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US military begins major exercises in Russia's backyard

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 5/4/2021 Abraham Mahshie
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U.S. military forces in Europe started an exercise Tuesday that will put 28,000 troops from 26 countries near Russian territory for over six weeks, with a focus on the Balkans and Black Sea region.

European Command's largest multinational exercise comes on the heels of an alleged Russian military exercise involving some 100,000 troops massed on the eastern border of Ukraine and in occupied Crimea. The long-planned American exercise will test infrastructure and interoperability in NATO’s southeastern flank, home to the former countries of Yugoslavia and the European Union’s poorest member states but also some that spend big on defense.

The Pentagon said a major difference between Russia’s exercises and the U.S. exercises will be clear.

“It's a defensive exercise, and you will be able to hear us talk about it and communicate to you and to the world what we're doing and why,” Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby told the Washington Examiner.

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“It's called transparency. It's a wonderful thing,” he added. “And we're not getting that out of Moscow, and we haven't. So that's a big difference right there.”

Eucom commander Gen. Tod Wolters stood at the edge of a tarmac in the Albanian port city of Durres for the kickoff event, declaring the exercises rival the complicated logistics of World War II.

“What we are attempting to do is improve our strategic transparency and alignment, something that hasn’t been done with this scope and scale since the 1940s,” he said before a joint ship-to-shore logistics exercise.

The range of the event will include forcible entry, air and missile defense, live-fire, and a command post exercise, all intended to improve readiness and the ability for American soldiers to work with NATO partners easily in the event of a crisis.

“After today’s demonstration and after this exercise, each and every one of us are a little bit more responsive, a little bit more resilient, and a little bit more lethal,” he said.

Kirby said he expects to tire of daily updates about the exercise, an effort that contrasts what Moscow is doing.

“I'm not going to speak to what Russia claims was an exercise,” he said. “There's still a lot of forces aligned along the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea, and it's still never been completely clear what the intentions were.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin began the force buildup in April following the death of four Ukrainian soldiers at the hands of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Russian troop number reached an estimated 100,000 before it was ordered to draw down 10 days ago.

“We're trying to follow our Eucom commander’s lead and DOD focus on shifting our focus down to the Balkans, Black Sea region right now, a strategically important area where we've always had a presence, but we want to increase that,” a U.S. European Command planner told the Washington Examiner in March.

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After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the United States began a rotational presence across NATO's eastern flank. The NATO Black Sea partner countries Romania and Bulgaria are among the most robust U.S. regional partners, each spending more than 3% on defense.

The next six weeks will test roads, ports, and military infrastructure, some of which have benefited from $20 billion in U.S. European Deterrence Initiative financing over six years.

Tags: News, National Security, Department of Defense, Pentagon, Russia, Europe, European Union, Albania, Black Sea, Balkans, Ukraine, Putin, NATO

Original Author: Abraham Mahshie

Original Location: US military begins major exercises in Russia's backyard

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