Russia warned NATO remains ready for attack after Putin’s sabre-rattling military drills

The pandemic has forced NATO to cancel some major exercises including the huge US-led Defender Europe 2020 which had been anticipated to be one of the largest US military drills in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which stands accused of waging a mass campaign of disinformation about coronavirus, has been sabre-rattling in drills close to the NATO allies’ borders, including British waters.

Our primary objective is to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis

Jens Stoltenberg

But NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg insisted “operational readiness” had not been affected by the coronavirus crisis and said the alliance’s ability to defend itself had not been weakened.

He told a video news conference: “Our primary objective is to ensure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis.”

Mr Stoltenberg also said NATO’s “core task” to provide security for nearly a billion people would not be impacted by the global crisis.

But he warned the recent Russian war games near NATO ally borders were a stark reminder the alliance must not lose its focus on defending Europe.

Earlier, the US military acknowledged the pandemic was having a major impact on its troop movements across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A spokesman for US European Command said: “In response to the current outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and recent guidance by the Secretary of Defence, we have modified exercise DEFENDER-Europe 2020 in size and scope.

“All movement of personnel and equipment from the United States to Europe has ceased.

“The health, safety and readiness of our military, civilians, and family members is our primary concern.”

The exercise had been touted as a sign of US solidarity with Europe and included the movement of some 20,000 troops to the continent.

Several other drills linked to the larger exercise, including Dynamic Front, Joint Warfighting Assessment, Saber Strike and Swift Response have been scrapped.

The spokesman said: “Forces already deployed to Europe for other linked exercises will return to the United States.”

At a news briefing carried via video-conference from Brussels, Mr Stoltenberg said NATO was doing its part to airlift necessary emergency medical equipment.

He said a military cargo aircraft left Turkey yesterday with a consignment of protective gear and other medical equipment for Spain and Italy.

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Mr Stolttenberg said coronavirus was a “common invisible enemy” and a synchronised response from NATO allies was needed.

He said: “Very often, when we face a crisis, it’s a crisis which is only affecting one or two, or a limited number of nations, and then the other nations can provide support.

“This time, the crisis affects us all.”

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