TIME Poland

New NATO Force Trains in Poland to Assure Eastern Flank

Poland NATO Exercise
Czarek Sokolowski—AP Soldiers kneel down on the beach after an amphibious landing during NATO sea exercises BALTOPS 2015 that are to reassure the Baltic Sea region allies in the face of a resurgent Russia, in Ustka, Poland, June 17, 2015

"We must know how to defend ourselves"

(WARSAW, Poland) — Warships. Tanks. Helicopters. Rapid reaction forces.

Thousands of NATO troops are on the move this month in Poland and the Baltic states, practicing sea landings, air lifts and assaults. The massive maneuvers on NATO’s eastern flank that began in early June include the first-ever training by the new, rapid reaction “spearhead” force, and are NATO’s biggest defense boost since the Cold War.

Polish and Baltic state leaders have made it clear that they want to host large numbers of U.S. and NATO forces as a deterrent in the face of a resurgent Russia, and are welcoming the thousands of allied troops to their land and sea test ranges. Polish and Romanian leaders are even seeking more of a permanent allied military presence ahead of next year’s NATO summit in Warsaw.

“We must know how to defend ourselves. It is our goal to assure a stable order,” Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said.

“In the face of new, real threats, the biggest enhancement since the Cold War of the alliance’s collective defense is taking place,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Polish PAP news agency.

He added that the spearhead exercise means to show that NATO is “ready and capable of facing every challenge and every threat.”

East European countries that took pains to shed Moscow’s dominance almost three decades ago have been jittery ever since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula last year and began backing separatists in the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine. They have urged NATO to show force as a deterrent.

In response, all kinds of NATO troops are testing their readiness this month to react and cooperate in the face of a potential crisis in the Allied Shield exercise in Poland, the Baltic states and in Romania. Those nations had significantly downscaled their armies and defense spending since the Cold War, but now they want to be sure that NATO will defend them in time of need — especially Poland, with its memories of failed defense alliances at the start of World War II.

Over 2,000 of the troops taking part in the Noble Jump maneuvers in southwestern Poland are from the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force that President Barack Obama and NATO leaders agreed upon at a NATO summit last fall.

Multi-national drills are also being held at Poland’s northwestern range in Drawsko Pomorskie, along with greatly scaled-up annual BALTOPS exercises on the Baltic Sea.

BALTOPS this year includes a spectacular amphibious landing of 700 allied troops on a beach in Ustka in northern Poland. Its maneuvers involve some 60 ships from 17 NATO and partner nations and about 5,000 troops. But for the first time they are taking place without Russia, whose Kaliningrad military port is on the Baltic.

On Wednesday at BALTOPS, a Polish army amphibian sank while returning to its ship following the drill. Both crew members were rescued unscathed.

A multi-nation corps in Poland’s Baltic port of Szczecin was doubling its staff to 400 this year to host the spearhead’s command.

Underscoring the maneuvers’ significance, the Noble Jump exercises are being visited Wednesday and Thursday by Stoltenberg and NATO’s commander for Europe, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, as well as Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak and defense ministers from some other NATO nations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not taking all this military activity lying down. On Tuesday, he announced a substantial re-armament program for Russia that, among other things, will add to its nuclear arsenal this year “over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of penetrating even the most technologically advanced missile defense systems.”

Stoltenberg reacted by saying that Russia is “undermining the treaties we have had jointly in place for several years, which are important for arms control.”

Speaking ahead of the spearhead exercises in Zagan, in the southeast, he said that NATO members “don’t seek confrontation. We seek and strive for a more cooperative relationship but the precondition for that is that Russia is respecting the borders of its neighbors.”

Russia’s long-standing nuclear rhetoric, investment in nuclear forces and in military exercises “requires that NATO is responding,” Stoltenberg said.

Poland and Romania have been in talks to have U.S. army heavy equipment permanently stationed on their territory to speed up deployment in an emergency — since it’s faster to ferry troops than tanks and howitzers. Romanian Defense Minister Mircea Dusa said two other East European countries were also in these negotiations but did not name them.

The U.S. decision on placing heavy equipment is expected within weeks, Poland’s Siemoniak said.

Poland’s President-elect Andrzej Duda, who takes office in August, says security guarantees for Europe are not sufficient enough. He plans to further encourage NATO and U.S. military commitment to the region on Moscow’s doorstep.

“A realistic thinking does not base itself on wishful thinking that peace will come on its own, but it is secured by mutual, hard security guarantees,” said Duda’s foreign policy adviser, Krzysztof Szczerski.

The Polish public is divided about the NATO maneuvers.

