By Nic Cobb, the Chair of the the Westminster Russia Forum, an organisation designed to advertise good relations between Russia and its Western companions. Nic additionally runs a strategic communications company that advises on worldwide commerce.
Since 2009, the quadrennial Zapad navy drills have change into a rotational autumn fixture for troops from Russia, Belarus and another pleasant states. Just as dependable, nonetheless, is the hysteria they elict in Western media.
Bringing collectively tens of 1000’s of each Moscow’s and Minsk’s troopers, in addition to others from Mongolia and Kazakhstan, this 12 months’s set up of the wargames is likely one of the largest seen the world over for nearly 40 years. Three hundred tanks, 1000’s of armoured automobiles, quite a few artillery and MLRS programs in addition to 15 naval vessels have all been deployed to participate. The Russian and Belarusian Air Forces are additionally fielding warplanes and front-line fighter squadrons with the intention of stepping up their current co-operation.
To NATO commanders masking the US-led bloc’s so-called Eastern Flank, the sheer scale would possibly trigger some concern. But they cannot be that fearful in regards to the prospect of escalation, given they’re on the identical time operating Operation Atlantic Resolve, which has included workout routines near the border with Russia.
However, the distinction between actuality and notion on the subject of ties between Moscow and the West is laid naked by reporting on the problem within the English language media, highlighting the dimensions of Cold War-era attitudes in direction of a lot of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Tensions between East and West over Ukraine and elsewhere have been extensively reported, and what ought to be a reasonably routine set of navy drills is unsurprisingly pitched as one other potential step in direction of struggle. Particularly given the now-antagonistic relationship between the EU and Belarus, Minsk’s participation has been positioned as an indication it’s turning to Moscow for defense.
Outlets like The Washington Post have sought to learn the tea leaves and indicate that the Zapad drills are a part of mooted efforts to combine the 2 nations amid unrest in Belarus. But navy cooperation between Russia and the previous Soviet republic is something however new with ties courting again to 1991, and a political union successfully in place.
Whilst many will decry Zapad-2021 as a provocation, Moscow will undoubtedly level to the quite a few NATO workout routines which have taken place on Russia’s border and ask the query – what’s the distinction?
The solely apparent reply, and one which has escaped media protection of troops and tanks, is that Russia can area a bigger power in a shorter timeframe. If analysts bothered to take a look at the mission assertion behind Zapad-2021 it turns into clear that the workout routines are defensive in nature, quite than about projecting power overseas. This rationale is identical one professed by the highest brass behind current NATO workout routines in Eastern Europe.
Indeed, whereas international correspondents fret about whether or not the common drills laid on by former Soviet states are a menace to Europe, and EU nations like Poland and Latvia declare they escalate an already tense shared border, it’s truly Moscow that has referred to as for cooler heads to prevail in current months. Just final month, Yuri Pilipson of the Russian Foreign Ministry mentioned that naval workout routines within the Black Sea threat worsening ties between NATO and his personal nation.
“It is quite obvious that this kind of ‘training’ provokes, rather than prevents, conflict situations,” the official mentioned. “We have repeatedly warned that the escalation of military-political conflict directly on our borders carries with it a confrontational charge.”
While NATO and EU-aligned Eastern European states will stage the identical cost proper again on the Kremlin, the truth that each side have comprehensible issues in regards to the scale of wargames within the area is scarcely reported within the West. Russian drills are decried as provocations, whereas American-backed ones are about readiness to defend towards them.
However, with each side locked into the necessity to placed on shows of power and to enhance their readiness to reply to a potential battle, the chance of escalation undoubtedly will increase, and only one accident or misguided motion may gentle the powder keg. Such an incident reared its head in June, when a British destroyer crossed into Crimean waters and was met with warning photographs and a warplane flyover.
While ostensibly designed to reiterate London’s place that Crimea will not be Russian sovereign soil, the manoeuvre inevitably solely worsened relations between the West and Moscow, and amped up the rhetoric. Russian President Vladimir Putin went so far as to say that the gesture was a hole one – and may an escalation have occurred then a climb down would have ensued, from the British aspect.
It is unsurprising then if Russia and its worldwide companions are in search of to underline that time and reiterate their readiness to reply – defensively – to something they understand to be a provocation. But, whereas the HMS Defender even carried BBC journalists on board to doc its ‘freedom of navigation’ operation, the voices sounding the alarm over Moscow and Minsk’s drills will at all times be amplified to be far louder in Western media than these writing them off as an everyday incidence.
Even if Eastern Europe is not poised for an all-out battle, there’s a actual threat that individuals living within the West, opening their newspaper each day, find yourself satisfied they’re already embroiled in a brand new Cold War.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed on this column are solely these of the creator and don’t essentially characterize these of RT.