BRUSSELS — The increase in the scale and number of military exercises being undertaken by NATO and Russia is raising the danger of armed conflict in Europe, a think tank warned Wednesday.
Ian Kearns, director of the London-based European Leadership Network, told The Associated Press that the war games "are contributing to a climate of mistrust."
Kearns is one of the co-authors of an ELN study which looked in detail at two military exercises held this year by Russia and NATO and found signs that "Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia."
The exercises, according to the ELN, "can feed uncertainty" and heighten the risk of "dangerous military encounters."
NATO spokesperson Carmen Romero responded that it was misleading to equate NATO and Russian activities.
"NATO military exercises are not, as the reports suggest, making war in Europe more likely," she said. "They are intended precisely to have the opposite effect: to enhance security and stability in Europe in response to growing Russian aggression."
Romero said the Russian Defense Ministry has announced more than 4,000 exercises this year, more than 10 times what NATO and its 28 members are planning to hold.
The ELN study said the Russian exercise in March involved 80,000 personnel, while NATO's Allied Shield in June mobilized 15,000 people from 19 NATO countries and three partner states.
The Russian exercise was one in a series of massive war games in recent years as the Kremlin has sought to beef up the military. Shrugging off Western concerns, the military has said the exercises were necessary to train troops.
The think tank said the exercises showed what each side views as its most vulnerable points: For NATO, it's Poland and the Baltic states while for Russia, concerns are more numerous and include the Arctic, Crimea and border areas with NATO members Estonia and Latvia.
The ELN urged governments to examine the need for greater restraint in the size and scenarios of future exercises.
"History is full of examples of leaders who think they can keep control of events, and events have a habit of taking on a momentum and dynamic of their own," said Kearns.
Romero said NATO had given a year's advance notice about an upcoming exercise that will be its biggest in more than a decade, and will also invite Russia and other countries to send observers to watch it.
However, she said Russia "is deliberately avoiding military transparency and predictability," and fueling instability by continuing to hold "unpredictable and surprise military maneuvers."