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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The PR Lesson of Totsk

The new bonds of strategic partnership and cooperation between East and West have fundamentally changed the issue of the nature and scale of joint military exercises. This is especially important in the face of growing demand for joint action in meeting the challenges of the contemporary world.

Military and political leaders have generally evaluated highly the recent joint maneuvers featuring NATO forces and troops from former Warsaw-Pact countries. Such military contacts undoubtedly provide valuable experience that will facilitate complex peacekeeping, humanitarian and rescue operations.

In addition, such exercises -- even those of a relatively limited scale -- force the participants to work out a whole series of problems from the technical and organizational to the linguistic and even the purely informational. By this I mean that governments must find a means of blunting the often sharp criticism that is directed at such joint exercises by nationalistic/patriotic political movements that are in the opposition of so many of the countries involved. We have already seen this phenomenon several times.

For example, when German troops conducted exercises in Norway and the Netherlands, local groups protested vigorously on the grounds that they had suffered from occupation by Hitler's troops during World War II. More publicized was the storm of protest aroused by the first Russian-American joint exercises held at the Totsk training ground this summer. The protests reached such a pitch that the exercises, originally scheduled for June, were put off until September.

All nations interested in participating in such maneuvers would do well to analyze carefully the arguments that were raised during these protests, especially those put forward in Russia.

Russia's nationalist and anti-Western opposition used a wide range of scathing propagandistic clich?s from the days of the struggle "against the sharks of capitalism" and a large variety of forms of protest against the exercises. These included articles in their own media outlets, demonstrations outside the general staff building in Moscow and pickets outside the training ground itself. Opponents also created a highly visible campaign of posters, leaflets and slogans. They further organized a petition drive which, according to press reports, gathered nearly 400,000 signatures.

One of the most effective tricks that the opposition used was an attempt to convince the public that the exercises would involve huge numbers of troops and that the Americans would be bringing heavy weapons with them that would have dire effects on the environment around the exercise ground.

The government was slow to react to deflate these myths. Only in July was it generally announced that no more than 250 American troops would participate in the maneuvers. Moreover, it was not until September, just a few days before the exercise began, that it was announced that the Americans would bring only 10 automobiles and a single truck, and the only things that might be called "heavy weapons" would by a single three-inch artillery piece and a grenade launcher.

In addition, officials did little to emphasize that the exercises, called "Peacekeeper-94," were carefully designed to mimic peacekeeping operations, and nothing was done that could be interpreted otherwise. The focus of the maneuvers was solving matters of planning and studying the problem of coordinating organizational structures and equipment during a limited peacekeeping operation using a minimal number of troops.

The opposition also gained considerable support by claiming that the exercise would be very expensive for Russia, even though it had been announced well beforehand that the Americans were covering all the costs of their visit, including food. However, not until the end of August did the head of the Defense Ministry's budget section explain that none of the cost of the exercises would come from the military budget. Exercise planners failed to point out that conducting the exercises first in Russia and only later in the United States would save Russia considerable expense.

And what can be made of the childish claim so often heard this summer at protests outside the general staff building that the exercises were tantamount to "America's occupation of Russia"? If this is so, then next year's exercises in the United States will represent the reverse and we will find ourselves "mutually occupied."

Nonetheless, to the general satisfaction of politicians and all those who appreciate the importance of such joint contacts between East and West, the Totsk exercises did take place. Both American and Russian officials considered the maneuvers to be an important step in the developing defense and security cooperation between the two countries. Moreover, such exercises are considered necessary to increase the preparedness of peacekeeping forces in order to enable them to carry out operations under the aegis of the UN.

Now similar exercises are scheduled to be held in other countries. Although they are not expected to come under such heavy criticism as the Totsk maneuvers, it would be a good thing if planners would consider the lessons that Russia learned this summer. It is vital that the schedule and nature of such exercises be worked out and observed in detail. In my opinion, postponing the Totsk exercises was a mistake that simply gave the opposition hope that they would eventually win.

In the future such exercises will be perfected and made considerably more complex. More complicated problems will be set and levels of command cooperation will be raised. The answer to the equation "AK-47 + M-16 = ?" will certainly be enhanced security and stability in the coming century. But public awareness must be raised together with the level of operational cooperation.

Vladimir Kozin is a political commentator based in Moscow. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.