Russian armed forces active during COVID-19 pandemic: analysis

Although the Russian armed forces have been mobilised to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, troops have not stopped intensive training, a Polish foreign affairs analyst has said. Russian troops are also conducting operations in Syria, Armenia and Tajikistan, Anna Maria Dyner said in an analysis published by a Polish think tank. This shows that the army is an important tool in Russian internal and foreign policy, Dyner said, adding that the significant mobilisation potential of the Russian armed forces will be an important challenge for NATO countries. In March and April, despite the spreading pandemic and involvement of part of the army in combating its effects, Russian military exercises were not cancelled, according to Dyner, who is an analyst with the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), a leading Central European think tank. Exercises took place mainly in the west of Russia, despite

announcements in March by Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin about their suspension on NATO borders, Dyner said in her analysis, which is entitled Activities of the Russian Armed Forces during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Drills near Polish border In the Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave sandwiched between Poland and the Baltic states, rocket, artillery and aviation units were among those taking part in the exercises, according to Dyner. In other parts of the Western Military District, air defence and radio-electronic units underwent exercises, she said. Meanwhile, in the Southern Military District, most activities were carried out in annexed Crimea, mainly concerning coastal defence, and the Caucasus, as part of preparations for this year’s largest drills, the Caucasus 2020 exercises scheduled for September. In the Eastern Military District, long-range strategic bombers and the Pacific Fleet trained, while mechanised and air defence units were active in the Arctic, Dyner said. Russian aircraft intercepted by NATO over Baltic She added that Russian aircraft were also intercepted by NATO fighters, over the Baltic Sea and the coast of Alaska, and Russia has tested ground-based anti-satellite missiles. The re-arming of the Kaliningrad Oblast continued, with new BM-30 Smerch multi-rocket launcher systems deployed to the 244th artillery brigade to strengthen the exclave’s defence system, according to Dyner. She added that, officially, this was presented as a response to the strengthening of NATO’s Eastern Flank and military manoeuvres conducted there, including Defender Europe 2020. Russian medical brigades deployed to Italy During the pandemic, the Russian army has also conducted operations abroad, Dyner said. For example, eight medical brigades were sent to Italy. They included military doctors, biological and chemical protection troops and decontamination equipment. The medics were sent to work in a field hospital near Bergamo. However, the Italian press reported that a significant number of Russian military personnel present were intelligence officers who focused on obtaining sensitive information on armed forces stationed in Italy, according to Dyner. She argued that the support given to Italy was intended to show that Russia is a reliable partner, more helpful than the European Union or NATO. Sending troops to a NATO member was also supposed to prove that the Russian army is not a threat to anyone and that it is an institution with which everyone can cooperate, Dyner added. Ultimately, this will also be used as an argument to persuade the West to reset relations and lift the sanctions imposed on Russia in connection with its aggression against Ukraine, according to Dyner. source: polskieradio

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