In a move that underscores the increasing tension between Russia and the Western world, NATO is gearing up for the Steadfast Defender war drills, scheduled to take place in early 2024. Anticipated to be the largest military exercises in Europe since the conclusion of the Cold War, these drills are set against the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has seen neither Russia nor the Western powers backing down. NATO's Steadfast Defender exercises are designed to simulate the alliance's response to potential Russian actions against one of its member states, involving over 40,000 troops.
Scheduled to occur in February and March, the Steadfast Defender exercises will span various locations across Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states. Some of these locations border Russia and are expected to be viewed as a provocation by Moscow. The drills are anticipated to involve approximately 500 to 700 air combat missions, more than 50 ships, and around 41,000 troops. The objective is to simulate potential maneuvers against an enemy resembling a coalition led by Russia, codenamed Occasus for the exercise.
The Baltic Sea coastline has taken on a strategic significance in recent years due to NATO's growing presence. Russia's Kaliningrad exclave is situated between two NATO members, Poland and Lithuania, making it a sensitive area. Politico reported in July on NATO's increasing influence in the Baltic Sea, a vital maritime gateway for the Russian fleet, which has bases near St. Petersburg and in the heavily militarized Kaliningrad exclave.
During the Cold War, only Denmark and Germany were NATO members on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. With the accession of Poland in 1999 and the three Baltic republics in 2004, most of the coastline now falls under NATO control.
In response to past NATO exercises in the Baltic Sea, Russia has conducted large drills in the Black Sea. However, this region is currently in a state of war, with Russian warships launching missiles against Ukraine from the Black Sea.