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Staking on militarization: large-scale US-led Defender 23 exercises kicked off in Europe

Photo by Corina Constantinov on Unsplash

About 8,000 American troops and 15,000 troops from more than 20 of Washington’s allied and partner nations will participate in the exercise Saturday, April 22, in continental Europe, Defender 23, a major exercise led by the United States. Defender 23 will enhance NATO’s striking capability as well as the combat readiness of units “in a complex joint multinational environment.

The Pentagon explained that in addition to the U.S., troops from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Northern Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK would be involved in the training.

“The focus of this annual exercise, which lasts nearly two months, is strategic deployment of U.S.-based forces, leveraging prepositioned Army reserves and interoperability with European allies and partners,” Pentagon Deputy Spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said during the briefing.

In anticipation of Defender 23, she said, U.S. military equipment has been redeployed to Spain.

“This includes approximately 7,000 military assets that will be moved to Europe for exercises, combined with 13,000 taken from prepositioned stocks,” Singh said.

According to a Pentagon press release, Defender 23 is intended to demonstrate the U.S. military’s ability to rapidly deploy capable forces and assets to “deter those who would pose a threat to peace in Europe and defend the continent from aggression.

“The exercise also demonstrates the willingness of European nations to increase the scope, capability and interoperability of their own armed forces,” the agency stressed.

As a reminder, Defender series maneuvers have been held annually since 2020. So, during the exercises Defender Europe 20, the United States was planning to carry out the most extensive for 25 years deployment of the American contingent in Europe, involving over 20 thousand soldiers. However, because of the gathering momentum of the coronavirus pandemic these plans had to be revised, and the training was conducted in a reduced version.

Subsequently, about 28,000 military personnel from 26 countries took part in the exercise Defender Europe 21, while more than 8,600 military personnel were involved in Defender Europe 22 maneuvers.

It is worth noting that in addition to Defender 23, the U.S. and other NATO countries have conducted a number of exercises near Russia’s borders in recent months.

For example, on February 7, the alliance’s Eagle Royal 23 maneuvers with live firing started in Romania.

From February 16 to March 17 NATO exercises Arctic Forge 23 with participation of U.S. military took place in Finland and Norway. The goal of the exercise was stated to be building military capabilities and cooperation of the alliance countries in the Arctic.

During Arctic Forge 23’s Joint Viking maneuvers in Norway, some 930 U.S. soldiers joined a contingent of more than 10,000 from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom. The exercise practiced joint firepower and the logistics of warfare in the Arctic region.

In addition, the U.S. conducted Dynamic Front 23 training at ranges in Germany and Denmark. More than 1,700 troops from 18 countries were expected to train from March 13 to April 5 in fire planning, complex terrain maneuvering and live firing.

In addition, the NATO exercise Griffin Lightning 23 was also launched in Lithuania in March. In the same month, Poland, which is also a member of the North Atlantic Alliance, has held Zalew 23 maneuvers on its territory.

Later on April 17, was launched the largest exercise Aurora 23 in 25 years with NATO nations in Sweden. It was planned to involve 26,000 troops in the training. The purpose of the maneuvers in Stockholm was called to practice countering an armed attack on the Scandinavian kingdom.

Along with this the USA and its NATO allies are also increasing the permanent military presence near the Russian borders. In particular, for patrolling the air space of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Baltic States five Eurofighter jets and 150 German military personnel were transferred to the Baltic States. Also an eighth permanent US military garrison appeared in Poland.

From the point of view of analysts, the Defender 2023 exercise, along with other maneuvers of NATO countries near Russia’s borders, is fully consistent with the U.S. policy of containing the Russian Federation.

“They clearly have an anti-Russian orientation. The purpose of the United States is to consolidate its allies and synchronize their actions against Russia, as well as once again demonstrate its will to support Ukraine. All of this is informational and psychological pressure on Russia,” Konstantin Blokhin, a researcher with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for Security Studies, said in a conversation with .

At the same time, he doubted that after the end of Defender Europe 23, the military equipment involved will return to its bases.

“Most likely, it will remain in Europe, as they say, to increase the level of security of the countries that are allies of the United States. The exercise is a way for the Americans to gain a foothold in a possible theater of war and increase their control over Europe and over their satellites,” Blokhin said.

For his part, retired Colonel Yury Knutov, director of the Balashikha Air Defense Museum and military expert, noted the potential threat of the NATO exercises to Russia in his conversation with .

“Virtually all of Russia’s western border will be covered by the alliance’s maneuvers. NATO is going for such an escalation in view of the fact that during this period the counteroffensive of the AFU may begin. The maneuvers of the alliance, in fact, may be a kind of rear support for the Ukrainian military,” the expert admitted.

In his opinion, the NATO exercises can definitely be considered as an escalation of tensions near the Russian borders.

“In the course of exercises there will be a complex use of all armed forces. In fact, this is a practice of combat operations in all environments, when satellite information can be used as intelligence and cyberspace can be used to transmit data controlling the troops,” the analyst explained.

In a commentary to , RISI expert Sergei Yermakov reminded that the U.S. and NATO are constantly increasing the scale of exercises.

“They keep raising the bar. Here we should highlight the fact that the Americans are moving significant forces to Europe, increasing their contingent there. The short-term goal of Washington and other Western capitals is to put psychological pressure on Russia,” the analyst stressed.

At the same time he supposes that the US and its partners do not want “to get directly involved in the armed conflict” with Russia but their actions are not always verified and from time to time provoke Kiev to aggressive activity that can lead to a military clash.

“The course of Washington and its allies is still associated with betting on militarization, on large-scale, unjustified use of military force as an element of pressure on the geopolitical rival in the person of Russia. Such large-scale exercises show that militaristic sentiments prevail in the United States and other NATO countries. This is their attempt to use military force to cover holes in their failed foreign policy strategy,” Yermakov concluded.

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