Western military commanders are concerned that large-scale Russian military exercises near the Baltic states in September pose heightened risks for a miscalculation that could lead to a crisis, allied officials said.
In a move likely to further heighten tensions, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved Montenegro’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an initiative Moscow has bitterly opposed. Officials of the Balkan nation have said Moscow backed a coup attempt there last year to derail the effort. Russia has denied involvement.
The exercises, which Western officials estimate will involve nearly 100,000 troops, will be the first to roll out after a new NATO force in the region reaches full strength. They will also take place at the same time as military drills by Western forces in Sweden, across the Baltic Sea. U.S. and NATO officers have warned this year’s version of Russia’s annual Zapad exercises could create more tensions than they have in years, even recalling those that arose during the Cold War.
NATO diplomats and their Russia counterparts will hold a meeting Thursday of the NATO-Russia Council, the alliance announced Tuesday. While the Zapad exercises aren’t on the agenda, the ambassadors are expected to discuss Russia’s military buildup in the region, particularly in its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, and as well as details about the continuing deployment of the NATO force in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The U.S. troops committed to that NATO force will arrive at their training base in Poland on Saturday. German troops are in place in Lithuania and the entire force is due to be operational by the summer. The alliance force is relatively small at roughly 4,000 troops, but Moscow has criticized it as destabilizing. For the Russians, the Zapad exercises will be a chance to practice detecting, jamming and targeting allied forces with drones and advanced artillery, while spreading disinformation about its forces—techniques they employed in Ukraine. But they will also offer the U.S. and its allies a window on how Russia undertakes such efforts.