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US and Russia agree to boost military communications: Pentagon
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 16, 2017

Finland beefs up military amid rising Russian tensions
Helsinki (AFP) Feb 16, 2017 - Finland's government announced plans Thursday to strengthen the country's military capacity due to concerns over assertive behaviour from its powerful eastern neighbour Russia.

Finland, which is not a NATO member, will increase the number of its wartime troops from the current 230,000 to 280,000 to "improve the capability to defend the entire territory of the country", which shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia, the government wrote in a defence report.

"Russia aims to strengthen its great-power status, and it has expressed the goal of a sphere-of-influence based security regime," the report said, noting the security situation in the Baltic Sea region surrounding Finland had deteriorated.

The increase in wartime troops entails a modest addition of 55 million euros ($58.6 million) to Finland's annual military spending of 2.4 billion euros ($2.56 billion), but the government said expenditure was to increase more significantly after 2020.

The Nordic country plans to replace its ageing maritime fleet as well as its Hornet fighter jets during the next decade.

Finnish Finance Minister Petteri Orpo said the investments would raise Finland's defence expenditure by 0.3-0.4 percentage points to 1.5-1.6 percentage points of the country's gross domestic product in the 2020s.

"Which would put it on a good, or very good European level," Orpo said.

In October 2016, Finland and the US signed a bilateral defence cooperation deal, after a similar agreement between Sweden and the US was signed in June.

After Russia's annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Finland has also stepped up its bilateral military cooperation with its western neighbour Sweden.

The US and Russian militaries agreed to "enhance communications" after a meeting between their top commanders in Azerbaijan on Thursday, the Pentagon said.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford and his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov discussed military relations between the two countries as well as security in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere during their meeting in the capital Baku.

The two sides "have undertaken efforts to improve operational safety of military activities in order to decrease the prospects for crisis and avoid the risk of unintended incidents," the Pentagon said in a statement. "The leaders further agreed to enhance communications on such stabilizing measures."

The United States and Russia already maintain a permanent military communications line over their air operations in Syria to avoid incidents between their aircraft.

The last face-to-face meeting between the two highest US and Russian military officers took place in January 2014 between Gerasimov and Dunford's predecessor Martin Dempsey.

The Baku meeting comes amid widespread speculation about the future of US-Russian relations following US President Donald Trump's election.

He has said he wants to improve ties with Moscow, prompting concern among many US officials who view Russia as the main threat to US national security, amid a mounting scandal over ties between the Trump team's ties to Russia going back to his presidential campaign.

At a meeting of G20 ministers in the German city of Bonn on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington would conditionally consider working with Moscow in some areas, calling on Russia to honor the Minsk peace agreement aimed at ending hostilities in Ukraine.

In Brussels on Thursday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis rejected a Russian call to immediately restore cooperation with the Russian military.

"We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward," he told reporters.

Washington suspended all military cooperation with Moscow following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

But their military leaders have continued to maintain direct contact by phone and video conferences, the Pentagon said.

Dutch to bring back Cold War warriors as trainers
The Hague (AFP) Feb 16, 2017 - The Netherlands plans to bring back retired military officers to train a new generation of soldiers in the "forgotten" art of Cold War tactics, including large-scale battles, a news report said Thursday.

"These former officers were schooled during the Cold War and can give tips and tricks for commanders when they have to direct brigades of more than 4,000 soldiers on the battlefield," the Algemeen Dagblad said.

"This knowledge has diminished due to the large number of peace-keeping missions since the fall of the Berlin Wall," in 1989 which also heralded the end of communism.

The Dutch army wanted to put new emphasis on large-scale warfare "now that tensions are on the rise on Europe's eastern border" with Russia, the popular daily tabloid said.

The idea to "re-recruit" former commanders comes from Dutch general Leo Beulen, who so far has been one of two retired soldiers to be pulled back in, with more in the pipeline.

"Almost everything we were taught in the past can be used," Beulen said.

One of the returning commanders, retired general Otto van Wiggen told the paper that much of today's combat knowledge was acquired during missions to Afghanistan.

"Most officers have been to Afghanistan, but there the tempo is much lower. There you usually have two weeks to plan a new mission," Van Wiggen said.

"The new adversary is much faster and won't stay in one place for two weeks. For that, you need to train," said Van Wiggen.

NATO said Thursday it will step up naval war games and surveillance in the Black Sea to complement its increased land and air force presence near a more assertive Russia.

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