By Scott Taylor
A number of recent international headlines had the warmongering tone and pubescent maturity of the old The Hotspur comic books: NATO and Russia preparing for conflict, warns report or U.S. and NATO move to secure Europe’s eastern flank as Russia buzzes destroyer.
Such taglines would leave one with the definite impression that the Russian horde is on the brink of attacking the free world. According to retired British Gen. Sir Alexander Richard Shirreff, war between the West and Russia is not only inevitable, he predicts it will begin with a Russian invasion of Latvia in May 2017. This should resonate among Canadians because just this past April, we had 40 soldiers conducting training exercises in Latvia as part of NATO’s Operation Reassurance. This means it is conceivable, should Shirreff’s prediction pan out, that Canada’s sons and daughters would be stationed at ground zero in Latvia when the third world war erupts next year.
Operation Reassurance began in April 2014 as part of NATO’s pre-emptive reaction to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in March 2014. As a participant, Canada has been deploying troops to Central and Eastern European NATO countries on a continuous, albeit rotational, basis.
The problem with the anti-Russian rhetoric is that it paints Russia as a power-mad military aggressor. The reality is that NATO is staging major military exercises that involve tens of thousands of troops along Russia’s borders in the Baltic States. Yes, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are now all members of NATO, so one could argue this is within the prerogative of the alliance.
However, the U.S. and Britain are also conducting large-scale military exercises in the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus. Not only does Georgia border Russia, it also has two frozen, unresolved conflicts involving the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In August 2008, following a large-scale joint military exercise with U.S. troops, the Georgian military mounted a full offensive into South Ossetia, resulting in Russia’s retaliatory intervention. In the resultant clash, Russian forces quickly destroyed the Georgian forces and restored the previous territorial boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
That same year, Canada led the campaign to admit both Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Had Canada been successful in that effort, the third world war would have either erupted in 2008 over South Ossetia, or in March 2014 over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine.
Which begs the question: If we already know that the Caucasus is a powder keg that Russia will not back away from, why are the U.S. and Britain sending in soldiers to simply stir the pot?
It is also difficult to chastise the Russians for having their combat aircraft buzz a U.S. warship when you realize that this destroyer was at the westernmost edge of the Baltic Sea, just outside the Russian port of Kaliningrad. One can only imagine what response would be generated by the U.S. military if a Russian warship was patrolling the Gulf of Mexico.
Olga Oliker, a U.S.-based strategic pundit, denounced the “buzzing” of the American ship as “muscle flexing” on the part of the Russians as an attempt to show “they can stand up to the United States.” One can argue that the U.S. is flexing a hell of a lot more muscle by sailing right up to the Russian’s doorstep in this instance.
Then, of course, is the collective failure of memory as to the fact that, since the end of the Cold War in 1990, NATO has repeatedly broken its promise not to expand eastward. As part of the agreements between Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, NATO said it would not encroach upon what had formerly been the Soviet sphere of influence. In fact, in discussions regarding the reunification of Germany, it was agreed that no non-German (read, no U.S.) military units would be deployed into the former East German Soviet-controlled territory.
However, the minute the Soviet Union collapsed in May 1991, NATO began to eagerly recruit former Warsaw Pact nations into the alliance. If you include the fact that NATO backed the anti-Russian rebellion in Ukraine in 2014 and continues to provide support and training to the Ukrainian military, NATO has effectively pushed right up against Russia’s frontier — from the Baltic in the north through Poland and Ukraine, all the way to Georgia in the south.
A more apt name for NATO’s ongoing Operation Reassurance deployments might in fact be Operation Provocation.