Kaarel Kaas, editor of Estonia’s Diplomaatia monthly, has compiled a detailed survey of the state of Russia’s conventional forces near Estonia’s borders.
Military training “Zapad-2013” continues
The large landing ships of the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea forces involved in the strategic exercises “Zapad-2013” set the course for Kaliningrad where they will disembark the Belarusian landing troops. The troops will participate in the maneuvers in anti-aircraft and anti-diversionary defense of the ship formation. According to the plan of the military training, the Belarusian military men will also participate in the final stage of “Zapad-2013” on the polygons of the Baltic fleet.
While the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are in Washington, DC to meet with President Obama to discuss economic cooperation and theTransatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Estonian President Hendrik Ilves sat down with Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson for an exclusive interview on Estonia’s role in cyber security and its importance in the global context.
The curious standoff between two types of political extremism on the fringes of Europe – yet in close proximity to the Russian Federation – continues unabated. Most recently, Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat daily newspaper reported on one aspect of the affair, namely the news that Finland’s public prosecutor is demanding a jail term for the Finnish businessman Mikael Storsjö, who is accused of illegally helping dozens of Chechen refugees to enter Finland. But this is only a part of the ongoing situation, which involves a vitriolic campaign by two Finnish pro-Russian activists – the Lutheran pastor Juha Molari and the university lecturer Johan Bäckman – whose aim is apparently to call into question the activities of human rights campaigners in the North Caucasus, and also at the same time to challenge the policies of governments in the Baltic states, particularly those of Estonia and Latvia, with regard to their Russian-speaking minorities.
The problem for outside observers who are trying to make sense of it all is that the confrontation between Molari/Bäckman on the one hand, and Storsjö/pro-Islamist (Doku Umarov) Kavkaz Center website on the other, looks suspiciously like a manufactured conflict representing two sides of the same extremist coin. Since most of the details are published either in Finnish or Russian on websites not normally visited or read by Western media, the potential for disinformation on these and related issues is probably rather high.
Ever since the announcement of the controversial Mistral arms deal between France and Russia on Christmas Eve 2010, the Swedish press has been publishing articles about the implications of the deal for Baltic security, and Sweden’s security in particular. On January 7 Dagens Nyheter noted that concern about the sale of the Mistral assault ships to Russia was high because these helicopter carriers can be used for landing operations – presumably in the course of a military invasion. Bo Pellnäs, a Swedish defence analyst, commented that although the carriers will be based in Murmansk, they can be moved anywhere. This, against the background of reports that Russia is to increase its military expenditure by 60 percent, and last fall held its largest military exercise in the Baltic Sea since the 1980s, is giving rise to fears in Sweden that the country’s security may be compromised.
On January 5 a member of the Swedish parliament, Mikael Oscarsson, requested a statement from Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on what the deal means for the security of the Baltic Sea as a whole. Oscarsson also said that it was necessary to ask Russia about the purpose of the invasion capability, and that a tightening of Sweden’s defence with Poland might be needed.
Now, in an interview published in the Swedish current affairs journal Världen idag (The World Today), Oscarsson says that his concerns are heightened by the internal political situation in Russia in the aftermath of the recent unsolved murders of journalists and the sentencing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.
"We need greater cooperation between Sweden, Poland and the Baltics, but we should also invite Russia to talks. I’m not one of those who say that the Russians are coming, but we cannot assume that anyone else will defend us. Therefore, we need to respond and ensure that we have a fleet that works."
In Poland, Polskie Radio has taken up Mikael Oscarsson’s question, and there are reports that the military ties between Sweden and Poland may strengthen in response to Russia’s investment in the new warships.
he U.S. think tank and news agency Stratfor’s East Europe analyst Marko Papic says that just five days into the new year Mikael Oscarsson’s question to Carl Bildt shows that the geopolitical map may be redrawn.
"The area of Sweden, Poland and Russia will be crucial for European security and political issues in 2011," he said in a statement.
In the run-up to the November 19 Lisbon NATO-Russia summit, an article in the latest issue of Newsweek looks at the ways in which Russia is currently drawing advantage from the Western powers’ difficulties in Afghanistan. These difficulties are highlighted by the impending major defence cuts in the UK and other European states, and by Russia’s projected 140% increase in military spending over the next three years. In particular, the article considers the possibility of a trade-off between Western security needs in the Afghan conflict and Russia’s plans for Eastern Europe, still seen by Moscow as a legitimate sphere of military and political influence. Excerpt:
In return for cooperation in Afghanistan, Moscow is asking for substantial concessions from NATO. A draft agreement on NATO-Russian cooperation penned by the Kremlin and released last December includes proposed restrictions on NATO deployment of any force bigger than a 3,000-strong brigade in the combined territory of all former Soviet bloc members. Russia is also demanding that NATO not attempt to station more than 24 aircraft in Eastern Europe for more than 42 days a year. Most controversially, Russia also has demanded veto power on any Western military deployments of large additional forces anywhere in Central Europe, the Balkans, or the Baltics. To top off the wish list, the Kremlin wants limits lifted on Russian troops in the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Hat tip: Wiseman
Ahead of the annual NATO summit to be held in Lisbon on November 19 , the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has published information about NATO’s new plans for the defence of Poland and the Baltic States in the event of a Russian aggression. Nine divisions, of which four are Polish form part of the plan. In addition to these a further five divisions will be transported to Eastern Europe with British, American and German units by land and sea links. Observationsplatsen has more details.
