Cablegate: Mission Usnato

DE RUEHNO #0546/01 3271323
P 231323Z NOV 09

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 USNATO 000546



Classified By: Ambassador Daalder for reasons 1.4 (b/d).

1. (S) Summary: NATO Allies expressed concern during a November 18 North Atlantic Council meeting over the message Russia intended to send by using a provocative scenario for its largest military exercises since the Soviet era, and structuring events to avoid inviting observers. The exercise centered on repelling an attack launched from Poland and Lithuania, and included the simulated use of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. The Secretary General called the Russian action "provocative and inappropriate," and said the information provided by Russia on the exercises had been unsatisfactory. Several Allies criticized NATOs "failure" to respond adequately to the Russian moves, which some felt had shaken Allied solidarity. The U.S. objected to Russias failure to allow observers at the exercises, and advised NATO to remain transparent when holding its own exercises. Lithuania and Norway said that the Russian activity should be reflected in NATO military planning. Many Allies reacted strongly to the exercises, both the execution and the lack of transparency, and to NATOs slow response. As the U.S. navigates the differences within NATO regarding Russia, it must also be prepared to respond forcefully to such Russian provocations. End summary.

Largest Russian Exercises -------------------------

2. (S) On November 18, the NATO International Military Staff (IMS) briefed the North Atlantic Council (NAC) on the recent Russian military exercises Zapad and Ladoga, which had concerned many Allies because of the provocative scenario that had Russia and Belarus repel an attack launched from Poland and Lithuania. The IMS determined that the exercises, the largest Russia has held since the Soviet era, were intended to address command and control deficiencies identified during the August 2008 conflict in Georgia, and to test the restructuring of the Russian armed forces toward more maneuverable units. The IMS provided the following information on the exercises:

-- Ladoga, held from August 10 to September 29, 2009, involved 15,000 Russian troops. Zapad was held from September 8-29, 2009, and involved 7,000 Belarussian troops and 11,000 Russian troops.

-- The Russians conducted this scenario as a series of exercises, possibly to keep the number of troops under the Vienna Documents legal threshold requiring observers. The exercises were assessed as having shared a common command center.

-- The exercises included offensive and defensive air operations, deployment of troops over long distances, joint operations with air forces, river crossings and live firing at night, long range aviation missions, amphibious landing operations, and missile launches, some of which may have simulated the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

-- The exercises demonstrated that Russia has limited capability for joint operations with air forces, continues to rely on aging and obsolete equipment, lacks all-weather capability and strategic transportation means, is not able to conduct network centric warfare, has an officer corps lacking flexibility, and has a manpower shortage.

-- NATO IMS concluded that Russian armed forces were: able to respond to a small to mid-sized local and regional conflict in its western region; not able to respond to two small conflicts in different geographical areas simultaneously; not able to conduct large scale conventional operations; and still relying on the use of tactical nuclear weapons, even in local or regional conflicts.

Exercises are "Provocative and Inappropriate" ---------------------------------------------

3. (C) The SecGen characterized the exercises as "provocative and inappropriate" considering that NATO and Russia had committed to address their concerns in a collective manner. He warned, however, that NATOs response to the exercises
should not initiate a "downward spiral" in relations with Russia. Despite Allies raising with Russia their concern about the exercises, both in the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and bilaterally, the Russian reaction had been "unsatisfactory." He suggested that NATO raise the exercises at the next NRC Ambassadorial meeting and during the NRC Ministerial in December, and pledged to raise the matter during his upcoming visit to Moscow.

NATO Was Silent ---------------

4. (C) NATO Allies from Central and Eastern Europe and Canada commented on what they saw as NATOs failure to respond adequately to the Russian exercises, both publicly and within the Alliance. This validated the point made in a recent non-paper signed by Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which called for an enhanced and regular discussion of Russia within NATO (septel). Countries made the following points:

-- Lithuania said that Russia disregarded the effects of the exercises on its neighbors, which were particularly sensitive to such provocations after Russian actions in Georgia and the announcement of Moscows intention to protect its compatriots abroad.

-- Poland complained that "NATO was silent" when the exercises took place, although it was satisfied that the NAC was now discussing this issue, thereby demonstrating "Allied solidarity as Poland understood it."

-- Latvia observed that even after several Allies had made their concern about the Russian exercises known, NATO failed to respond sufficiently, thus raising questions about NATO solidarity.

-- Romania thought that the Russian actions had too close a resemblance to the Cold War era, and was part of a disturbing trend in Russian behavior.

-- The Czech Republic said it was "politically unacceptable" for a NATO Partner to demonstrate the behavior exhibited by Russia, which called into question this Partners "credibility."

-- Estonia quoted from the NATO strategic intelligence document MC-161, which states that "Russia will continue to test the credibility and cohesion of the Alliance, including the joint defense clause."

5. (C) The SecGen responded that "everything" could be discussed within the Alliance, but noted these Allies desire to discuss Russia more often and said he would continue to put it on the agenda. He suggested discussing the exercises at the November 25 NRC Ambassadorial meeting. (Note: Poland proposed at the November 19 NRC Preparatory Committee Meeting that the exercises be put on the agenda of the NRC Ambassadorial. Russia resisted, prompting Allies to support Polands suggestion. End note.)

Confidence Building a "Two Way Street" --------------------------------------

6. (C) Several Allies responded to Russian actions more cautiously, with Italy warning the Allies not to "over dramatize" the exercises. Italy, however, also raised concerns about Russias failure to allow observers, commenting that confidence building was a "two way street."

7. (C) Ambassador Daalder called the lack of transparency demonstrated by a Partner country disturbing. He added that each nation had a right to hold military exercises, but a case could be made that Russia had violated its commitments by failing to allow observers. Ambassador Daalder urged NATO to avoid a "tit-for-tat response, and be as transparent as possible when holding its own exercises.

8. (C) Germany was tough on Russia, saying that it agreed with Allies that the scope and purpose of the exercises did not square with "where we want to go with NATO-Russia
relations." The NRC was the appropriate place to raise the Russian exercises, but this would allow Russia to raise concerns about NATO exercises. Germany said that its experts had determined that Russia had not formally violated the terms of the Vienna Document, and reminded the NAC that NATO had opposed lowering the legal threshold for requiring observers at military exercises.

Russian Actions Should Inform NATO Planning -------------------------------------------

9. (C) Lithuania thought that the exercises suggested that Russia would continue planning for military action against "NATO territory," which should factor into NATOs own military planning. Norway agreed, and said that the Russian activities on the periphery of the Alliance pointed to the need to improve NATO geographic planning, as well as to enhance the initiative to raise NATOs profile by having a physical presence in certain member states.

Comment -------

10. (C) Allies displayed a greater than usual degree of unity in this discussion of Russia, and from this we conclude that one of the greatest engines of Allied unity on relations with Russia is Moscows willingness to act in a manner uncomfortable for Allies. The fact that Allies viewed NATOs "failure" to respond adequately to the Russian exercises as raising questions of Allied solidarity is worth noting. If Allies feel that their concerns about Russia are not adequately reflected in NATO public statements and internal discussions, they will continue to press for more, as the six nations did in their recent non-paper. The discussion also underscored that a decision to conduct routine contingency planning and exercises designed in part to demonstrate the vitality of the Alliances Article 5 commitments are unlikely to be politically contentious within the Alliance

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