The military turning point after the Russian attack on the Ukraine has reached the practitioners in Germany. High-intensity warfare is to be trained again. At its summit in Madrid, which begins on Tuesday, NATO is also setting the course.
The new commander of the Bundeswehr Operations Command, Bernd Schütt, sees the greatest danger of a military escalation with Russia on NATO’s north-eastern flank. “And that’s why the point of credible deterrence in this region is a very central point for me. The presence of land forces plays a central role here,” said the lieutenant general, who took command at the end of last year, the German press agency. There will also be increased exercises for national and alliance defense in his command. “We have not yet trained this type of intensive warfare here. Existing structures and procedures need to be adapted.”
Starting Tuesday, the heads of state and government of NATO will be meeting in Madrid to discuss the military alliance’s response to the Russian attack. It is about a strategic concept, future financing and strengthening the eastern flank – also through an increased presence of combat troops to defend the partners.
The geographical weak point is the Suwalki Gap
The Operations Command in Schwielowsee near Potsdam manages the Bundeswehr contingents on deployments abroad in national matters – such as material, personnel and disciplinary matters – but not operationally. During operations like in Lithuania – where the Bundeswehr leads a multinational NATO battle group (eFP) – the German soldiers are also involved in the defense planning of the respective country. After more concrete Russian threats in the dispute over transit traffic to the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, fears in the Baltic States have recently grown.
The close land connection between the Baltic states and the other NATO states, the so-called Suwalki gap, is considered a geographical weak point. It separates Kaliningrad from Belarus.
“In the area of the Suwalki gap, it’s only a short jump and there the danger of testing NATO’s will and ability to defend itself is relatively high. In this area, troops can be deployed relatively quickly and then, for example, using airborne troops, a first one Carry out a push,” said Schütt. “In Putin’s rationale: maybe he thinks NATO won’t come.”
Credible deterrence is key
That is why it is so important that the NATO troops are present and reinforced in the Baltic States. “It’s more than a trip wire. Putin will have to think very carefully about how the reaction will turn out,” said Schuett. Credible deterrence is key. “In my view, credibility is made up of three things. They have an executable plan that is backed up with the appropriate powers and abilities. And they declare that they are ready to use these powers. And they don’t waver. They show that and demonstrate it you.”
This contributed to the fact that no preparations for an attack on NATO territory could be identified. “One thing has finally come to an end: that it can be done without preparation. Even the Russians can’t do it without preparation,” said Schütt. There is a warning period, but no preparation time before training and bringing forces together.
After the end of the Cold War, the Bundeswehr was trimmed to provide capabilities and contingents for foreign operations – with special capabilities that were limited to the task. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, a change of direction was made and alliance defense was again included in the portfolio of tasks. In 2017, the eFP battle group was set up in Lithuania.
General Schütt: another dimension
“Of course, what we could face has a completely different dimension. We then have different rooms, different coordination requirements and we have to practice that,” said Schütt. “The operational command is divided into task forces, which were structured from Mali to maritime missions, among other things. Now, with national and alliance defense, there is a huge additional elephant in the room, which requires adjustments to be able to cope with both.”