“I feel safer that they are training here, that they are ready to defend us,” said Agnieszka Sokol, a 31-year-old housewife from Warsaw. “I don’t think that that will anger Russia. But even if (it does), NATO is much larger, much better armed compared to Russia. So I don’t think we have anything to fear.”

Not everyone is that confident.

“I don’t feel safe at all. I’m worried, seeing what Putin does. One move from him and we can have a war. It is really hard to say whether NATO would help in times of need,” said Grazyna Sokolowska, a 57-year-old shop assistant in Warsaw.

TIME russia

Putin Puts Russia’s Northern Fleet on ‘Full Alert’ in Response to NATO Drills

Putin has finally re-emerged into the public eye after ten days

Russian President Vladimir Putin put the nation’s northern fleet on full alert in the Arctic Ocean this week, as animosity between the Kremlin and NATO continues to simmer.

The order, which was handed down early Monday, allows for the mobilization of 38,000 military personnel, 3,360 pieces of equipment, 41 ships, 15 submarines and 110 airplanes, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

“New challenges and threats of military security demand the further heightening of military capabilities of the armed forces and special attention will be paid to the state of the newly formed strategic merging [of forces] in the North,” said Shoigu, according to state media outlet Sputnik.

The mobilization of the Russian fleet appears to have been triggered by ongoing NATO-led military drills across northern and eastern European, including maritime exercises in the Black Sea.

On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov accused NATO of conducting operations that were effectively undermining one of the world’s most stable regions.

“Such NATO actions lead to destabilization of the situation and increasing tensions in northeastern Europe,” Meshkov added, according to the Russia’s TASS news agency.

However, NATO has argued that Russia has continually stoked hostilities throughout the region by annexing the Crimea Peninsula in Ukraine and repeatedly violating European airspace.

NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu tells TIME that Russian snap exercises were a “serious concern” and completely out of proportion with the bloc’s drills.

By comparison, NATO only had 1,200 sailors onboard six ships in the Black Sea, she says, while ally Norway is conduting parallel national drills involving 5,000 troops.

“Russia has conducted about a dozen snap exercises over the past two years,” adds Lungescu. “Russia’s takeover of Crimea was done under the guise of a snap exercise. Russia’s snap exercises run counter to the spirit of the Vienna Document on confidence and security-building measures.”

Earlier this week, Putin admitted during a documentary broadcasted on Sunday that he considered putting the nation’s nuclear capabilities on alert to prevent outside agents from interfering with the Kremlin’s forced annexation of the Crimea peninsula last March.

Read next: Vladimir Putin Admits to Weighing Nuclear Option During Crimea Conflict

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME europe

U.S. Envoy Blasts Kremlin Ahead of NATO Meeting

BELGIUM-NATO-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-AFGHANISTAN
John Thys—AFP/Getty Images US Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute gives a press conference on Dec. 1, 2014, at the organization's headquarters in Brussels.

The war of words between the Western military alliance and Moscow heated up ahead of a NATO gathering in Brussels on Tuesday

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute accused the Russian military on Monday of engaging in irresponsible aerial maneuvers that put civilian aircraft in unnecessary danger.

The envoy’s remarks follow the alliance’s public announcement in late October that accused the Russian military of conducting an unprecedented number of unannounced aerial forays into Europe’s skies. NATO says it has scrambled its own aircraft over 400 times in response to Russian incursions this year — a more than 50% increase than the total number during 2013.

“These Russian actions are irresponsible, pose a threat to civilian aviation and demonstrate that Russia is flagrantly violating international norms,” said Lute during a press conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

NATO says Russian forces have repeatedly refused to submit flight plans to civilian air traffic control stations when flying exercises and, in multiple instances, have flown with their transponders turned off.

The Kremlin’s alleged indifference toward civilian aviation procedures is seen as particularly concerning to NATO members following Washington’s insistence that a Russian-supplied weapons system was responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in southeastern Ukraine this summer. Russia vehemently denies responsibility.

As relations between Moscow and the alliance continue to sour, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg boasted on Monday of the organization’s increased presence in Eastern Europe.

This year has been one of “aggression, crisis and conflict. But NATO stands strong,” said Stoltenberg during a press conference. “Russia’s aggressive actions have undermined Euro-Atlantic security.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin unleashed its own criticisms of NATO and panned the alliance for destabilizing northern Europe and the Baltics.

“They are trying to shake up the most stable region in the world, which is Europe’s north,” Alexei Meshkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told his nation’s Interfax news agency. “Those endless military exercises, rebasing of aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the Baltic nations. This is the reality, a very negative one.”

