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F.A.Z. exclusive : NATO Secretary-General Demands Greater Transparency from Russia

An image symbolizing Russia’s combat readiness: Combat tanks roll across Palace Square in St. Petersburg during a celebration on May 3, 2017, commemorating the Soviet victory against the Third Reich in World War II. Bild: AFP

Reporting by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper has found an enormous gap between the number of military maneuvers conducted by Russia and NATO. Germany’s defense minister says the alliance’s response to the Kremlin’s armed forces has been appropriate.

          NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has demanded greater transparency from Russia regarding its military maneuvers. That, he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, would reduce "the risk of misunderstandings and escalation." He called on Moscow to announce all exercises in advance, as NATO member states do, and allow observers from other OSCE countries to attend. Stoltenberg said the alliance has adjusted its exercises to reflect the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continuing growth of the Russian military. But he said it was still important for the allies to continue investing in joint defense to prevent conflicts.

          Reporting by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has revealed that Russia has conducted significantly more exercises since 2015 than NATO and its European member states. During the period of observation, NATO conducted 38 exercises that included more than 1,500 soldiers whereas Russia conducted 124, more than three times as many. The smaller the exercises are, the greater the gap becomes. In exercises involving 1,500 to 5,000 soldiers, the ratio is 4:1. When all exercises are included, the gap between the two sides has recently decreased, but doubts remain about the completeness of the data that has been provided.

          Responding to the findings, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis told this newspaper: "The number, the scale and, in particular, the offensive nature of some of the military drills conducted by the Russian military over the past years is of major concern for countries in the Baltic region and beyond." He said his country therefore welcomed NATO's enhanced deterrence measures.

          German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that she could understand why NATO's partners in Eastern Europe would feel threatened by the Kremlin's activities. As such, she said it was a "question of credibility" for Germany, as a part of the alliance, to increase its defense budget toward 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024. Beyond that, she said, NATO's reaction to Russia's activities has been "appropriate, defensive and transparent."

          Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszykowski told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that NATO is not seeking to replicate Russia's training pattern. "We don't do snap checks, conduct offensive" drills, he said, adding that the exercise policy of the alliance remains responsible and transparent. "We stand ready to discuss military exercises with Russia at appropriate fora, such as OSCE," he said.

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