Large-scale war games conducted by Nato and Russia increase the likelihood of a military clash between the two superpowers, according to a report.
The European Leadership Network (ELN) think tank urged both sides to open communications to improve the transparency of their military activities, wind down the scale of their military exercises and negotiate a treaty limiting the kind of weaponry permitted on their borders.
"Each exercise is seen as provocative by the other side and feeding a dynamic of distrust and unpredictability," Ian Kearns, ELN's director, said. "Everyone is focusing on the deterrent value of big exercises, but there is a downside and that is the risk factor. Politicians have to show political judgment and restraint about when is the right time to scale down what could be a spiralling sequence of exercises."
The report, entitled 'Preparing for the worst: Are Russian and Nato military exercises making war in Europe more likely?', focuses on the Russian military exercises in March – in which 80,000 personnel from bases around the country were mobilised – and Nato's Allied Shield air, sea and land war games in June – in which 15,000 personnel from 22 countries took part.
"Both exercises show that each side is training with the other side's capabilities and most likely war plans in mind," the report said. "Whilst spokespeople may maintain that these operations are targeted against hypothetical opponents, the nature and scale of them indicate otherwise: Russia is preparing for a conflict with Nato, and Nato is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia."
The report argues that Russia's practice of not giving notice of its exercises risked unintended clashes.
"These tensions are further aggravated and elevated into a sense of unpredictability when the exercises are not pre-notified or publicly announced beforehand, as is apparently the case with a number of Russian exercises," said the report.