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Pentagon, NATO Demonstrate Transparency Officials Want Russia to Emulate

May 13, 2021 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

The contrast in the transparency demonstrated by the United States and its European allies and that displayed by Russia is obvious — perhaps shown best in the way each side handles exercises.

A line of soldiers board a large military aircraft under a dark sky.
All Aboard
U.S. and British soldiers board a C-17 Globemaster III at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., May 7, 2021. The soldiers were on their way to take part in Defender-Europe 21, a large-scale training exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between the U.S., its NATO allies and partner militaries.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Muncy
VIRIN: 210507-F-SV144-914
Soldiers parachute from a C-130 airplane.
Swift Response
Soldiers participate in Swift Response 21, a joint, multinational airborne operation at Boboc Air Base, Romania, May 10, 2021. Swift Response 21 is the first exercise of the larger operation Defender-Europe 21 during which U.S. forces work closely together with NATO allies and partners.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Catessa Palone
VIRIN: 210510-A-HK139-838M

Each day that Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby briefs the media, he has a statement about U.S. exercises around the world. Today he discussed Defender-Europe 21. This is a large exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability among NATO allies and partners. It is led by U.S. Army, Europe, but has significant U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force participation.

"The exercise continues with the Virginia class submarine USS New Mexico, arriving in Tromso, Norway, earlier this week," he said. "In the next few days, there'll be exercises on-going in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Germany and North Macedonia."

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa, began exercise Astral Knight 2021, a joint multinational exercise involving service members from the U.S., Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Slovenia, Kirby announced. The exercise tests integrated air and missile defense. "It focuses on defending key terrain and scheduled training will involve a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios," he said.

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The NATO alliance handles exercise transparency much the same way and leaders discussed their exercise — called Steadfast Defender — with reporters in Brussels earlier this week. French Army Lt. Gen. Brice Houdet, the vice chief of staff of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, delineated exactly what the alliance was doing with its exercise. He stressed the alliance and the exercise is defensive in nature. Steadfast Defender is meant to improve the readiness of forces to defend NATO. "This is what we do," he said. "We train to be ready, to have operational mentality and capability."

"We're going to continue to share with you as often as we can, how this exercise is going, because we believe that transparency is important and it's also critical to helping avoid any misunderstandings and miscalculations," Kirby said.

Compare this transparency with Russia's recent snap "exercise" to Crimea and along its' border with Ukraine. The Russians deployed well over 100,000 personnel to the area with not a scintilla of explanation. Despite repeated questions from European and U.S. leaders, the Russians said little about what they were deploying or — more important — why they were deploying troops and capabilities to the region. 

Civilian and military officials tour a military training area.
Taking a Tour
North Macedonian Defense Minister Radmila Ĺ ekerinska and U.S. Ambassador Kate Marie Byrnes tour the Krivolak training area during Defender-Europe 21, North Macedonia, April 26, 2021.
Photo By: U.S. Army Sgt. Craig Jensen
VIRIN: 210426-A-JA380-0167M

The Russians said the forces were there on "an exercise." It was the largest build-up since Russia illegally annexed Crimea and caused nervousness among America's NATO allies. 

Russian leaders said they have withdrawn the forces, but not all have gone, Kirby said. "We've seen some of their forces depart from those areas along Eastern Ukraine and occupied Crimea but not all," he said. 

He wants the Russians to be transparent about their intentions. "Let them speak to … what they've got there and what it's intended for," Kirby said. "We've seen some [Russian troops leave], but not all, and we continue to call on them to stop the aggression in and of Ukraine, and to be more transparent about what they're doing. It's never been perfectly clear, to be honest with you. We've seen the comments that it was an exercise, but again there's, there's still quite a sizable array of Russian forces in those areas."