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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been concerned about defending the almost indefensible Baltic members of the alliance for some time. This focus has become especially worrisome after Russia embarked on a remilitarization of the area by placing large amounts of weaponry and forces in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. Moscow has also been holding very large exercises in the region and behaving in ways which the alliance perceives as threatening to the former Soviet Baltic states.
With these concerns in mind, NATO has just held its first large-scale exercise on the tiny border between Poland and Lithuania amid theories that Russia could attempt to cut this link and sever the Baltics from NATO forces. The 104 km border is made up of lowland farms and woods, called the Suwalki Gap.
“The gap is vulnerable because of the geography. It’s not inevitable that there’s going to be an attack, of course, but … if that was closed, then you have three allies that are north that are potentially isolated from the rest of the alliance”, U.S. Lieutenant General Ben Hodges told Reuters.
“We have to practice, we have to demonstrate that we can support allies in keeping (the Gap) open, in maintaining that connection,” he said.
“This is only a small-scale drill compared to what would be needed in case of a real attack, but it is important for us because it shows that allies share our worries”, said Brigadier General Valdemaras Rupsys, head of Lithuania’s land forces.
“The training helps present a credible defense force that hopefully will deter aggression, but if not, we’ll be prepared to move to defend the borders of NATO,” said Lt. Col. Steven Gventer, who leads the U.S. battlegroup in Orzysz, reported Reuters.
“I think it’s important for the soldiers to train on land that they may have to defend some day,” said Major General John Gronski, deputy commander, U.S. Army Europe, observing the exercise in Lithuania.
The Baltic states have been pushing the alliance for more force structure deployed in-theater. As of now 4,500 troops are deployed on a ‘rotational’ basis so as not to break agreements with Russia negating permanent troops stationed there.
Russia uses NATO forward deployments as an excuse to further militarize the area and the Kremlin continues to modernize, and frequently exercise, its forces, again concerning NATO commanders in a vicious circle.
America President Donald Trump said after his inauguration that the U.S. would win any arms race its adversaries engage in.