Russian Naval ships from four fleets are being dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea. Russia says the deployment is for conducting the most extensive exercises in recent years. More than 1,000 units of military equipment, 140 warships and ships, more than 60 aircraft and about 10,000 military personnel will be involved in the exercises. About two dozen “pennants” will take part in the deployment, including two cruisers, frigates, large anti-submarine ships. The Mediterranean deployment should be completed in late January or early February.
In parallel, manoeuvres will begin in the Black Sea. Two dozen ships and vessels will participate in the drills.
Russian Ministry of Defense says it plans to work out the interaction between groupings of ships in the far and near sea zones and the effectiveness of aviation and auxiliary forces.
Experts believe that deployed ships will engage in the simultaneous use of ship formations in the event of a large-scale crisis.
U.S. and NATO monitor Russian fleet movement
On January 25, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense announced that it was monitoring the movement of the Russian Northern Fleet ship group off its coast and showed photographs taken by a patrol aircraft. The ships in the pictures included missile cruiser “Marshal Ustinov”, the frigate “Admiral of the Fleet Kasatonov”, the Udaloy-class destroyer “Vice-Admiral Kulakov” and the tugboat SB-406. The next day, the Russian military department published a video with the exit of warships from the Kola Bay. The unit is expected to conduct live-fire and missile exercises off the coast of Ireland.
A combined detachment of six large landing ships from the Northern and Baltic fleets have already been spotted off the coast of Portugal but has not yet passed the Strait of Gibraltar. Five large landing ships of project 775 were spotted too. For the first time, “Pyotr Morgunov” of project 11711, which was accepted into the fleet a little over a year ago, was seen conducting a long voyage.
Cruiser “Varyag”, accompanied by the anti-submarine ship “Admiral Tributs” and the large sea tanker “Boris Butoma” was seen moving in the Mediterranean as part of a detachment of the Pacific Fleet. On the way, they held joint exercises in the Arabian Sea with ships from China and Iran.
Ships and submarines from the Black Sea Fleet, which are a part of the operational unit of the Russian Navy, based in the Syrian port of Tartus, are constantly on duty in the Mediterranean Sea. On January 26, the Ministry of Defense announced the start of exercises in the Black Sea. The drill involves over 20 warships and vessels.
Aircraft movements are not visible except the transfer of Su-35S air interceptors to Belarus for drills. Russia has also dispatched long range air defence missile units to Belarus. Two battalions of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and a Pantsir-S battalion will be transferred from the Far East to Belarus for the first time.
Tense situation in the region as U.S. and NATO build up in the area
The White House said on January 18 that Russia could launch an invasion of Ukraine at any moment. In particular, the United States is concerned about the movement of Russian troops for exercises in Belarus.
A Danish frigate is in the Baltic Sea, and four F-16 fighters are in Lithuania. Spanish ships are already in the Black Sea, and several Dutch F-35 fighters are in Bulgaria. The United States and France have sent troops to the eastern part of Europe. The total number of the contingent is about 5 thousand personnel.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, warned that in addition to the transfer of forces to the Baltic and the Black Sea, to Bulgaria and Romania, NATO is considering the possibility of further building up its military presence on the eastern flank. At the same time, he said that the bloc would not deploy combat forces in Ukraine.
Pentagon said that the U.S. has decided to put about 8.5 thousand military personnel on high alert, who, if necessary, would be promptly sent to Europe. President Joseph Biden clarified that this is not a unilateral U.S. decision but under the auspices of NATO. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the timing of sending the U.S. military to Europe has not yet been determined; it will depend on the development of events around Ukraine. He also stressed that America does not plan to deploy its troops in Europe outside the territory of NATO allies. The word “allies” in this message is key. Under it, Washington can mean both members of the alliance and countries that sympathize with it. For example, Ukraine and Georgia.
The normal level of NATO build up in Europe
In 2014, the Atlantic Resolve program was launched in Poland and the Baltics. Within its framework, the U.S. military presence in the region was expanded. This applies to the redeployment of troops from Western Europe and alliance logistics centres in Eastern Europe. The 1st Armored Brigade of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division was additionally deployed in battalions in Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states on a rotational basis. Under the Armored Brigade Combat Team and Combat Aviation Team programs, armoured and helicopter brigades are deployed on a rotational basis in Bulgaria and Hungary. For another American brigade of the Land Forces, weapons and military equipment storage facilities have been created in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Personnel can be quickly transferred to Europe by aircraft or ships. Under the Enhanced Forward Presence program, four multinational battle groups of up to a thousand personnel have been created rotationally. They are located in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. In addition, it was decided to form a multinational infantry brigade in Romania.
By 2020, the American contingent in Europe totalled 52 thousand personnel. Great Britain has also returned its troops to Europe. All this means that, if NATO wishes, there will be no need for serious logistical operations to transfer forces and assets in Eastern Europe as the military infrastructure has long been created and is operating. In addition, Washington and London continue to pump weapons to their eastern allies. Amid the escalation around Ukraine, the U.S. House of Representatives called on the Pentagon to expedite 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Poland.
Equipment transfer to Ukraine
The transfer of military equipment to Ukraine under the new Biden package began on January 22, when a Boeing 747 cargo plane delivered 90 tons of military cargo to Kiev. Judging by the footage released by the Pentagon of loading the aircraft at the American Dover airbase, there were another 100 Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and about 100 units of very exotic small-scale American M141 SMAW-D disposable anti-bunker grenade launchers produced in the late 1990s.
U.S. administration plans to increase the range of U.S. military supplies to Ukraine, including Stinger man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems. Judging by the mentions in the American media, one can also expect deliveries of American TOW-2 portable missile systems, modern electronic warfare equipment and other equipment. Except for Germany, Britain and other NATO allies have transferred outdated equipment to Ukraine.
Washington and London don’t plan to send troops to Ukraine. Croatia has categorically said that they will withdraw all their military personnel from NATO forces in Eastern Europe in the event of a conflict.