Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 52 Number 6, March 26, 2022 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

From the Baltic to the Black Sea

NATO Expands Troop Presence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe

UK and Ukraine sign naval framework agreement in 2021

NATO is significantly expanding its troop presence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. This is one of the outcomes of the most recent summit meeting of heads of states and governments of the military alliance convened on March 24 in Brussels. According to the agreement, the number of NATO battlegroups will be doubled due to the stationing of new units in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria; while more fighter aircraft, warships and aircraft carrier battle groups will be sent to the region. NATO troop locations form an arc stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Manoeuvres, where NATO is currently practising warfare, stretch from the high north to the Mediterranean.

According to the decision of the summit, four new NATO battlegroups - in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria - will be added to the four already existing in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. NATO's military locations, as Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, now form a long arc stretching "from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea." [1] Another build-up of troops is currently in discussion. According to reports, the NATO units in Eastern and Southeastern Europe "could be expanded to eight brigades." A decision to this effect is expected to be taken in June at the NATO summit in Madrid. NATO will already increase its number of fighter jets in the eastern member countries charged with air policing, and deploy Patriot air defence batteries in some countries. In addition, more aircraft carrier battle groups, submarines and other warships will regularly enter the region. According to Stoltenberg, the naval presence will extend "from the High North to the Mediterranean," and if possible, all the way into the Black Sea.

The expansion of NATO's troop presence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe was planned before the war in Ukraine, and even before the Ukraine crisis escalated, at the end of October 2021. In late 2021, it became known that the realization of these plans was already quite advanced. As the implementation became concrete in mid-February 2022, resistance began to grow, this was the case, for example, in Slovakia, where the conclusion of a troop agreement with the US met with strong protests. For the time being, it seems this resistance has been calmed - although not completely, and not everywhere. Observers, for example, point out that Hungary is still refusing to have a significant number of foreign NATO troops stationed there on a long-term basis. The battle group stationed in Hungary, should therefore be comprised almost entirely of Hungarian soldiers. In Bulgaria, the share of foreigners must also remain limited, and the command of the battle group remains with the national military .

NATO manoeuvres currently taking place or having ended only a few days ago, provide good evidence of just how advanced NATO's planning against Russia had been before the Ukraine conflict had escalated in the autumn of 2021. Manoeuvres were prepared in the course of many months. For example, the combat exercise Cold Response 22 has the objective of exercising warfare under arctic conditions. Around 30,000 soldiers from 27 countries are participating. This is the largest manoeuvre in the Arctic since the end of the Cold War. Units of ground, air, and naval forces are involved, including two NATO carrier strike groups led by the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman and Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales. According to a preliminary report back in April 2021, the region of Norway's Ofoten, where the Cold Response 22 exercise would be concentrated, is "of core strategic importance in case of a larger global conflict involving Russia in the North-Atlantic". The area is about "600 kilometres from the Kola Peninsula" where the Russian Northern Fleet's nuclear submarines are based [2].

The Dynamic Manta 2022 manoeuvre ended on March 4. In this manoeuvre in the centre of the Mediterranean, surface warfare was exercised, on the one hand, and anti-submarine warfare, on the other. Warships, submarines and aviation from altogether nine NATO countries took part. Dynamic Manta is one of two regularly held series of NATO manoeuvres, where anti-submarine combat is exercised. The second, is the Dynamic Mongoose and is exercised either off the coast of Northern Norway or near Iceland. Dynamic Mongoose is carried out in a maritime region, where submarines of Russia's Northern Fleet must cross, when they leave the Kola peninsula to enter the Atlantic, whereas the area for Dynamic Manta is in relative proximity to the Bosporus and the Dardanelle, where Russian Black Sea submarines can enter the Mediterranean.

1. Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the extraordinary Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government. 24.03.2022.
2. Thomas Nilsen: Norway to host biggest exercise inside Arctic Circle since Cold War. 14.04.2021.



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