NATO Prepares For War With Russia As If Inevitable

Since the conflict in Ukraine, Western military leaders are operating under the assumption that an armed conflict with Vladimir Putin's Russia will eventually happen. Signs of tension are everywhere.

At the Lask Air Force base in Poland
At the Lask Air Force base in Poland
Monica Perosino


WARSAW â€" In the Baltic nations, Scandinavia, and across Eastern Europe, the question is no longer if there will be war with Russia, but when.

Since its intervention in Ukraine two years ago, Moscow hasn’t missed an opportunity to provoke its neighbors and escalate tensions. It has repeatedly violated the airspace shared by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and amassed troops on its western border. Russia has also deepened its cyber warfare campaign by intensifying its hacking, propaganda, and disinformation activities. Estonia alone saw a 200% increase in such attacks since last year.

“We are at war, a hybrid war, the last step before the shooting begins,” said a high-ranking official at Multinational Corps Northeast, NATO’s base in Szczecin in western Poland. “But we are ready.”

At the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, the alliance began closing the enormous gap between its slow reaction time â€" an estimated 30 days to mobilize forces â€" and Russia’s ability to swiftly mount an attack. A report published in February this year by the RAND corporation, a security think tank, alarmed NATO officials by noting that Moscow could seize the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in just 60 hours.

The alliance is only just now realizing how urgent this renewed threat from Russia is.

Polish President Andrzej Duda recently inaugurated construction of an American missile defense base in the northern town of Redzikowo, with another base under construction in Deveselu in southern Romania.

Russian helicopters in training exercise in the Orenburg region â€" Photo: Kremlin

Less than two months before this year’s NATO summit in Warsaw, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz is maneuvring to definitively shift the alliance’s focus to the Russian border. For him, the presence of Iskander-class ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave wedged between Poland and the Baltic states, is not a coincidence. “Moscow could destroy Lithuania in a second, but it could also target Berlin,” he said.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski put it bluntly recently: “We saw what happened in Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine, so what are we waiting for?”

According to an analyst at a Polish military base, the threat posed by the Iskanders is twofold: “They're short-range missiles so they’re difficult to intercept, but they can still reach half of Europe.”

The request by Eastern European members to permanently deploy NATO troops on the Russian border would significantly worsen already sour ties with Moscow. Macierewicz and his regional counterparts believe such a move could act to deter Russian attacks.

Standing up to Moscow

The alliance is establishing a defensive architecture with a specific chain of command and a rapid response time to counter a potential Russian invasion.

“NATO and its member states are increasing the number of military exercises and air policing missions, but reaction times are crucial in case of aggression,” said the tactical chief at NATO’s headquarters in Poland. “Before Ukraine, our response time was 30 days but now it’s 48 hours and we created new force integration units to respond quicker and deter any attack.”

If Russian troops crossed the border today, 900 NATO soldiers and 400 tanks would deploy within two days, joined by a further 5,600 troops within the next two weeks.

“I’ve never seen so many Russian military exercises and provocations at the same time, they’re meant to test our readiness,” said this source. “This is unconventional warfare that seeks to divide and destabilize, but our mission is to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that we’re ready to react, and we are.”

Putin at a Russian military training exercise in the Orenburg region â€" Photo: Kremlin

At the Polish Air Force base of Lask, home to 16 of the force’s 48 F-16 jet fighters, pilots often encounter their Russian colleagues illegally flying into Polish airspace. “We had 18 close encounters in two weeks, the last one was with a Sukhoi Su-27,” said one pilot. “The Russian pilot smiled at me from the cockpit and inclined his plane to show me how many bombs he was carrying, and he had lots of them.”

Besides the sky, there are other fronts in this new hybrid war between Russia and the West. At the Joint Force Training Center in the northern Polish city of Bydgoszcz, soldiers from 20 countries train using war simulators, including commercially available video games, to recognize potential “signs” of hidden enemy soldiers, including foreign accents and clothing.

“This is a hybrid war fought with propaganda and manipulation of public opinion, it’s information and cyber warfare,” says an official at the Center. “Moscow’s strategy is to divide NATO with continuous provocations by infiltrating and manipulating ethnic Russians in Europe and sowing disorder to demonstrate that the EU and NATO are neither united nor efficient.”

