Training

Russia maintains training tempo after NATO rebuffs “offer” to freeze drills

12th May 2020 - 17:00 GMT | by Eugene Gerden in St Petersburg

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Russia will conduct military training exercises as scheduled for the rest of 2020, after officials said NATO rejected a suggestion to mutually halt drills in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the office of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russia had offered to suspend all military training during the pandemic if NATO was prepared to follow suit.  

Sources at the Russian MoD and foreign ministry told Shephard that they wanted exercises in the Baltic and Black Sea regions to be suspended as a matter of priority.

Lavrov’s office claimed the Russian initiative was rejected by NATO as a propaganda stunt designed to foment division among members of the alliance.

NATO was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

Sources close to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Shephard that Russia will continue to implement its military training schedule in full this year. However, the strategic emphasis of these exercises will be placed on Central Asia.                                 

‘The volume of operational training activities, which are planned by Russia this year, will be increased by 13% compared to 2019,’ Shoigu announced in an official statement, adding that training exercises related to mobilisation and combat will grow by 9% and 36% respectively.

Training schedules for personnel in the Central Military District will involve ‘the supply of the most modern weapons and combat equipment for their needs’, he added.

Russia also plans to accelerate training in the Arctic region, possibly based around its existing Arctic Shamrock military base on the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Arctic Shamrock is one of six strategic Russian MoD sites along the Northern Sea Route for shipping. Significantly, the US recently engaged in its first training exercise in the Barents Sea since the 1990s.

Russian military analysts are unsurprised that the Russian offer to NATO fell on stony ground.  Dr Vadim Kozyulin of the Moscow-based Military Science Academy (and an advisor to the Russian Duma) told Shephard that diplomatic contacts between Russia and the US have almost ceased due to COVID-19.

‘NATO still remains in “pre-quarantine” positions, which require Russia to be seen as a potential aggressor,’ he remarked. As a result, the Russian gestures are considered as ‘an attempt to drive a wedge into transatlantic unity’.

Kozyulin argued that NATO faces a serious risk, if the expected global recession after the COVID-19 pandemic forces member states to cut military spending. ‘For NATO, this will be painful, and NATO officials will try to maintain the "Russian threat" on their agenda,’ he said.

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