ukraine, via Moscow’s support for pro-Russian separatist proxies, illustrates that historical patterns of Russian imperialism that never went away. Moscow has, during the past 80 years, invaded many foreign countries and planted the flag to claim territory. Apart from the proxy war in Crimea, Russia has also tried to invade Georgia in 2008, instigated proxy wars in Syria and participated in meddling with the freedom of citizens of Baltic States, backed by its own resurging military capabilities and defence capabilities.
NATO’s contribution to increasing military capabilities of its members
Efforts to enhance military abilities are usually made within the NATO’s defence planning process. Under this planning process, force goals are established and agreed to by each NATO member. Each member’s economic, financial and political constraints are considered. Annual assessment of allies meeting their force goals indicates their contribution to NATO’s defence. Over the years, according to the threat the country faces and its socio-economic and political condition, the countries decide on missions to improve its military capabilities. For instance, Netherlands’ mission emphasises maritime defence, the provision of reception areas for external forces and the defence of a sector in West Germany. The United States, on the other hand, as the leading power of the Western world interested in promoting stability on a global scale, have force goals affecting both conventional and nuclear forces and has military missions in all NATO regions. Though the mechanism to improve the military capabilities is formulated with utmost precision, the aim of attaining best military backing is not achieved due to lack of efforts from larger nations and a lack of funding.
One of the most serious weaknesses in NATO’s defence posture is obsolete arms and equipment of the forces of the southern region aid recipient countries. Much of these countries’ budgets goes towards personnel expenses and maintaining the existing arms and ammunition which is considered incapable of meeting the present day ammunitions’ lethality, mobility, and range. Over the years, NATO has urged its more wealthy potential to provide increased assistance. Thus specific reforms need to be taken by NATO to improve the binding nature of its decisions over its allies. These include increasing the defence expenditure of all its partners by a certain percentage, increasing NATO infrastructure fund and correcting the long-standing deficiencies through some long-term defence plans.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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