At NATO’s bases in Poland and Eastern Europe, soldiers and officials are being trained in the art of cyber warfare and counter-propaganda.

“Hybrid warfare isn’t only soldiers posing as little green men in Crimea, it’s also fake Facebook profiles and fictitious online newspapers that spread (bogus) content that’s later picked up by credible publications,” said one official at the Center. “And in a hybrid war, words can be very dangerous indeed."

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At the Mango Festival held in Aswan, Egypt

Nada Arafat

ISMAILIA – Every year during the month of July, crowds gather in the mango farms of Ismailia, in northeastern Egypt, to pick the delectable summer fruit during its relatively short harvest season. But this year, as a result of erratic weather patterns throughout March and April, the usual bountiful mango harvest was severely affected with farmers witnessing a precipitous drop in yield. Some 300,000 farms saw an 80% decrease in productivity, leading to a supply shortage in the market and a corresponding 40% increase in the price of mangoes.

The effects of these climate fluctuations could have been mitigated by farmers, yet according to experts who spoke to Mada Masr, the agriculture minister failed to play a role in raising awareness among farmers and in providing agricultural guidance services.

Heatwaves kill crops

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. For germination to occur, the ideal temperature should be between 10 °C at night and 28 °C during the day, according to agricultural consultants. In Egypt, this weather pattern usually occurs in February. Mango trees then flower and the flowers turn into fruits that take 40 days to grow and be ready for harvest, according to Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer.

This year, however, according to mango farmers in Ismailia who spoke to Mada Masr, the beginning of the winter farming season experienced a sudden heatwave followed by another heatwave at the end of March. In both March and April, the temperature dipped to as low as 5 °C at night and as high as 25 °C during the day. Due to these erratic weather fluctuations, the mango flowers that develop into fruit fell before they could mature.

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres or 0.40 hectares) ranges between 6 to 8 tons. This year however, the yield per feddan averaged between just 1 to 2 tons, according to several sources.

Frozen mango suppliers multiply purchases

A farm owner in Al-Tal al-Kebir on the Ismailia Desert Road, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that his farm produced approximately 35 tons of mangoes last year, whereas this year his yield did not exceed 4 tons. He added that many farmers in the surrounding area, which is famous for mango cultivation, experienced the same steep declines in yield.

The limited mango yield and the subsequent hike in prices has also prompted frozen mango suppliers to multiply their purchases from farms in order to capitalize and sell them next year at an even higher price, according to Ali Saqr, an agricultural engineer in a fruit export company, along with a number of other farm owners who spoke to Mada Masr. Mangos can stay frozen for up to two years.

Khaled Eweis, who buys mangoes and stores them in rented freezers then later sells the frozen mangoes to juice and dessert shops, explained to Mada Masr that juice shops usually use the Zebdia variety of mangoes, whereas dessert shops use Keitt mangoes. The latter is expected to be priced at 25 Egyptian pounds ($1.5) this year after having been sold for half the price at the same time last year.

Last year, Eweis bought Zebdia mangoes for 10–12 Egyptian pounds ($0.6–$0.7) per kilo then resold them for 16 ($1) after freezing them. This year, the Zebdia prices ranged from 17–21 ($1–$1.30) per kilo, and Eweis expects that the price after freezing will reach as high as 25 ($1.5).

Photo of an Egyptian man shouldering a basket full of mangoes

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres) ranges between 6 to 8 tons


Threat to water security

This is not the first time that mango production has been hit hard as a result of fluctuating weather patterns. A similar crisis in the mango harvest took place in 2018, and other crops, such as olives, potatoes, wheat, rice and cotton, have also been adversely affected over the last few years, according to Mohamed Fahem, the head of the government Climate Change Information Center. And human-induced changes to global weather patterns as a result of climate change point to increased agricultural challenges in the future.

The deadly heat waves, fires, hurricanes and other extreme weather events that have dominated headlines in recent years will only become more frequent in the coming decades, according to a United Nations report on climate change released in August. In its sixth assessment report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called human-induced changes to global climate systems "unprecedented." While the report calls for drastic cuts to the global emission of greenhouse gases, much of the effects of climate change are already locked in for decades to come.