NATO has been steadily increasing its defensive capabilities in Eastern Europe following Russia’s forceful annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March. In September, the alliance unveiled plans to build a new expeditionary outfit that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed.” On Monday, NATO’s secretary general said he expected the “spearhead force” to be ready by 2016.

TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014.

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

TIME Eastern Europe

NATO Warns Russia Against ‘Historic Mistake’

Olga Ivashchenko—Reuters A masked member of the Ukrainian special forces stands guard outside the regional administration building in Kharkiv, April 8, 2014.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Moscow that any further escalation in Ukraine would have "dire consequences"

NATO is warning Russia that any further intervention in Ukraine would be a “historic mistake” and has urged Moscow to pull back the tens of thousands of troops currently amassed on Ukraine’s southern and eastern borders.

“I urge Russia to step back and not escalate the situation in east Ukraine,” said Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Paris during a seminar on NATO reform, according to the BBC.

Hundreds of pro-Russia demonstrators seized and barricaded themselves inside government buildings in the east Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk on Sunday night, chanting “Russia! Russia!” and calling for “peacekeepers” to be sent in from across the frontier.

However, 56 people left a state security service building seized by pro-Russia activists in Luhansk overnight, the nation’s state security service (SBU) said early Wednesday.

A truce was agreed following negotiations between protesters and officials, and comes after the SBU accused those inside of wiring the building with explosives and holding 60 people hostage, charges denied by the protesters.

Demonstrators are demanding a referendum to facilitate the secession of eastern provinces from Ukraine to join Russia, in a similar vein to what recently took place in Crimea.

On Tuesday, a brawl erupted inside the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev after a Communist leader accused nationalists of adopting extreme tactics and so playing into the hands of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is refusing to recognize the authorities in Kiev that took power after pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted following months of street protests.

Yanukovych fled Kiev for Russia in February after more than 100 people died in unrest triggered initially by his refusal to sign an tariff agreement with the E.U. and to instead pursue closer ties with Russia.

TIME photo essay

Why We Walk: Following in the Mennonites’ Footsteps

Tracing the footsteps of his Mennonite ancestors across Europe, photographer Ian Willms sought the remnants and ghosts of their lives — and of their suffering.

At the heart of the Mennonite religion, you’ll find an unwavering commitment to nonresistance that has endured five centuries of oppression and violent atrocities. This work is a photographic ode to an endless journey that my Mennonite ancestors undertook in the name of peace.

Right from their origins in the 16th and 17th centuries, Mennonites in the Netherlands were hunted down by the Catholic Church and publicly tortured to death because of their Christian beliefs. This prompted the Mennonites to migrate to Poland, where they remained for a century until the state began to force them into military service. In the late 18th century, the Mennonites chose to migrate again — this time to Ukraine and Russia.

On a bitterly cold winter night, in the midst of the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik soldiers arrived at my family’s doorstep. They forced 48 Mennonite men to walk from house to house at gunpoint using them as human shields as they stormed the non-Mennonite homes; my great grandfather was one of three survivors from that group. During the revolution, entire Mennonite villages were wiped off the map in nighttime massacres that saw men, women and children struck down by Bolshevik soldiers on horseback. Those who were able to escape with their lives would return to their villages the following day to bury their neighbours and families in unmarked mass graves before beginning new lives as refugees. Throughout their history, the Mennonites have been repeatedly faced with the same decision: Take up arms and abandon your faith, leave your home behind and give up everything you have worked for in your life, or die where you stand.

In 2012, I decided to re-trace the refugee migrations of the Mennonites to witness the places where they lived and died. I followed their historical journey through The Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Ukraine, photographing the communities, farmland, execution sites and mass graves that had been left behind. The path on which I traveled emulated the nomadic history of the Mennonites, while I searched for a feeling of familiarity and a connection to the former homes of my distant relatives. In most places along the migration route, the lingering presence of the Mennonites was little more than a collection of memories; a pockmarked gravestone; the mossy foundations of a farmhouse; a group of blurry faces, locked away in a history textbook. I found myself sifting through peaceful cow pastures and rural villages, seeking the ghosts of unimaginable heartbreak and tragedy.

The process of carrying out this work took an emotional toll, but the experience taught me to admire the Mennonites for their immense personal sacrifices. The Mennonites gave up community, prosperity and even faced death because they believed in the statement of nonresistance. I feel that if the places in these photographs could speak, they would tell us that hostilities brought against pacifist peoples are more than an injustice; they are an attack upon the hope for peace within our world.


Ian Willms is a photographer based in Toronto. He is currently represented by Getty Images Emerging Talent.


TIME

‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered': A Great Photographer’s Lost World Revealed

Girl in plaid dress, Mukacevo, Ukraine ca. 1935–38.
Roman Vishniac—© Mara Vishniac Kohn. Courtesy International Center of Photography Girl in plaid dress, Mukacevo, Ukraine ca. 1935–38.

