By Li Shurui
A few days ago, a joint military exercise led by the UK kicked off with more than 4,000 military personnel and 44 warships from nine countries in Lithuania, near the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. According to British media reports, this is the largest Royal Navy force sent by the UK to the Baltic Sea for more than a century.
The Baltic Sea provides an important channel for the Russian fleet to enter the Atlantic, the strategic value of which is self-evident. The UK-led joint military exercise here is undoubtedly intended to “show muscles” at the doorway of Russia, which has naturally been repeatedly accused by the Kremlin as deliberate provocation.
According to Feng Yujun, deputy dean of the Institute of International Studies at China’s Fudan University, although the Russian side is tough with words, or even it may also enhance the deployment of military forces in the west, especially to deploy some new equipment in relevant locations such as Crimea, it’s unlikely to take any substantive military actions, nor will there be any possibility of direct conflicts.
For the UK, the joint military exercise is more like a “play” directed by the UK and co-starring many countries. The "poisoning" of Russian former spy in Britain last year caused Russia-UK relations to fall to a record low point since the Cold War. It is widely believed that Britain hopes to send a strong message to Russia by the exercise. UK’s Defense Secretary Penelope Mary Mordaunt scrambled to the Lithuanian port, only 50 kilometers away from Kaliningrad, and declared: “Russia is becoming increasingly tough and has deployed more troops and new weapons. Therefore, to be with our allies is important and correct for the UK.”
“The exercise is just an exercise”, said Tian Dewen, Deputy Director of the Institute of European Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “It is difficult for the UK to pour more energy and funds in its military when the ‘Brexit’ process has been delayed for such a long time. The military exercise is more symbolic than of actual significance”, he added. Tian also pointed out that the British political intentions were also revealed through the action, that is, to support the Baltic countries by further suppressing Russia’s strategic space.
It is understood that the nine countries participating in the joint military exercise are mostly NATO countries except for Finland and Sweden. After the autonomous republic of Crimea became part of Russia in March 2014 following a local referendum, the confrontation between Russia and NATO countries has intensified. NATO has strengthened its military deployment in Central and Eastern Europe, while Russia has taken countermeasures correspondingly.
Feng said that although France and Germany are now trying to ease relations with Russia to some extent, the UK still shows a strong anti-Russian attitude. Last year, the “poisoning” of a former Russian spy even triggered a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. After that, hostile incidents between the two sides have kept occurring. According to the news released by Britain’s Ministry of Defense, since the Baltic air patrol mission began in May this year, British fighters have carried out 11 interceptions on Russian aircraft flying over the region.
Facing such a situation, Russian President Vladimir Putin once called on the UK to leave the spying or attempted assassination things behind and turned over a new leaf in their relationship. He claimed that the country’s economic and social interests, and issues related to global security are much more important than the security departments’ games. However, the UK does not see it that way. Tian pointed out that the initiative is still more in the hands of the UK as to the improvement of Russia-UK relations in the future.
Experts said that there will be no substantive military conflict between Russia and the UK at present. However, both sides are at high stakes in the long run to sound each other out by resorting to military means. A minor incident might spark a war. The two countries should remain calm and they’d better not to go too far in the confrontation.