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ISW: Russia conducting information campaign to misrepresent NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises

As NATO commences its Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises, Russia has launched an information campaign portraying NATO’s actions as provocative to deflect attention from its own aggression.
Leopard tank
A German Leopard 2A6 main batle tank during exercise Iron Wolf II in Lithuania in October 2017. Illustrative photo: Flickr/NATO

Russia is conducting an information campaign aimed at portraying NATO’s defensive Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises as provocative actions, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its daily report.

NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises, commencing next week and extending through May, have drawn attention from both NATO officials and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). General Chris Cavoli, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, announced the participation of 90,000 personnel from 31 NATO member states and Sweden, along with an impressive array of military assets, emphasizing NATO’s intent to reinforce the Euro-Atlantic area during simulated conflict scenarios.

Chair of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Rob Bauer reinforced NATO’s stance, cautioning against complacency and the need to “expect the unexpected” regarding potential conflicts with Russia, a sentiment echoed by German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, who highlighted the Kremlin’s incessant threats.

Since the announcement of the exercises in September 2023, the Russian MFA has misleadingly portrayed NATO’s actions as increasingly provocative and aggressive. They have accused NATO of conducting a “demonstration of force” on Russia’s doorstep, despite Russia’s own military activities near NATO’s borders.

Yulia Zhdanova, a Russian delegation member at the OSCE, claimed that NATO exercises provoked a “game of nerves” and further escalated tensions. Meanwhile, a Kremlin-affiliated milblogger dismissed concerns about a future Russian attack on NATO as an attempt by the German government to artificially create a non-existent threat.

ISW’s report suggests that Russia’s information campaign aims to divert attention from its recent aggressive rhetoric and actions toward NATO. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have issued threats against Finland and the broader NATO alliance, painting the West as Russia’s “enemy” and justifying its actions in Ukraine as a battle against the West. Moreover, Russia has engaged in electronic warfare exercises that disrupted GPS signals across Poland and the Baltic region, raising concerns about its intentions.

In conclusion, the ISW report underscores Russia’s deliberate efforts to manipulate the narrative surrounding NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercises, portraying it as provocative while ignoring its own aggressive behavior. This information operation seeks to distract from Russia’s hostile rhetoric and actions towards NATO and its persistent goal of weakening the alliance.

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