12:01 GMT09 April 2020
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    Moscow has warned that it would “react” to the US-led exercises, known as ‘Defender Europe 2020’, although the response is expected to be limited to monitoring the provocative drills from within Russia’s own borders.

    Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak has announced the start of the Defender Europe 2020 drills in Poland, calling the exercises “the largest” of their kind in years, and confirming that echelons of US forces have begun making their way into Poland.

    “About 37,000 troops will take part, including 20,000 from the USA. The first US Army troops have already crossed the Polish border,” Blaszczak wrote in a tweet, accompanying the text with photos showing US equipment moving into Poland under the cover of night.

    The months-long Defender Europe 2020 drills, the largest deployment of US troops in Europe since the Cold War and one of the largest drills since the 80s, are reminiscent of the Cold War-era Exercise Reforger, which airlifted and sealifted tens of thousands of US troops to West Germany in response to a hypothetical Warsaw Pact invasion. Since then, the Warsaw Pact has long ceased to exist, as has the Soviet Union, but NATO has nevertheless continued its eastward expansion toward Russia’s borders.

    The US-led drills, described by some European media as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for an invasion of Russia, include 20,000 pieces of US military equipment (7,000 of which has been brought across the Atlantic, and 13,000 pieces more taken from propositioned stocks). The US forces and equipment deploy in Europe through Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, from where they move eastward through Germany into Poland and the Czech Republic, and then continue northeastwards into the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

    Over a dozen countries in addition to the US will take part in the drills, with the US alone including three armoured brigades, an artillery brigade, support units and Air Force and Marine Corps units.

    The bulk of the drills’ active phase is expected to run from April until May, with the exercises designed to test Europe’s road and rail infrastructure, as well as any potential bureaucratic red tape. The Poland-based drills will include water crossings to simulate Eastern Europe’s river-rich environment.

    NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod Wolters told the Army Times this week that the alliance has “seen a fair amount of response from Russia,” without elaborating. “They’re not overly pleased with Defender Europe. We’re concerned mostly about the readiness of our forces and we’re doing all that in accordance with international law,” the commander said.

    On Thursday, Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov emphasized that Moscow had no illusions about the drills’ purpose or scope, and said that the buildup of NATO military activity on Russia’s borders was an issue of “serious concern.”

    “The exercises planned for the near future are to be carried out on the basis of anti-Russian scenarios involving offensive operations,” Gerasimov said, added that the absence of military-to-military dialogue make the drills “provocative.”

    Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would naturally “react” to massed NATO activities on its borders, but promised that the Russian response would “not create unnecessary risk.”

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