Disinfo: NATO's politicians use Defender Europe 2020 as an opportunity to escalate tensions with Russia

Summary

NATO’s politicians use Defender Europe 2020 as an opportunity to escalate tensions with Russia. NATO is demonstrating its willingness to drive an opponent from the alliance territory if it enters, […]. In addition, troops involved in the manoeuvre (including those from the Czech Republic and Lithuania) will receive instruction in the use of American military technology, which will be offered for sale to NATO countries. (…) Part of this story is also that all the Baltic Sea countries are entitled to military manoeuvres in the region. However, NATO manoeuvres have been shifting more and more towards Russian borders for years. Alliance politicians use the exercises as an opportunity to escalate tensions with Russia.

Disproof

Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative claiming that NATO threatens or encircles Russia and that the US-led military exercise Defender Europe 2020 is directed against Russia. NATO does not aim to escalate relations with Russia. Neither Defender Europe 2020 nor other NATO military exercises are directed against Russia. NATO is a defensive alliance, whose purpose is to protect the member states. The Alliance announces its military exercises well in advance and they are subject to international observation. NATO strongly supports efforts to build confidence and transparency on military activities and exercises. US Major General Andrew Rohling Deputy Commanding General for the US Army in Europe, informs that the US-led exercise "Defender 2020" is an American exercise with 18 NATO partner countries. Rohling emphasises that the aim of the exercise is not to target any country, but rather to test strategic readiness and how to react to a crisis. NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg affirmed as well that Defender Europe is not directed against any particular country. Exercise Defender Europe 2020 is the deployment of a division-size combat-credible force from the United States to Europe, the drawing of equipment and the movement of personnel and equipment across the Atlantic to various training areas in Europe, like Germany and Poland. With US Defender Europe 2020, the 18 participating NATO-countries are therefore practising procedures to ensure and demonstrate the ability to relocate and also to confirm the Alliance's commitment to supporting and, in particular, to show the United States' commitment to Europe's security. See more similar disinfo cases alleging that the US Defender 2020 military manoeuvre is explicitly directed against Russia, that Defender 2020 is a test to invade Kaliningrad region and that Defender 2020 is an anti-Russian provocation used to intimidate the Poles with an alleged Russian threat.

publication/media

  • Reported in: Issue 202
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 15/06/2020
  • Outlet language(s) German
  • Countries and/or Regions discussed in the disinformation: US, Russia
  • Keywords: Defender Europe 2020, security threat, Military exercise, Anti-Russian, Encircling Russia, NATO
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In February 2014, a violent coup d'état took place in Kyiv

In February 2014, a violent coup d’état took place in Kyiv, when the then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced to flee as a result of dozens of unsolved murders during the fighting between activists and police forces and violent threats by radical right-wing forces. With their first act in power, the Maidan forces showed what they were most interested in and thereby confirmed the fears that the Maidan revolution was much more of a nationalist coup d’état than an emancipatory act.

Disproof

There was no coup d’état in Kyiv in 2014; this is a longstanding pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about Ukraine's Euromaidan protests. The spontaneous onset of the Euromaidan protests was a reaction from several segments of the Ukrainian population to former President Yanukovych’s sudden departure from the promised Association Agreement with the European Union in November 2013, after pressure from Russia. See the full debunk The Western-backed coup in Ukraine has torn the country asunder.

American officials repeatedly promised Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastward after the reunification of Germany

At the end of the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to withdraw Soviet troops from Germany, American officials repeatedly promised Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastward after the reunification of Germany.

Disproof

Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about encircled Russia. Back in 2014, Gorbachev rejected this claim stating that the topic of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed at all. NATO Allies take decisions by consensus and these are recorded. There is no record of any decision that NATO would not to expand after the Cold War having been taken by the Alliance. Even if there was a personal assurance from an individual leader, it could not replace Alliance consensus and does not constitute a formal NATO agreement. Former Warsaw Pact countries began seeking NATO membership in the early 1990s. NATO actively sought to create a cooperative environment that was conducive to enlargement while simultaneously building special relations with Russia. NATO does not "expand" in the imperialistic sense described by pro-Kremlin media. Rather, it considers the applications of candidate countries who want to join the alliance based on their own national will. As such, NATO enlargement is not directed against Russia. NATO's "Open Door Policy" is based on Article 10 of the Alliance's founding document, the North Atlantic Treaty (1949). The Treaty states that NATO membership is open to any "European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area". Every sovereign nation has the right to choose its own security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security and one to which Russia has also subscribed. Read here similar cases claiming that the US government promised Mikhail Gorbachev that the Atlantic Alliance would not expand to the East, that NATO forgot all the previously existing agreements and expanded despite promises made to Gorbachev.

NATO establishes a colonial relationship with Ukraine disguised as partnership

NATO issued another item in the long list of “incentives” designed to mock Ukraine. The organisation designed Ukraine as an “Enhanced Opportunities Partner” along with other five nations (Georgia, Sweden, Finland, Australia and Jordan), rewarding their important contributions to NATO operations and goals with the opportunity of increasing dialogue and cooperation with the Alliance. Given its long history of political and military interaction with NATO, including a decade-long military deployment in Afghanistan, Ukraine reached a level of interoperability with NATO higher than some actual member states. Ukraine resembles NATO, speaks like NATO, acts like NATO, but it is not NATO, and it won’t be. So the question is what kind of relation NATO has in mind regarding to Ukraine, given that it will never become a member. By granting the status of “Enhanced Opportunities Partner” to Ukraine and those other nations, NATO is expanding its military capabilities without assuming the risks linked to the expansion of its membership. Ukrainian troops can be sacrificed in far lands without any real security interest for the Ukrainian people, but NATO will never mobilise under Article 5 to help Kyiv in its own territory. The relation reflects that of a colonial master and its vassal, demanding a lot and delivering little.

Disproof

Recurrent pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives about NATO and Ukraine. Contrary to the claim, the nature of Ukraine’s relation with the Atlantic Alliance is totally voluntary, as was the country’s participation in NATO missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The Enhanced Opportunities Partnership is a tailor-made programme to benefit both sides, not a colonial-style servitude. Kyiv requested formal membership of the Alliance in 2008, but plans to join it were shelved after Ukraine’s Parliament rejected it, and reemerged after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its sponsoring of the conflict in Donbas. In all these cases, the decision was taken solely by Ukrainian authorities. Though popular support for joining NATO was rather low among Ukrainians prior to 2014, it started to increase in that year due to Russia’s aggression against the country. In 2019, this support reached 53 percent, against 29 percent who oppose it. Other surveys confirmed these results. NATO membership is a stated goal of the current government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy. You can see other examples of these disinformation narratives in our database, such as claims that NATO instructors prepare Ukrainian soldiers to become war criminals, that Kyiv escalates the situation in the Azov Sea on behalf of the US and the Atlantic Alliance and prepares to build NATO bases in Donbas, that the Ukrainian government is a NATO puppet regime, or that NATO will invade Western regions of Ukraine.