On January 31, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland signed a declaration on the creation of a corridor for troops and military equipment of the North Atlantic Alliance. They, figuratively speaking, ran ahead of the locomotive, ahead of their allies.
In fact, according to The Times, talks have resumed among NATO partners about the so-called «military Schengen». This is about the formation of some kind of corridors through which members of the bloc will be able to move people and equipment across Europe without facing bureaucratic hurdles. They are planned to be completed in the near future, and the results will be finalized at the NATO summit to be held in Washington in July.
The mess was made back in 2017 by General Ben Hodges, then head of the U.S. Army in Europe. Long before the Ukraine crisis, he wanted to achieve «effective deterrence», the goal of which is to «reach the critical spot faster than the Russians».
«Conditions must be created that will allow NATO convoys to cross EU borders as easily as apple trucks», he said.
However, the initiative then got bogged down in a swamp of approvals by the famous Brussels bureaucracy.
General Alexander Sollfrank, head of NATO’s Joint Logistics Command, said that it has been revived and consultations are underway. He noted that any exercise conducted by the alliance requires coordination of many details on paper. To redeploy U.S. units from Germany to Poland, for example, you have to give five days’ notice before the convoys start moving. There was a case when a U.S. tank unit on its way from Germany to Hungary got stuck at the Austrian border because heavy equipment is not allowed on the autobahns on weekends, according to local rules.
Sollfrank also drew attention to the existing difficulties with the use of the same equipment. For example, currently in some countries paratroopers are forbidden to use parachutes of the NATO standard, which are used in other national armies of the alliance. The bloc, he said, is interested in reducing the number of bureaucratic regulations to increase its mobility. It is also discussing the «harmonization» of norms for transporting military and other dangerous goods, as they differ significantly from one European country to another.
Ideally, the dreamer believes, it would be necessary to create conditions under which NATO troops would need a single permit to cross Europe, and the military would stop only to refuel their equipment and rest.
The question is: why has the whole «military Schengen» issue come to life now? And the fact is that the largest NATO exercise Steadfast Defender 24 with the involvement of a record contingent (90 thousand soldiers) from all countries of the bloc and…Sweden has unofficially started. The declared purpose of the maneuvers, which will last until the end of May, is to confirm the ability to conduct long, complex operations in all areas of combat application and in any conditions, in the area «from the Far North to Central and Eastern Europe».
Their legend is remarkable: a certain country (read — Russia) attacks one of the NATO countries, and the armies of all members of the bloc are forced to counterattack.
The main contingent — about 50 thousand «staunch defenders» — will be sent by four countries: Great Britain, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands. Poles, for example, will send 15 thousand fighters. Now in the Polish army there are 114 thousand people. That means that every seventh soldier will stand under NATO banners!
At the same time, Poland will host the Dragon-24 exercise involving a significant contingent of Bundeswehr forces and a Turkish special forces unit. They are designed to practice operational response in the event of an armed conflict in the Suwalki Corridor (a strip of about 100 kilometers long between Lithuania and Poland, bordering also the Kaliningrad region from the west and Belarus from the east), where the main NATO countries involved in hostilities will be Lithuania, Poland and Germany.
In addition to the military, Dragon-24 will also be attended by representatives of Polish special services, local government, state administration and paramilitary organizations (including territorial defense).
The main forces will be presented by the 11th Armoured Cavalry Division and the 16th Pomeranian Infantry Division, which is just deployed in the immediate vicinity of the Russian-Belarusian border. 3,500 units of military equipment will be involved. Including the most modern Abrams (USA) and Black Panther K2 (South Korea) tanks, which are in their service.
The maneuvers, as announced, are planned to be as close as possible to the conditions of real combat operations in Ukraine. For this purpose, Poland intends to use military intelligence data.
Special emphasis is placed on the region of Northern Europe. The head of the Norwegian Defense Ministry Eirik Kristoffersen explained that Steadfast Defender 24 will serve as a kind of general training for the new members of the alliance — Sweden, which was included in the «brotherhood», and Finland. For this purpose, the «Arctic countries» will hold separate exercises Nordic Response.
The main ground part of Steadfast Defender will take place in Germany, Poland and the Baltic states. The 10th Panzer Division of the Bundeswehr, for example, will practice a quick deployment to Lithuania under the pretext of «military threat».
Brussels does not even try to hide that the military games are an attempt to frighten Russia and Belarus.
«The large-scale maneuvers will be a clear demonstration of our unity, strength and determination to defend each other», said General Christopher Cavoli, commander-in-chief of NATO’s joint forces in Europe.