Nato exercise, a show of strength or dangerous signal to Russia?

Transcript of Question & Answer video with World Review expert Luke Coffey on Nato's military exercises in eastern Europe and Russia's reaction.

What is the significance of Nato’s recent military exercise in eastern Europe?

Luke Coffey:

There are those in eastern and central Europe who actually see Russia as an existential threat, and Nato as an alliance is obligated to defend the territorial integrity of its members.

So these exercises do a number of things. First, they provide reassurance to members of Nato that the alliance is actually there to protect them. The exercises also help with interoperability between the different nations that are in Nato, so in the event that they have to go to war they can actually fight together on the battlefield.

And finally it offers a deterrence to Russia. It tries to show Russia that Nato are serious when it comes to the defence of these countries and that they are training for any contingency.

Nato is reviewing its nuclear strategy in response to Russia’s rhetoric over nuclear weapons. What is the likelihood that this situation will escalate?

Luke Coffey:

We shouldn’t forget that first and foremost Nato is a nuclear security alliance. We often forget this because our images of Nato in recent years have been in Afghanistan or Libya. But Nato was founded to provide that nuclear security umbrella for its member states.

And lately Russia has been really ratcheting up rhetoric on the nuclear issue. Putin recently announced that 40 new ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) will be put into operation; there’s talk about nuclear weapons being sent to Crimea; there’s this long-standing myth about nuclear weapons being positioned in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

And the biggest threat that we have right now is not from nuclear war, but from a small misunderstanding that could spiral out of control and perhaps lead, tragically, to a nuclear war.

How will Russia react to Nato’s military exercise?

Luke Coffey:

Russia will react in a typical fashion. We’re likely to see more air incursions by Russian planes in Nato airspace. We shouldn’t forget that these pose a danger to civilian aircraft because Russia often turns off their safety transponders on each fighter plane.

We’ll see more rhetoric from Russia, we’ll see the heat turned up in eastern Ukraine probably, and we’ll see Russia probably conducting more large-scale training exercises of their own with a focus on central and eastern Europe.

But we should not forget that Nato is a defence security alliance, and as long as Russia has no plans to attack a Nato member, they should not fear anything from these Nato training exercises.

(Photo credit: dpa)

  • A two-week Nato exercise called Baltops, took place during June 2015.
  • Forty-nine naval vessels from 17 countries and 5,900 personnel were involved in a major show of strength in the Baltic Sea with a mock landing at Ustka, Poland.
  • Nato's response to the crisis in Ukraine has been questioned by many. But there is little desire to go to war with Russia over a country that is not a Nato member. However, Nato wants to send a message to Russia that the Baltic states are Nato members and they will be defended.
  • Kaliningrad sits between Lithuania and Poland.
  • During the Cold War, Kaliningrad was often described as the most militarised place on Earth
  • It has regained some of its former prominence with about 50 vessels, almost the same number as those in the Nato exercise, stationed there. The US and UK devote much of their intelligence capability to monitoring vessels going in and out.
  • Russian anti-ship missiles based in Kaliningrad have the ability to deny access up into the Baltic Sea.
  • One of the contentious issues between Nato and Russia is a pact not to have permanent bases in eastern Europe. Nato has tried to get around this by stationing 'rotational' troops in the Baltic states and Poland.