A new show at the International Center of Photography in New York rediscovers the work of Russian-born photographer Roman Vishniac.

At this late date, in an age when seemingly every significant photograph of the past 150 years has been anthologized and analyzed, how many major 20th-century photographers can possibly remain under the radar of both the general public and photography aficionados? How many discoveries of unknown, genuinely great photographers can we possibly expect?

A show of pictures made by Russian-born Roman Vishniac, opening Jan. 18 at New York’s International Center of Photography, answers both questions with an emphatic, at least one.

It should be noted at the very outset that Vishniac did not toil in utter obscurity. In fact, he has long been celebrated in the Jewish community for his empathetic and intimate documentation of shtetl life Central and Eastern Europe in the years prior to the rise of the Third Reich and the cataclysmic onset of the Second World War. One Vishniac book in particular, A Vanished World, has for decades held pride of place in countless Jewish homes — a secret history, of sorts, that at-once documents and partially mythologizes a cultural landscape that was all but wiped away by the Holocaust.

The ICP exhibition, meanwhile, Roman Vishniac Rediscovered, will feature largely unpublished photos, with the stated aim not only of introducing Vishniac to an audience that knows little or nothing of his work, but of positioning him as one of the great social documentarians of the mid-20th century, whose pictures stand comparison with Cartier-Bresson or Eugene Atget.

According to ICP’s Maya Benton, who curated Rediscovered, Vishniac’s known body of work is really a narrow (albeit excellent) entry point to a much broader appreciation of his vast and varied archive. A mere one to two percent of his photos have ever been published, Benton points out, suggesting that the exhibition’s broad scope — including his work in photo microscopy, personal correspondence and other treasures — will be a revelation not only to the uninitiated, but to those who might have felt that they already knew all there was to know about the long-unheralded master.


Liz Ronk is the photo editor for LIFE.com.


TIME Out There

Irina Ruppert: Tracing Memories in Kazakhstan

Irina Ruppert's intimate knowledge of Kazakhstan and Eastern Europe comes from an experience of emigration and a complex family history.

Eastern Europe has become a popular destination for photographers looking for interesting stories in an exotic and new landscape. The antecedents to this trend range from Jonas Bendiksen’s documentation of spaceship junkyards and scrap-metal dealers to Robert Polidori’s large scale images of desolation and despair. Today, these areas serve as a main destination for young photographers—but, among the hundreds of projects produced in the area, only a couple come from a personal and individual point of view.

Irina Ruppert’s intimate knowledge of Kazakhstan and Eastern Europe comes from an experience of emigration and a complex family history. She moved at the age of 7 with her parents and three siblings from Kazakhstan to Germany in 1976, leaving four other siblings behind, carrying intense and vivid memories of her hometown and everyday life in the villages. After the collapse of the USSR in 1993, Ruppert started traveling back home, where she encountered a place full of political change but the same spirit and feelings she remembered from her childhood.

From 2006 to 2010 she photographed different locations in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Kazakhstan. She was most impressed with her hometown and the changes it had gone through since the end of socialism. “It seemed that everything that had to do with the Russian past had been wiped out from one day to the other,” she says. “The Cyrillic alphabet and Russian language were gone. Old Russian statues of Lenin and Stalin were given long beards and their names were changed to those of Kazakh personalities.”

When Ruppert describes her travels in Eastern Europe, she notes feeling immersed in the experience and always feeling at home. “I can smell the food and see that the colors and landscapes are very different from Germany. People’s behaviors are very familiar to me,” she explains. “When I get on a bus and there’s only one person sitting inside, I always sit next. I never take the last seat alone in the back. People in the East are extreme in their feelings and actions; it’s always about being together. I usually travel alone but in the East, you are never alone.”

The work she produced was compiled into a book called Rodina, published in 2011 by Peperoni Books in Germany. Each individual picture in the book displays a different mood and atmosphere; it is the travel diary of a child in self-recognition, immersed in a sea of images. “I want to show my view of the East: a small world of a detached observer who is not judgmental or tendentious.”

Irina Ruppert

Nowadays Ruppert travels looking for wolf tracks coming from Eastern Europe into East Germany as part of a new photographic project. She has also recently received a grant from the VG Bild-Kunst to photograph the Roma people in Romania, a series that she will work on this coming summer. A research photograph from that project, which has not yet begun in earnest, is included at right.

Irina Ruppert is a Hamburg-based photographer. More of her work can be seen here. Her book Rodina, is available in the Kominek Gallery in Berlin.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com