The Summer Shield drills, involving over 1,200 troops from the Baltic states, the US, the UK, Germany, Canada, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and NATO partner Sweden, will run from Monday until April 30th at the Adazi training area just outside the Latvian capital of Riga.
Summer Shield has been run annually in Latvia since 2004, the same year that the country joined the NATO alliance. Troops from other NATO countries have been participating in the exercises since 2014, when relations between Russia and Western countries deteriorated over the instability in Ukraine. Over 1,300 troops took part in last year's drills, with the US and its allies gradually building up their presence across Russia's borders with troops and heavy military equipment.
Given the limited size of the contingent of NATO troops involved in the drills, some observers have suggested that drills like Summer Shield have more of a psychological significance than a military one.
"I'll give you one example," the commentator noted. "Recently, I had a chance to participate in negotiations to develop a [Russian-Latvian] partnership in the tourism sector with a Latvian entrepreneur. Negotiations were proceeding normally. Then, unexpected, our Latvian guest told us that it's time for him to head back to Latvia, where 'dugout shelters need digging'."
"I was surprised, and asked him what he meant. He answered, 'Well, while your 76th Airborne Division in Pskov makes preparations to jump [into Latvia], during my vacation time and on the weekends I dig dugouts for the forest brothers.'" (The 'forest brothers' were groups of guerrillas in the Baltic region who fought a guerrilla war against the Red Army after WWII).
"Can you even imagine the degree of stupidity here?" Podoprigora asked. "People really believe in these horror stories" (about the Russian boogieman). "And these [NATO drills] are held to support this faith," he added.
"But this comes second. The main thing is to maintain the current level of hatred toward Russia. And believe me, it works!" the observer lamented.