NATO Repositions Forces as Russia Attempts to Split Alliance

BRUSSELS – The NATO alliance is currently carrying out a major redeployment of its forces in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea regions in response to a months-long military build-up by Russia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.

“What we have seen in recent months is a much more assertive and belligerent Russia that is willing to use any means to achieve its goals,” Soltenberg told Western journalists on Monday.

“Moscow’s numerous repeated attempts to intimidate its neighbors and break up NATO puts the alliance in a position that it must respond with a unified front and a shoring up of our position in the region.”

According to NATO’s plan, the alliance will re-position substantial naval and ground forces in and around the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea, the bulk of which will act as a physical deterrent to further provocative actions by Russia.

NATO’s decision to play a more active role in the region comes on the heels of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria, which turned the tide of the war in favor of Russia’s once-embattled strategic ally, Bashar al-Assad.

Assad’s dictatorial regime was on the brink of collapse after more than four years of brutal civil war until Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his armed forces to intervene on the side of his long-time ally in Damascus.

The ensuing months-long air campaign has nearly destroyed the Western-backed rebel forces that oppose Assad, leaving Putin with multiple options to exert greater influence in the Levant and Mesopotamian basin.

Moscow has since bolstered its presence in the Black Sea as it looks to re-enforce its surface fleet and naval infantry based in Crimea, which Russia invaded and illegally annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.

Putin has sent thousands of additional military personnel and strategic rocket forces onto the peninsula, which is widely seen as precursor to positioning tactical nuclear weapons in Crimea; a move Putin has threatened on numerous occasions over the last two years.

Russia’s armed forces have also flexed their muscles along the Black Sea coast as it completed a deployment of artillery batteries and snap combat-ready drills in Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia earlier in March.

At least 50 mechanized armor units took part in live-fire drills in Abkhazia’s Nagvalou and Gudauta districts, all of which were directed under the authority of Russia’s Southern Military District, headquartered in Rostov-na-Donu.
NATO officials believe Moscow’s actions are meant to intimidate Georgia and Ukraine, both of whom seek closer Euro-Atlantic integration.

By keeping a hair trigger on Kiev and Tbilisi, Western officials say Moscow hopes to split NATO by overstretching its military resources and causing divisions within the alliance over how to react to Russia’s actions.

By Nicholas Waller

Photo: NATO Maritime Command

09 March 2016 21:15