Estonia Plans a ‘Spring Storm’ to Match Russia’s Might
“Russia only understands one thing, and that’s power,” one senior officer said.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Jack and Robbie here.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Jack and Robbie here.
Some sad news before we start: Arman Soldin, Agence France-Presse’s video coordinator in Ukraine, was killed by rocket fire in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, the wire service announced. Our thoughts go out to all of his friends and loved ones. At least 10 journalists have been killed covering Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: Estonia is still preparing for a Russian military incursion, U.S. officials fear that the war in Sudan could spiral into a regional conflict, and Britain sends long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine.
Display of Force
TAPA ARMY BASE, Estonia—On a bright Wednesday afternoon near bucolic forests in the Estonian countryside, hundreds of soldiers rushed around the country’s largest military base, preparing for a war they hope they will never have to fight.
The Tapa base, Estonia’s largest, is one of the closest of any NATO member to the Russian border. In recent days, it has become a beehive of activity for Estonian, British, French, and other NATO country forces ahead of a massive military exercise involving 14,000 troops from 11 countries.
The exercise, dubbed Spring Storm, is meant to stress-test how allied militaries will work and fight together, in the (hopefully unlikely) event of any military incursion from Russia. SitRep is along for the ride here, gauging the atmosphere on NATO’s vulnerable eastern flank and interviewing top European officials at the annual Lennart Meri security conference in Tallinn this weekend.
To sum things up from the interviews so far: NATO has done a lot since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February to shake off the cobwebs and get back to its old job of collective defense, Cold War-style. But not nearly enough to ease the rattled nerves of its eastern members. One major ingredient to the deterrence recipe, at least NATO allies hope, is conducting exercises like Spring Storm.
“Russia only understands one thing, and that’s power,” one military officer said. “They need to be able to see us with our allies ready to fight from the first moment.”
The United Kingdom is dispatching Wildcat and Apache attack helicopters to Estonia to participate in Spring Storm, while France sent AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles and Caesar self-propelled howitzers.
Spring Storm is one of dozens of large military exercises that NATO countries have organized to flex their military might in a signal to Russia. Those exercises have only increased in size and scope since last February.
There are 18 major exercises scheduled in NATO countries between May and September this year, according to data from NATO’s military headquarters. Some involve thousands of troops.
The United Kingdom leads a NATO battle group that is stationed in Estonia, alongside forces from France and Denmark. The forces stationed in Estonia are learning the lay of the land and mapping out how best to defend the small Baltic countries should the worst—a Russian invasion—ever come to pass.
Despite its small size and population (around 1.3 million), Estonia isn’t resting on its laurels, instead ramping up defense spending to 3 percent of GDP by 2024 and procuring high-end weapons such as air defense systems and HIMARS rockets, systems that have been dispatched to lethally effective use in Ukraine.
Russia has suffered significant losses—to the tune of 200,000 troops by some estimates—in Ukraine, badly eroding its army, but its air and naval capabilities remain largely intact, a fact that’s not lost on military leaders in this part of the world. Moscow’s efforts to carry out a mass conscription, while clumsy and poorly coordinated, put fresh troops on the front lines in Ukraine within five weeks of the call-up.
“They’ve run out of quality troops, but they still have big numbers,” a senior Eastern European defense official said. “At some point, quantity becomes a quality of its own.”
Let’s Get Personnel
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides will leave his post this summer, Axios reports. There’s no word yet on who may replace him, but once he leaves, the embassy’s No. 2, Stephanie Hallett, will serve as U.S. chargé d’affaires in the interim.
After an 18-month political battle, the Senate confirmed U.S. President Joe Biden’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, Geeta Rao Gupta, by a vote of 51 to 47.
Biden has nominated John W. Leslie Jr., the former chairman of the public relations firm Weber Shandwick, to join the board of directors of the African Development Foundation.
On the Button
What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.
Chaos in the Horn. U.S.- and U.N.-led efforts to usher in a democratic transition in Sudan were deeply flawed and may have helped put the country on the path to the current conflict, as Robbie reported in a deep dive this week. Officials whom he spoke to say they fear that without an end to the conflict, it could spiral into a full-scale civil war and black hole of instability akin to Libya—bad news for a region already wracked by instability and humanitarian crises.
Supply chain pain. The delivery of 66 U.S.-made F-16V fighter jets to Taiwan is being delayed due to supply chain issues, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Thursday. Taiwan was expecting to start obtaining jets from the $8 billion sale by the end of 2023, which would give it more than 200 F-16 jets, by far the largest tally in Asia, as Chinese incursions into Taipei’s air defense identification zone have steadily gone up in the past several years. Taiwan has warned of the impacts of delayed U.S. arms deliveries on its military preparedness for a possible cross-strait Chinese invasion.
Gathering storm. The United Kingdom has delivered “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles to Ukraine ahead of an expected military offensive into Russian-occupied territory, CNN reported Thursday, before British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace gave official confirmation of the shipment. The missile, jointly produced with France, would give Ukraine the range to strike 155 miles behind enemy lines. That’s a little less than the 185-mile range of the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missile System that the Biden administration has weighed sending but for now fulfills a request from Kyiv to get weapons that can hit Russian targets at much greater distances.
Still, it’s not clear the deliveries have changed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s thinking about the timing of an offensive: He told the BBC this week that Ukraine needs more time to mass troops and secure armored vehicles to go on the attack.
Fun fact: The Storm Shadow is known colloquially as the “thick missile” on Ukrainian social media.
Cargo shipment. The Biden administration has accused South Africa of providing ammunition to Moscow via a Russian ship that docked in the country in late 2022. U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety said Thursday that the United States was “confident” that South Africa had transferred weapons and ammunition to a Russian cargo ship docked in the Simon’s Town naval base near Cape Town. South Africa has formally indicated that it has a nonaligned policy in international conflicts but has been seen as getting closer to Russia, especially after hosting Chinese and Russian forces for 10 days of joint military drills in February.
Put on Your Radar
Thursday, May 11: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley are testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Thursday is the last day of Sudan’s seven-day military truce, the latest cease-fire effort that never really started in earnest, anyway.
It is also the one-year anniversary of the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering a raid by the Israel Defense Forces on a refugee camp in the West Bank, despite being clearly identified as a member of the press.
Friday, May 12: U.S. President Joe Biden is set to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the White House. No word yet on whether an afternoon siesta or a Rose Garden running with the bulls is also planned to coincide with the meeting.
Sunday, May 14: Turkey and Thailand hold presidential and legislative elections.
Quote of the Week
“We have a WhatsApp group. … I can travel anywhere in the world, and I text the group and say where I’m going and when, and there is a house I can stay at. … It’s like a free Airbnb for us Habsburgs.”
—Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen, the 20-something heir apparent to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, who tells the New York Times that the empire that lasted six centuries still exists, if only among the 600 living descendants of the dynasty who communicate on WhatsApp
This Week’s Most Read
- Ukraine’s Air War Heats Up by Jack Detsch
- A BRICS Currency Could Shake the Dollar’s Dominance by Joseph W. Sullivan
- Turkey’s Elections Won’t Be Free or Fair by Nate Schenkkan and Aykut Garipoglu
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Victory day? Hope everyone had a less lonely week than the single, 80-year-old Ukrainian-built tank that Russia could manage to muster for its annual military parade this week. Yikes.
Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer
Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch
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