TIME Poland

See NATO’s Massive Training Exercises in Eastern Europe

“The big buzz word was interoperability."

Thousands of NATO troops took part in a two-week exercise in Poland and the Baltic states, practicing sea landings, airlifts and assaults, the Associated Press reports.

The series of massive maneuvers, each with its own code name, took place on NATO’s eastern flank and in the Baltic Sea, where 5,000 troops from 17 NATO and partner nations took part in the maritime BALTOPS exercises. This year, the naval maneuvers took place without Russia.

Freelance photographer Amanda Rivkin was embedded with multi-national troops in Drawsko Pomorskie, a northwestern Polish town. “The big buzz word was interoperability,” she said, referring to NATO’s goal to show that its members can cooperate in the face of a potential crisis. “This is clearly being done as a show of force against Russia’s show of force in Crimea and in the Baltic,” she added.

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

Read next: New NATO Force Trains in Poland to Assure Eastern Flank

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 World

Watch Ian Bremmer on the Wobbly Transatlantic Alliance

Divides over Russia and other issues have shown cracks in a once unbreakable alliance

Ian Bremmer, TIME editor-at-large and the president of the Eurasia Group, discusses the problems in the relationship between the U.S. and its European allies, and the way Russia is taking advantage of the rift.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A new program will recruit and train inspiring leaders to be principals at high-poverty schools. No education background required.

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2. Even with rising prosperity, seventy percent of deaths in Sri Lanka are from preventable diseases. It’s time for a new kind of care.

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3. To protect ourselves from bioweapons, we may have to reinvent science itself.

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4. In Europe today, Russia is demonstrating its mastery of hybrid warfare. The U.S. and NATO are far behind.

By Nadia Schadlow in War on the Rocks

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The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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 Ukraine

Moscow and NATO Trade Barbs as Fighting Intensifies in Ukraine

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-MARIUPOL
Oleksandr Stashevskiy —AFP/Getty Images Azif Alikberov recovers in a hospital after being wounded as fighting erupted in Mariupol, Ukraine on Jan. 26, 2014.

Putin continues to blame a "NATO foreign legion" for the war in Ukraine, while the alliance says Russia is responsible for the resumed fighting

Clashes continued to escalate in Ukraine’s war-torn Donbas region Monday after a weekend of fierce fighting and shelling in the country’s southeast rendered a five-month-old peace accord all but dead.

On Monday, pro-Russian insurgents encircled a government garrison in the town of Debaltseve that lies along a main road and rail route between two vital rebel strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk, according to Reuters.

The Ukrainian government has declared the imposition of emergency rule in the embattled Donetsk and Luhansk regions and placed the entire country on “full readiness,” according to President Petro Poroshenko’s office.

Moscow continued to saddle Poroshenko’s office with responsibility for the conflict this week, and chided his administration for refusing to engineer a political settlement with Kremlin-aligned forces that have effectively seceded from the state.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Kiev of relying on a “foreign legion” to wage war against separatist militias.

“Essentially, this is not an army but is a foreign legion, in this particular case, a NATO foreign legion, which is not pursuing Ukraine’s national interests of course,” Putin told students at St. Petersburg’s Mining University.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg later dismissed Putin’s accusation as “nonsense” following an emergency meeting with the alliance’s ambassadors and Ukrainian diplomats in Brussels — the first such session in six months.

At a brief press conference following the meeting, Stoltenberg lambasted the Kremlin for allegedly providing insurgent forces in southeast Ukraine with advanced heavy artillery, tanks, armored vehicles and manpower in recent weeks.

“We call on Russia to stop its support for the separatists immediately,” he told reporters.

Over the weekend, Human Rights Watch accused Russian-backed forces of launching a “salvo of unguided Grad rockets” that struck the government-held port of Mariupol and resulted in dozens of deaths. The organization described the assault as one of the most lethal attacks on civilians since the pro-Russian uprising first erupted in southeastern Ukraine last April.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs claims that more than 5,000 people have been killed and at least 900,000 displaced since fighting first flared. An additional 600,000 people are believed to have fled the country.

TIME Ukraine

John Kerry Slams Rebels as Fighting in Ukraine Spirals Further Out of Control

US-EU-KERRY-MOGHERINI
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the press after a working lunch with E.U. High Representative Federica Mogherini at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on Jan. 21, 2015

Clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Moscow rebels have rapidly escalated this week

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned pro-Russian rebels battling the Ukrainian military for participating in a “landgrab” after occupying new territory in clear violation of a September peace accord.