Among the areas most vulnerable to climate change is agriculture. A 2018 report titled Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Changes in Egypt found that climate change can have drastic effects on agriculture through changes in temperature, rainfall, CO2 levels and solar radiation. Meanwhile, a 2020 European Union report also found that climate change will pose a threat to global food production in the medium to long-term through projected changes in daily temperature, precipitation, wind, relative humidity and global radiation.

According to various studies, climate change gradually reduces the duration of spring, autumn and winter, which in turn affects the crops that are cultivated during those seasons. In Egypt in particular, the country's agricultural crop map will likely change as a result of a prolonged summer season, according to a study by former Agriculture Minister Ayman Abou Hadid, published in 2010 when he was heading the Center for Agricultural Studies. The study predicted that grain cultivation will gradually move north from Upper Egypt due to increases in winter temperatures, though it did not give a projected timeframe.

Cold and heat waves

Climate change also increases salinity levels in soil due to rising sea levels, which in turn renders the soil only suitable for crops that can handle high salinity yet still require intensive irrigation to mitigate the salinity levels. At the same time, Egypt is currently facing a threat to its water security due to the changes in rain patterns and droughts as well as the potential effects of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

According to Fahim, the increased cold and heat waves Egypt has experienced has led to the emergence of new, mutated varieties of pests and fungal diseases that are resistant to chemicals. For example, in 2018, aphids and whiteflies spread due to the shortened winter season, and the accumulation of these pests led to huge losses in potato and cotton yields. Meanwhile, palm trees were harmed due to the appearance of red palm weevils.

How farmers counter mango losses

The severe losses in the 2021 mango yield were hard to avoid, but is there a way to counter them?

Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer, believes that better methods of agriculture, irrigation and fertilization, along with raising awareness among farmers about the dangers of climate change and how to monitor weather fluctuations could succeed in mitigating such outcomes.

However, Egypt appears currently incapable of providing sufficient safety networks to farmers in order to enable them to confront the effects of climate change.

An example of this is apparent in the failure to enforce mechanisms for warning farmers about potential difficulties in upcoming farming seasons. In June, a report by the Center for Agricultural Studies warned about a decline of as much as 85% in the productivity of farms in Ismailia, where mangoes are mainly cultivated, as well as farms in Sharqiya, Suez and Beheira, due to climate change. However, this report only reached about 13 farmers and owners of mango farms, according to agricultural sources who spoke to Mada Masr.

Ahmed Asal, a mango farmer in Qantara in Ismailia, told Mada Masr that there has been no guidance from authorities in helping farmers understand climate change and how to respond to it. "No one told us what to do and we never received any compensation for our losses," Asal said.

Photo of a hand picking a mango from the tree in Egypt

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature

Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua/ZUMA

Agriculture engineers must become climate engineers

Agricultural guidance is a service offered by the Agriculture Ministry to raise awareness and educate farmers about all aspects of farming. The service is usually provided through agricultural engineers who are based in the agricultural cooperatives that exist in every city and town.

Fahim, the head of the Climate Change Information Center, works to play a similar role through his Facebook page and, at times, on various TV channels and newspapers, by raising awareness about weather fluctuations and their effects on agriculture. However, his insights do not have a wide enough audience, particularly at a time when the agricultural guidance is dwindling despite the opening of the Agricultural Guidance Center in Qantara earlier this year under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry.

"Agricultural guidance has been doing a good job lately, but only in the media, not on the ground," said Alaa Khairy,* an engineer at the Central Laboratory for Climate Change. "If they were really working on the ground, farmers would not have lost as much as they did."

More important crops like wheat will be next

What exacerbates the crisis is that those who are harmed the most are small farmers — those who have between 10 to 20 feddans of land — who cannot afford to take preemptive precautionary measures to mitigate erratic weather patterns nor hire experts who can help them make better decisions about how to handle sudden climate fluctuations. Those farmers also cannot afford to provide covers for their fruits during hot seasons, which is one way to prevent crop damage that is quite costly.

This year's crisis is expected to be repeated in the coming years due to the rapid consequences and effects of climate change on global food security. Aside from mangoes, the effects of climate change are projected to affect far more important crops, such as wheat, with reports showing global wheat crop losses due to heat and drought, a particularly worrisome development for Egypt — the largest importer of wheat in the world.

"In the coming period, agricultural engineers must become climate engineers as well," Suleiman said.


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