The Defender Europe 20 exercise will undoubtedly become a landmark event for the North Atlantic Alliance in the first half of this year. The active phase of NATO's largest drills over the last 25 years will take place in April and May this year, but preparations, including those related to the transfer of troops, will begin as soon as in February.
Every year, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, NATO countries conduct up to 40 exercises with a pronounced anti-Russian tendency. At the same time, Moscow has repeatedly suggested that Brussels discuss a mutual reduction in the number of army maneuvers in order to increase the level of trust and security. The decision by the Alliance's military-political leadership to conduct large-scale Defender Europe 20 exercises appeared as a "response" to Russian initiatives and an illustration to the plans of NATO strategists.
Fundamentally, Defender Europe 20 is a blueprint for NATO's Reforger drills that were regularly conducted as part of the Autumn Forge maneuvers during the Cold War. The purpose of those exercises was to test the possibility of transferring a strategic reserve from the American continent to Europe by air and sea, with an eye to reinforce the Alliance's joint troops and practicing issues of moving US fighting formations to the front lines with a subsequent deployment for combat operations in concert with units of other NATO member states.
Similar tasks will be solved this time either. Time and quantity indicators, phasing, and even the scenario have changed little, if at all. Except that now, according to legend, the role of the "aggressor" is assigned to Russia instead of the Soviet Union and its allies. At that, part of the former Warsaw Pact countries changed sides, which will allow NATO commanders work out the advance of forces to a new frontline located in the territories of Poland, the Baltic States and even Georgia.
A total of 37, 000 troops from 18 member and partner countries of the North Atlantic Alliance will take part in the drills. 20, 000 American troops and hundreds military equipment pieces are getting ready to throw themselves across the Atlantic. Part of the American units transferred to Europe will have to get weapons, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and howitzers, at four long-term preservation warehouses in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. After that, the transferred force, teamed up with 9, 000 American soldiers permanently stationed in Western Europe, will start moving eastwards.
The transfer of a good deal of personnel and hardware, including heavy equipment, will prove an ordeal to the European logistics network. The columns are supposed to move along the motorways prevalently during the night. Part of the equipment will be moved by rail. In the Ruhr Area, inland waterways craft will be used to transport the tanks. Besides, it is planned to force a crossing in the territory of Poland.
Major load of organizing the marches will come upon the Bundeswehr, which will send 1,750 of its soldiers to take part in the exercise. They will have to manage cargo handling at ports, airfields and railway stations, to conduct route planning, to escort columns during road transit, to ensure transport security and to settle all the issues with local authorities. Apart from the regular units of its armed forces, Germany plans to attract the resources and capabilities of the traffic police and the courier service.
Perfectly complying with the decisions made by Washington, NATO's military and political leadership does not conceal the geopolitical purposes of the Cold War-inspired Defender Europe 20. First, it is a confirmation of America's vociferously declared readiness to provide its European allies with the necessary military assistance in case of a possible armed conflict with Russia. Second, it is a demonstration of the bloc's unity. Third, it is a rationale for a further buildup of military preparations and defense spending increase.
During the Reforger drills, similar tasks were solved with flying colors. In these latter, the possibility of achieving the desired goals is highly debatable. Alliance members, especially the "old-timers", doubt the feasibility of NATO Charter Article 5, which states that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all of its members. And US readiness, as President Trump recently put it, to "protect Europe from Russia" after the Americans' inability to protect themselves from Iran, becomes pasteboard.
There is no more talk about the bloc's once solid-cast unity. Amid the euphoria of Russia-hating young NATO members, namely Poland and the Baltic States that are wildly rejoicing at the arrival of overseas "defenders", the old members are on their hills and minimize their engagement in the upcoming maneuvers. Which is quite natural, since the latter run counter to French President Macron's idea supported by German Chancellor Merkel, to create a European army. Moreover, European leaders understand that the drills will cause an outpouring of criticism by the opposition and dissatisfaction with the broader public.
Finally, the active phase of Defender Europe 20 coincided with Russia's celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War victory. Whether accidental or not, the symbolism of the situation is fairly obvious – while Russia is celebrating the Great Victory and commemorating millions of war victims, the Europeans liberated by Soviet soldiers and their American "defenders" will be rattling their sabers at its borders. This is unlikely to help improve relations between Russia and Europe, the need for which many politicians of the Old World have recently started talking about.