After a brief lull in hostilities, fighting between forces loyal to Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels spiked drastically this week along several fronts. Insurgents appear to be seizing larger swaths of land thanks to heavy weaponry and the alleged presence of Russian regular forces.

“This is a very blatant landgrab, and it is in direct contravention to the Minsk agreements which they signed up to,” Kerry told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

The Minsk Protocol, which was signed by representatives from rebel militias along with Ukrainian and Russian officials, called for the orderly withdrawal of foreign fighters and heavy weaponry from the battlefields in southeastern Ukraine. However, the plan continues to be consistently ignored, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of combatants amid renewed fighting.

Earlier on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated claims that Russia continues to supply men and military hardware to insurgent militias battling the Ukrainian military.

“For several months, we have seen the presence of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. We are also seeing a substantial increase in the number of Russian heavy equipment in eastern Ukraine,” said Stoltenberg during a meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg this week. “This does not contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict.

Following a meeting at the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power lambasted the Kremlin via Twitter for their alleged role in backing the separatists and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for overseeing an “occupation plan” rather than backing the peace accords.

During a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Moscow of sending an estimated 9,000 troops across the border into his nation’s conflict-riven Donbas region.

“The country is facing the aggression not only regarding Crimea, but also regarding the significant part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. About 9,000 Russian [troops] are in the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told the assembled heads of state and economists.

However, Russia continues to deny that it is providing direct support to separatist fighters and balked at Washington’s efforts to contain the country through myriad sanctions.

“Only the people of Ukraine without any foreign interference must determine their future,” Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a press conference in Moscow on Wednesday. “For its part, Russia will continue to assist the creation of favorable conditions to settle Ukraine’s formidable problems in this spirit.”

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Inches Closer to NATO in Important Vote

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS
Genya Savilov—AFP/Getty Images Deputies of Ukrainian Parliament vote for a bill dropping Ukraine's non-aligned status in Kiev on December 23, 2014.

The country's status is no longer "non-aligned"

Ukraine took a major step on Tuesday in a parliamentary vote to drop its “non-aligned” status, which made the country ineligible to participate in military alliances and war—a status more famously upheld by Switzerland. As a result, Ukraine’s government could now apply to join NATO.

The move has angered the Russian government, which pressured Ukraine into adopting neutrality in 2010 and has said that the country must remain out of any bloc as a condition of peace in eastern Ukraine, where 4,700 have died in a pro-Russian uprising in the past eight months.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took a strong stance against the vote, saying that an application to join NATO would “turn Ukraine into a potential military opponent for Russia,” and warned that the vote—as well as new sanctions against Russia signed by the U.S.—will both have “very negative consequences.”

[AFP]

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 Afghanistan

London Condemns Kabul Bombing as Taliban Ups Pressure on Afghan Gov’t

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST
Shah Marai — AFP/Getty Images Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of a suicide attack at a foreign guesthouse in Kabul on November 27, 2014.

The militant group appears to be stepping up its campaign of violence in the Afghan capital as foreign forces prepare to withdrawal

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has condemned the Taliban’s “appalling” suicide attack on a vehicle belonging to the country’s embassy on Thursday that killed six people, including two individuals working for the U.K. mission.

“I am deeply saddened to confirm that a British national civilian security team member and an Afghan national working for the embassy were killed in the incident,” said Hammond in a statement. “We will not allow such inhumanity to deter us from continuing our partnership with the Government of Afghanistan.”

The assault on the British convoy was followed by another attack by two Taliban suicide bombers at a foreign guesthouse in a high-end neighborhood in central Kabul, where myriad embassies and international organizations reside. One foreign national was reportedly injured in the blast and an ensuing gun battle.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for both bombings and described the ambush of the British embassy vehicle as a strike against “foreign invading forces,” reports Reuters.

Thursday’s blasts come as the Taliban appears to be orchestrating an increasing number of acts of sabotage and violence against foreign installations across the Afghan capital, just as a lion’s share of the international troops stationed in the country prepare to pullout after 13 years of war. In the last 10 days alone, Kabul has been rocked by at least eight separate blasts, according to Agence France-Presse.

Earlier in the week, NATO confirmed that two foreign soldiers fighting with the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force were killed on Monday after a roadside bomb detonated near a military convoy traveling in Kabul.

Amid the uptick in violence are signs U.S. President Barack Obama is reevaluating his earlier promise to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year. The New York Times reported late last week that the White House’s calculus in the country appears to have shifted, after a new plan was authorized that will allow American troops to continue fighting Taliban insurgents there well into 2015.

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