The upcoming Steadfast Defender NATO war drills, set for early 2024, are expected to be the biggest military exercises in Europe since the end of the Cold War, the Financial Times is reporting Monday.
At a moment the war in Ukraine grows more and more unpredictable, given neither Russia nor the West have shown any signs of backing down, the FT writes that “Nato is preparing its biggest live joint command exercise since the cold war next year, assembling more than 40,000 troops to practice how the alliance would attempt to repel Russian aggression against one of its members.”
Like with the ongoing, smaller ‘Northern Coasts’ war games currently being executed by NATO in Baltic waters, the Steadfast Defender 24 drills will simulate how the military alliance would respond in the face of a hypothetical Russian invasion.
NATO officials were quoted in FT as saying the planned exercises are seen as a key part of “demonstrating to Moscow that the alliance is prepared to fight.”
Steadfast Defender is slated to run in February and March, and is likely to be seen as a provocation by Moscow given it will take place in various locales across Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states – the latter which border Russia. According to more from the FT report detailing the upcoming giant war game:
“It will start in spring next year and is expected to involve between 500 and 700 air combat missions, more than 50 ships, and about 41,000 troops, Nato officials said.”
“It is designed to model potential maneuvers against an enemy modelled on a coalition led by Russia, named Occasus for the purposes of the drill.”
Crucially, the Baltic Sea coastline – where NATO has increasingly flexed its military might with more and more exercises – is very important to Russia as its strategic Kaliningrad exclave sits on it, sandwiched between two NATO members, Poland and Lithuania. Last year’s Defender drills had been the largest up to that point, and they continue to get expanded year-by-year.
A July Politico report explained that “NATO has steadily increased its control of the Baltic Sea — a crucial maritime gateway for the Russian fleet which has bases near St. Petersburg and in the heavily militarized Kaliningrad exclave.”
The publication also noted that “During the Cold War, only Denmark and Germany at the far western edge of the Baltic were in the alliance. Poland joining NATO in 1999 and the three Baltic republics in 2004 put most of the sea’s southern shore under alliance control.”
Russia has meanwhile at times “answered” these games by staging large drills in the Black Sea. But dangerously at this moment the western Black Sea region is in a state of war, given Russian warships are launching missiles against Ukraine from there.