Situation on Russia’s western borders shows ‘tendency to escalate’ amid NATO buildup – Moscow
“The military and political situation at our western borders remains tense and shows a tendency to escalation,” Shoigu said Friday at a session of Russia’s Defense Ministry Board.
The defense minister pointed out that NATO has been steadily gathering additional forces on Russia’s borders, namely beefing up anti-missile defenses and forming new multi-national brigades in Poland and the Baltic countries. NATO troops are not only getting closer to Russia, but constantly participate in various exercises.
“The intensity and scale of the operational and combat training of the bloc member-countries’ military forces near our borders are growing. Only in the past three months there have been over 30 drills in East European and Baltic states,” Shoigu stated, reiterating the notion that it is NATO which is ratcheting up tensions in Eastern Europe.
The hostile actions of the bloc’s countries force Moscow to strengthen its western border defenses, namely through improving the “combat strength of the Western Military District troops” as well as modernizing the system of bases, Shoigu said.
“We’re implementing a set of measures to neutralize the emerging challenges and threats,” he added. The Western Military District will receive more than 1,800 pieces of various new and modernized hardware by the end of this year, according to Shoigu. Delivery of the new hardware goes hand in hand with building the infrastructure to service and store it, the minister added.
Particular attention is being paid to soldiers and commanding officers honing their skills in practice, Shoigu pointed out, adding that the strategic joint Russia-Belarus ‘Zapad-2017’ drills played a major role in improving such training.
The war games, which took place in September, caused widespread hysteria in the Western media, fueled by a number of officials who leveled accusations ranging from the exercise being a smokescreen for a Russian “invasion” into neighboring countries, to it being a trick to leave behind and hide troops in Belarus.
As the military exercise concluded, the fears of an “invasion” appeared to pass. NATO has also failed to find any Russian troops left behind in Belarus, according to the alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg. The official, however, accused Russia of exceeding the announced numbers of troops during the exercise, without providing any proof or figures to back up the claim.
Despite Moscow and Minsk stressing its defensive nature and transparency, Zapad-2017 was nevertheless held up by a number of Western countries as proof of a “Russian threat.” The drills were “countered” by NATO’s parallel exercises in Sweden, which hosted roughly twice the number of troops that took part in the Russian drills, and became the biggest military event in the country in 23 years.
The ex-chief of Russian Airborne Troops and current head of the country’s parliamentary committee for defense, Vladimir Shamanov, cautioned Western partners against “saber-rattling.”
“That would bring nothing positive,” he said, noting that the NATO buildup is simply increasing the risks of an armed conflict and “inflating of tensions” at Russia’s western borders. The official stressed, though, that despite the “bad” tendency a potential military conflict with NATO is still “unlikely.”