The Economist writes in an editorial that thanks to Poland, the NATO alliance will defend the Baltics:
When the war in Georgia highlighted NATO’s wobbliness on Russia, Poland accelerated its push for a bilateral security relationship with America, including the stationing of Patriot anti-missile rockets on Polish soil in return for hosting a missile-defence base… the Baltic states will get their plans, probably approved by NATO’s military side rather than its political wing. They will be presented as an annex to existing plans regarding Poland, but with an added regional dimension. That leaves room for Sweden and Finland (not members of the alliance but increasingly close to it) to take a role in the planning too. A big bilateral American exercise already planned for the Baltic this summer is likely to widen to include other countries.
Hat tip: Marius
David J. Smith*
The French Navy amphibious assault ship Mistral—named for a cold French wind—visits Saint Petersburg today. This is not just a port call; it is a sales call—with ominous geopolitical implications.
“We plan to buy one Mistral class ship in France and with technical support from the French to build four helicopter carriers of this class under license,” said Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Navy Staff. It would be the biggest ever NATO country military supply to Russia.
The Mistral class of ships is designed to attack the shore from the sea, an ideal weapon for Russia to intimidate its neighbors. Mistrals can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters, 4 landing craft, 900 soldiers and up to 70 military vehicles, including up to 40 tanks.
At about $800 million apiece, France’s motivation to sell Mistrals is understandable. Besides, sale proponents argue, a few modern ships to Russia’s barnacle-ridden navy will hardly threaten American dominance at sea.
However, is Paris prepared to reward Russian aggression against Georgia, ignore shredding of the ceasefire agreement negotiated and signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, accept the help of Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan but enforce an unacknowledged arms embargo on Georgia, and meanwhile sell advanced arms to Russia? Does France really want Russia to have this littoral combat capability?
Ignoring these questions may evoke pleasant noises in Moscow for a time, but Russia will not reciprocate in any concrete way. Indeed, it will demand ever more to be appeased. And eventually Russia will employ the Mistrals in another act of aggression, thereby making France complicit.
Regrettably, the potential sale of Mistral class ships to Russia appears to spring from worse than unprincipled economics. France’s partnership with Russia, Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently said, “can take several forms in the defense sphere, from military cooperation to close industrial partnership.” Recall that Fillon a day before the April 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, told France-Inter radio, “We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think it is not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia.”
It is difficult to imagine what power Fillon imagines France will balance with the sale of Mistrals to Russia. However, one can readily discern Russia’s motivation for the purchase.
Moscow will not soon challenge US Navy dominance of the oceans. The Russian Navy for the foreseeable future will be a green water navy, operating close to home, largely as a complement to Russian land forces. And those forces undergird Russia’s intent to halt NATO’s eastward enlargement, particularly to Georgia and Ukraine; to retain its Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol beyond the 2017 expiration of its leasehold; to discourage NATO from planning and exercising the defense of the post Cold War NATO allies; to challenge American cooperation with those allies; and eventually to roll back what it characterizes as encroachment from the west.
“All that we consider ours will remain ours,” said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, toasting the 80th birthday of well known Soviet and Russian foreign policy specialist Yevgeny Primakov. The Baltic Sea, once a Soviet lake, is no doubt one of the places that Putin had in mind. When the Mistral navigated Skagerrak and Kattegat, the straits that lead from the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea into the Baltic Sea, it steamed by the shores of united Germany; by Gdansk, catalyst to the upheavals that toppled the communist world that Putin so reveres; by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now NATO members, once occupied but never cowed by the Soviet Union.
On Baltic shores, apart from Saint Petersburg, only Kaliningrad—headquarters of the Baltic Fleet founded by Peter the Great—remains of the world for which Putin yearns. And it was no coincidence, therefore, that in Kaliningrad on September 28, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian troops who had participated in the exercise Zapad 2009, “I am convinced that we will be able to reestablish our navy in the next decade…We need a strong navy.”
And the Mistrals are part of the plan. On inland seas such as the Baltic or the Black Sea, Mistral class ships would make a big difference—and the Russians know it. Referring to Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia, Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy recently remarked, “A ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours, which is how long it took us.”
Consequently, the Mistral’s call in Saint Petersburg must capture the attention of every NATO ally. The French sale of Mistral class ships to Russia would be a major adverse geopolitical development and a potential alliance buster—it must be stopped.
*David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.
Via Marko Mihkelson: An interesting discussion on Russia Today about Russia’s post- (or perhaps neo-) Soviet aspirations in Central Asia and elsewhere around its borders. The contributions by the British speaker are particularly noteworthy, and rather disturbing.