Russia in Europe: May 1 - June 14, 2016
Jun 14, 2016 - Kathleen Weinberger
By: Kathleen Weinberger and the ISW Russia-Ukraine Team
Russia heightened its military posture in Europe by projecting its land, air and naval capabilities. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on May 4 that it would create three new combined-arms divisions in the Western and Southern military districts, with a second announcement on June 3 specifying that these would include moving two motorized infantry brigades to its Western borders with Belarus and Ukraine. The Russian announcement was likely a response to proposed NATO plans to deploy multinational NATO battalions to the Baltic States and Poland, which were first announced as a possible course of action in April. Russia further reasserted itself through the movement of advanced naval equipment to the Black and Mediterranean Seas and continued violation of Baltic and Polish airspace. Russia also announced plans to boost its defensive capabilities through the installation of an additional S-300 air defense system in Belarus and an upgrade to the ‘Bereg’ coastal defense artillery system on the Black Sea. Russia will continue demonstrating its military capabilities over the next few months, as it plans to conduct a surge of military exercises June-October during its annual summer training period. These measures allow Russia to increase its military posture and position key capabilities along its Western border without crossing the threshold that would provoke an armed NATO response under Article 5.
Russia also continued to threaten NATO members and partners with retaliatory action for increased NATO presence in Europe. In response to the installation of European missile shield components in Romania and Poland, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that these countries could find themselves in Russia’s “cross-hairs.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia would not use military action against a NATO member state, with the key caveat of “unless provoked.” These statements allow Russia to maintain its defensive stance while setting conditions that could legitimize aggressive action. Meanwhile, NATO member states and non-NATO partners launched the ten-day Anaconda 2016 joint military exercise, the largest war game undertaken in Europe since the end of the Cold War.