US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The United States recently curtailed major military exercises in Europe to prevent the spread of the virus. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization conducted several small exercises near its border with Russia, where it practiced in repelling invaders. Also this month, the U.S. Navy for the first time since the 1980s sent ships to the Barents Sea, to the north of Russia. As another demonstration of power, American strategic bombers flew to Europe.
Russia conducted its exercises. She sent her warships and military planes to NATO territories, but canceled the military parade planned on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. According to European officials, Moscow is also trying to undermine the alliance by spreading misinformation about coronavirus.
“A long game is important,” said Colonel Eric Laforest, Canadian commander of the NATO task force in Latvia, in an interview. “We must be prepared to fight under any circumstances.” However, maintaining combat forces in a pandemic is an unusual task.
In March, the United States and its NATO partners discontinued their Defender-Europe 20 exercises (Defender of Europe 20), in which 37,000 troops from 18 countries were to take part, but conducted a series of small exercises along its eastern border with Russia.
To avoid the spread of the virus, the exercises were reduced to four NATO battalions, which were already deployed there after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. On Monday, in Latvia, during combat training exercises, the attack was repelled using armored vehicles and infantry. Last week, the NATO battalion in Estonia took part in a shortened annual exercise involving local forces.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Army announced that next month, exercises will be held in Poland with the participation of four thousand US troops and two thousand from Poland, originally scheduled for May.
In mid-April, a battalion in Latvia also practiced rapid deployment of forces in the event of a possible invasion. Battalions, consisting of 1,400 troops from NATO countries, took part in two phases of the exercise. The commanders ordered the troops to avoid encounters with the local population, which are usually part of the exercises, i.e. avoid contact when visiting catering establishments and at gas stations.
Everyday life in the camps has also adapted to the spread of the pandemic. Soldiers sit two meters or 6.5 feet apart while eating and stay away when they visit the gym. About 60 members disinfect surfaces and door handles every two hours.
These measures reflect increased caution in all countries of the alliance, in particular, after the spread of infections on the American and French aircraft carriers Theodore Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle. Last week, the launch of the new British aircraft carrier for marine testing was delayed for several days to allow the entire crew to undergo testing for coronavirus.
The Russian armed forces also conducted exercises, despite the pandemic, involving thousands of troops in the April exercises. On the western flank, they included troops designed to combat nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Last month, troops set up a camp for 800 people less than 100 miles (about 160 km – approx. Ed.) From Estonia. The pandemic also provided Russia with new opportunities to test the alliance, NATO and European officials say.
In March, the UK said it had sent ships to spy on seven Russian ships approaching British waters – what was seen here was what the Royal Navy called “unusually high levels of activity in the English Channel and the North Sea.”
NATO aircraft also intercepted Russian military aircraft as they approached Allied airspace. European officials say the raids are like trying to test the readiness of the NATO military during a crisis. The Russian Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.
For its part, the U.S. Navy on May 4 sent four ships to the Barents Sea in the Arctic, along with one ship from the Royal Navy of Great Britain. The operation was aimed at “establishing freedom of navigation and demonstrating unimpeded integration between the allies,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement.
“In these difficult times, it is more important than ever that we maintain a stable rhythm of hostilities on the European continent, taking reasonable measures to protect the health of our troops,” said Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti, commander of the Sixth Fleet of the United States.
Last week, the U.S. Air Force sent several strategic bombers to fly to Europe, including the Baltic, to train with the Allies. “Strategic bombers contribute to stability in Europe by sending a clear deterrent signal to any potential adversary,” the US Air Force said in a statement.
European officials said that another difficulty that NATO faces is Russia’s attempt to take on the alliance’s obligations.
Russian state-controlled media disseminate claims that the Defender-Europe-20 exercises will spread the coronavirus infection in the Baltic countries. European officials also said that the Lithuanian news site was hacked and an unreasonable post appeared stating that an American officer in the country had been infected with the virus. NATO reported that this month a fake letter was also sent to the Minister of Defense of Lithuania stating that NATO was withdrawing its forces from the country.
In Latvia, in late April, an article appeared on a Russian-language and then on an English-language website stating that 21 members of the local NATO battalion were infected with the virus. The Latvian Ministry of Defense and Colonel Laforest called it misinformation. At this time, the ministry reported that four allied soldiers were infected with the virus throughout the country.
In March, Russia sent army trucks to deliver medical aid to Italy, the founding member of NATO, which, according to European officials, looked like an attempt to undermine the alliance.
Soon, the NATO allies launched their own aid missions, sending military aircraft to transport medical equipment to the Allies. Germany evacuated some sick Italians for treatment in German hospitals; Poland at the end of April sent a team of eight doctors to Chicago; Turkey recently sent a shipment of medicines to the United States.
Moscow, however, may have another problem: what to do with a six-month military draft without further spread of the infection. Over the next two weeks, it is expected that about 135,000 draftees will be brought into the Russian armed forces.
Andrei Kurochkin, deputy chairman of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, who cares about the interests of soldiers, said that although the Ministry of Defense counted coronavirus infections in 874 troops and 779 cadets, the number of people infected was probably much higher. “There are hundreds of soldiers and cadets with fever in hospitals, and no one is checking them to find out what they are sick with,” he said.
The Military Human Rights Committee criticized the military’s response to the coronavirus, but Mr. Kurochkin said that sooner or later the call should have taken place. “The call is a condition of the country’s defense, it is a strategic necessity,” he said.
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