NATO and Russia 'Preparing For Conflict,' Warns Report

Large-scale military exercises by Russia and NATO are part of a dangerous "action-reaction cycle" that could accidentally elevate the chance of war, a British think tank has warned.

The European Leadership Network (ELN), a London-based global security think tank, published a policy brief on Wednesday, warning that NATO and Russia appear to be preparing to go to war with one another. "Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia," the report argues. "Both the NATO and Russian exercises show that each side is training with the other side's capabilities and most likely war plans in mind. Whilst spokespeople may maintain that these operations are targeted against hypothetical opponents, the nature and scale of them indicate otherwise."

The report says that while each side insists their exercises are defensive, the political fallout between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis has triggered "an action-reaction cycle in terms of military exercises." It argues that each side is aiming to strengthen deterrence by flexing their military might, causing the other side to interpret this as provocation and responding with yet more military maneuvers.

The policy brief uses two case studies to illustrate its point. One is Russia's snap exercise in March involving 80,000 military personnel and the other is NATO's Allied Shield exercise in June in which 15,000 personnel from 19 Members states and three partner states took part.

"The focus of the exercises is on what each side sees as its most exposed areas, with NATO concentrating on the Baltic States and Poland whilst Russia is focusing primarily on the Arctic and High North, Kaliningrad, occupied Crimea, and its border areas with NATO members Estonia and Latvia," reads the report.

Russia has increasingly started calling all branches of its military to take part in snap drills, with a strong focus on its Arctic territories and on the Baltic region. In February Baltic defence officials and experts expressed concern that Russia may be deliberately raising the alert level in Europe with its snap drills, to pave the way for an eventual attack on a Baltic capital.

The ELN report highlights repeatedly that NATO's exercises are on a notably smaller scale than Russia's, although it points out that this may be largely due to limited capability rather than a decision not to match Russia, whose entire force is permanently under one command, as opposed to the armed forces of NATO. The report also notes that Russia's use of conscription allows it to quickly summon greater numbers of troops which "the predominantly professional armed forces of NATO countries simply cannot match."

"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," the report concludes, "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."

NATO's deputy spokesperson Carmen Romero dismissed the report, saying it "misleadingly puts NATO and Russian exercises on par."

"In fact, the Russian Ministry of Defence has announced over 4000 exercises for this year, which is over 10 times more than what NATO and Allies have planned in the same timeframe," Romero said.

"Moreover, Russia has incorporated nuclear and nuclear capable forces in its recent exercises. NATO has made repeatedly clear that we not seek confrontation with Russia," she added.

Russia is currently hosting an international military games, in which servicemen use its training courses to compete in tank and jet maneuvers, and on Monday it called on 500 servicemen to practice amphibious assault in the Baltic.

Meanwhile NATO is currently preparing for its Trident Juncture exercise which is set to engage over 36,000 troops in Spain, Portugal and Italy between October and November. Romero highlighted that NATO had "announced (the exercise) one year in advance" and invited international parties to observe it through the OSCE.