Behind NATO’s “Show of Strength” in Central and Eastern Europe

On June 12, NATO began the largest air exercise in its history (Air Defender 23), principally in the skies over Germany. A total of 250 aircraft, including 100 from the U.S., and over 10,000 service members from 25 countries will take part in the drills over a ten-day period. In addition to Germany, daily flight “excursions” are planned to Romania and Estonia. Officially, the maneuvers simulate an attack by an enemy, which is presumably Russia.

The air exercise is part of NATO’s larger Defender 23 exercise, which runs from April 22 to June 23, and is focused on coordination of U.S. defense of its European allies. At the same time, a 12-day maritime-based exercise in the Baltic Sea (BALTOPS) was launched June 4. It involves 50 ships, more than 45 aircraft, and approximately 6,000 personnel from 20 countries. According to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, last year’s BALTOPS provided cover for the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines.

All this is taking place extremely close to Russian borders, at a time when NATO is de facto at war with Russia, using Ukraine as a proxy. One false signal, one ambiguous maneuver by either side could easily be misunderstood as an act of aggression, and the “worst case scenario” would become reality.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine itself, the counter-offensive has begun, although it’s been rather low key until now, calling up images of the dreaded and militarily useless trench warfare of the First World War. No competent military expert expects the Ukrainians to make any significant advances in regaining territory, unless the Russians decide to abandon some spots. On the other hand, there has been an increase in Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, as well as in sabotage operations.

On June 6, the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant was blown up, causing severe flooding and damage downstream. Just hours before, the critical Togliatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline was blown up in Russian-held territory in Ukraine, thus sabotaging efforts to export fertilizer to developing sector nations as part of the Black Sea grain deal.

Another problem for the West is the inability to keep up with the production of all the equipment and ammunition Ukraine is said to require. The CEO of German weapons manufacturer Rheinmetall just repeated that his group can’t produce the amount of ammunition Ukraine needs, and former Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said the European ammunition warehouses are empty and it would take 5-10 years to refill them. Reports of the recent destruction of one third of the Leopard tanks sent have had a dampening effect, even on the most deluded of western geopoliticians.

And yet, they continue to denounce calls for a ceasefire and negotiations, and to bluster about moving NATO more aggressively into the Indo-Pacific, with the opening of an office in Tokyo, to better threaten China.

Nonetheless, major actors from the Global South are pressing ahead with their peace initiatives, including the heads of state of six African nations, who plan to visit both Kyiv and Moscow, as well as Brazilian President Lula da Silva (cf. SAS 21, 22/23).

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