Russia is holding massive military exercises along its European border in response to ongoing NATO-Sweden-Finland drills called Arctic Challenge. The drills are a scheduled, biennial event, so the Russian counter-exercises were unexpected, as Defense One reports:
It was the degree of the robust Russian response that surprised Nordic and NATO military chiefs. Russia’s Northern and Western commands mobilized about 12,000 troops and 250 aircraft, including the new Arctic Brigade in Kola.
The size of the mobilization compares with the 115 aircraft and about 4,000 troops from nine countries taking part in Arctic Challenge, which runs May 25-June 5. Russia’s maneuvers will be conducted at the same time.
Though NATO forces in Eastern Europe are still pretty sparse, the alliance and its friends have been stepping up exercises around Russia in response to Moscow’s Ukrainian adventures. Last month, Lithuania and two other Baltic states requested a huge increase in the size of the permanent NATO troop presence within their borders. The Kremlin, in turn, has fumed about feeling encircled by what it views as a fundamentally hostile institution.
Russia’s reaction to Arctic Challenge may have had more to do with possible NATO expansion than with immediate military issues, however. Relations are close, but Sweden and Finland are not part of the alliance. In both countries, however, the political climate is shifting, and calls to sign up have gotten steadily louder since Putin’s seizure of Crimea. Moscow’s aggressive posturing about the deepening ties may end up having the opposite of the intended effect.