Relations between Russia and the West remain tense in spite of the Kremlin’s best efforts to improve them without compromising on its interests so it would be best if these drills were suspended or at the very least reduced in scale and not held so close to its borders.
NATO carried out its third Ramstein Alloy drills last week over the Baltic Sea. According to the alliance’s official website, “This iteration of the Ramstein Alloy exercise series was hosted by Lithuania, with Allies Denmark, Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Turkey and NATO Partner Finland, as well as NATO E-3A AWACS, cooperating together during the varied training drills.” Their news blurb added that “The focus of the event was on the training of drills, procedures and processes for quick reaction forces that safeguard the skies in the region. Besides the rotating Baltic Air Policing nations, the exercise brought together regional Allies and Partners to practice simulated scenarios such as communications loss and slow mover intercepts.”
Although such exercises are planned in advance, they nevertheless constitute an anti-Russian provocation which spoils the Geneva Spirit forged by Presidents Putin and Biden during their summit in mid-June. The American leader had attempted to explore the possibility of what some experts compellingly described as a “non-aggression pact” with his counterpart whereby they’d seek to responsibly regulate their regional competition with an eye on eventually improving their relationship. This approach wasn’t popular among many in the US’ permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”), however, since the neoconservative ideologues among them still regard Russia as the US’ top security threat.
The other faction which came out on top in such debates at that time is influenced by former US President Trump and considers China to be their country’s top security threat instead. Continuing to host such provocative drills can therefore be interpreted as a “compromise” of sorts between these factions in that the Russian-American political relationship was allowed to temporarily improve in exchange for retaining their tense regional military competition. About that second dimension, the US had the chance to improve it as well but lacks the political will to do so, perhaps due to pressure from the Baltics and Poland. Those countries suspect that the US “sold them out” during that summit and by earlier waiving most Nord Stream II sanctions.
Nevertheless, the general trend is that the US is gradually refocusing its attention on more aggressively “containing” China in the Asia-Pacific, yet it also hasn’t taken its eyes off of Russia either. That’s a pity since the Kremlin wants nothing more than to substantively improve relations with the West, though of course on the condition that the Eurasian Great Power is finally treated as an equal and accordingly respected like one too. That’s becoming increasingly difficult to do under the present circumstances of continued NATO pressure along the Eurasian Great Power’s western flank. There are also two other very troubling aspects of these recent drills, and they’re the participation of non-NATO-member Finland and West Asian NATO member Turkey.
Regarding the first, this country has been surreptitiously enhancing its relations with the anti-Russian bloc over the years in parallel with neighboring Sweden. Although it seems to be an unlikely member to join NATO due to the immediate national security threat that this would constitute for Russia, it can still be described as a “shadow member” of the alliance considering its increasingly close relations with it. Finland’s former reputation as a so-called “neutral state” therefore isn’t relevant during the ongoing New Cold War. This northern nation should think twice about the wisdom of further enhancing its relations with NATO lest it inadvertently provoke a security crisis with Russia one of these days.
As for Turkey, it has the right to participate in all of the alliance’s drills, but its decision to take part in these latest Baltic ones speaks to its recent interest in expanding its influence throughout the Polish-led “Three Seas Initiative” (3SI). The most provocative means through which it’s attempting to do so is via so-called “military diplomacy”, which in this context refers to its export of armed drones to Poland and potentially soon also Latvia as well. Turkey is in the midst of a far-reaching transregional competition with Russia for influence in the Central & Eastern European (CEE) states, the Black Sea region, the South Caucasus, West Asia, and even North Africa so its leadership might be using their country’s participation in these drills to send an unfriendly signal.
To sum it all up, NATO’s latest Baltic air drills spoiled the Geneva Spirit between the US and Russia. They also showed that neighboring Finland and nearby Turkey don’t mind the anti-Russian optics of their participation in these exercises and might actually have intended for Moscow to regard them as a provocation. Relations between Russia and the West remain tense in spite of the Kremlin’s best efforts to improve them without compromising on its interests so it would be best if these drills were suspended or at the very least reduced in scale and not held so close to its borders. Continuing to hold them sends threatening messages to Moscow and thus increases the chances of a war by miscalculation, which is against everyone’s objective interests.