NATO announced Thursday that next week it would begin its largest military exercise since the Cold War, involving 90,000 troops from all 31 member countries plus candidate-nation Sweden, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has encroached on the Alliance’s borders and bellicose rhetoric from the Kremlin intensifies.
The “Steadfast Defender 24” exercises “will show that NATO can conduct and sustain complex multi-domain operations over several months, across thousands of kilometers, from the High North to Central and Eastern Europe, and in any condition,” Gen. Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told reporters.
The war games will deploy 50 naval vessels, 80 aircraft and more than 1,100 combat vehicles, AFP reported. According to the AP, troops will be operating throughout Europe until the end of May.
The chair of NATO’s military committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, said the effort required “a record number of troops that we can bring to bear, and have an exercise within that size, across the alliance, across the ocean, from the US to Europe,” he said.
“We have to realize it’s not a given that we are in peace and that’s why we have the plans, that’s why we are preparing for a conflict,” Bauer said. “We’re not seeking any conflict, but if they attack us, we have to be ready.”
He added that while the strength of Russia’s land forces has been diminished greatly over the two-year course of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, its naval and air force capabilities remain “considerable.”
The drills, the biggest NATO exercises since the 1988 “Reforger” war games near the end of the Cold War, follows a steady build up of Western troops and equipment near the Alliance’s borders with Russia. The allies have moved thousands of troops to the area since the start of the neighboring invasion in February 2022.
The foreshadowing of Thursday’s official announcement of Steadfast Defender 24 became apparent earlier this week, when the UK Ministry of Defense announced that 20,000 British troops and a carrier strike group were preparing to mobilize for upcoming NATO drills.
Bauer also noted that in recent months, the front lines between Kyiv’s and Moscow’s forces on the ground are “not moving a lot one way or the other,” and that “while Russia’s most recent attacks are devastating, they are not militarily effective,” he said.
He said that people therefore should not be “overly pessimistic” about Ukraine’s chances for victory.
🛡️ Allied territory is shielded from airborne threats by an integrated system of radars, ships, fighter jets and anti-air missiles. But how does this system work?— NATO (@NATO) January 18, 2024
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