In an interview for Gazeta Polska weekly, Lt. General Christopher G. Cavoli, the Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe said: Poland shows an extremely low level of organization, but it has slightly better military logistics and infrastructure than do the Baltic States.
Mr. Kavoli, exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20 Plus - is this the same military exercise canceled over coronavirus concerns or completely different maneuvers that will be conducted according to another plan?
In response to COVID-19, the U.S.-led multinational exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20 was modified in size and scope in March when the deployment of forces from the U.S. to Europe was halted and some linked exercises were cancelled. Modified from its original shape to ensure the safety of Soldiers because of the COVID-19 health crisis, the U.S. and Polish bilateral exercise will feature a Polish airborne operation and a U.S.-Polish division-size river crossing. The main goal of the exercise is to increase strategic readiness and interoperability stemming from the ability to quickly deploy troops across the Atlantic, as well as to test the host nation support. Exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20 Plus will be conducted from 5 to 19 June.
It was previously announced that the series of activities comprising DEFENDER-Europe 20 and linked exercises will be the largest deployment of U.S.- based Army forces to Europe for an exercise in the last 25 years. How many troops and military equipment should be involved this time?
Approximately 6 000 U.S. and Polish soldiers will take part in the exercise. Of those, about 4 000 U.S. soldiers will come from the 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters (Forward); 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division; and 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade; and approximately 2 000 Polish Soldiers will come from the 6th Polish Airborne Brigade; 9th Polish Armored Calvary Brigade; and 12th Polish Mechanized Brigade.
Mr. Kavoli, it is known that initially the exercise was supposed to comprise other European countries, such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Today we are already talking about conducting maneuvers only in Poland. Was this decision made due to the situation with COVID-19 in these countries?
Frankly speaking, the reason is not coronavirus. U.S. troops and multinational battalion groups are deployed in the Baltic States and Poland and they are also in the Baltic air-policing mission. Military maneuvers, as you mentioned, were planned also in other countries. But they will be held in Poland. This is due to the fact that Poland has slightly better military logistics and infrastructure than do the Baltic countries.
Nevertheless, what are the factors that affected the decision of the U.S. top military to limit the maneuver scale to military training grounds in Poland only and to reject the idea of using the military infrastructure in the Baltics?
In terms of preparing for the exercise, Poland shows an extremely low level of organization. What is worse, however, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are absolutely not ready for the exercise at the moment. Moreover, we are not satisfied with the host nation support in the Baltics. All financial expenses are covered by the Pentagon budget.
In other words, the Baltic States unlike Poland show disregard for their allied commitments? U.S.-NATO leadership has some doubts about them, doesn’t it?
It’s absolutely impossible to speak about any kind of quality and responsibility of our partners in the Baltics. They, as you said, simply do not stick to their allied commitments. In theory, everything is observed, however in practice, the governments of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia show lack of will to strengthen cooperation within NATO. They want to do their job with our money and with our own hands — that is, to get cheap military equipment, to build military infrastructure facilities, to upgrade their military airfields ... It is this “devious” policy that Washington refuses to accept and understand.
Complete exclusion of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from the list of countries hosting DEFENDER-Europe 20 Plus exercise which, by the way, is a symbol of U.S.-NATO unity and strength, is some kind of a signal for the political leadership of these states, isn’t it?
I will not talk about any hidden or overt signals; it is beyond my competence. But if you want my opinion, the leaders of the Baltic States need to draw a number of conclusions and to thoroughly consider their future and the ways they will ensure their military security and sovereignty in the years to come.
Does it mean that the situation could develop into limitation of cooperation with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia within NATO?
This is a real scenario. Moreover, if the situation and the approach of the Baltics remains unchanged, their future will depend only on themselves then. Mere ambition is not enough to receive military assistance and protection – you need to do something by yourself.
Thanks for your time.
All the best.