On June 5, Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said that having Russia and Belarus in the same neighborhood is a major threat to the Baltic States and Poland. According to her, the militarization of Kaliningrad region plus the use of the Belarusian territory for «various military experiments and aggressive games directed against the West» are also significant hazards.
The Lithuanian president spoke of the Belarusian-Russian «Zapad-2017 (West 2017)» military exercise as part of the «aggressive games» and challenges. Lithuanian authorities believe that they can serve as a prelude to an armed invasion and subsequent occupation. Grybauskaite wants the «eastern wing» of NATO (the Baltic States and Poland) to be saturated with air defense systems and other weapons as much as possible.
The alliance should come up with a plan for countering a blockade of the Baltic States in case the so-called Suwalki corridor is captured by the enemy. The president believes that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland should unanimously speak about these and other challenges at the NATO leaders’ summit to take place in the summer of 2018.
This is part of an information campaign to make Russia look like a bully militarizing the region to be used as a springboard for aggression. Poland and the Baltic States are painted as innocent victims that should be urgently offered a helping hand from NATO and the EU.
Meanwhile, NATO is holding exercise Saber Strike (May 28-June 24) in multiple locations throughout Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. More than 2,000 soldiers and airmen from Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Norway, the UK, Poland, Slovakia, and the US are taking part in the training event. 2 В-1В and 3 B-52H US strategic bombers flew to Great Britain (RAF Fairford station in Gloucestershire, England) to participate in Saber Strike, as well as Baltops drills held in the Baltic Sea from June 1 to June 20. RC-135W, RC-135U, NATO AWACS and Swedish Gulfstream 4, as well as US strategic bombers, came as close as 50-60km to Russian borders.
All in all, NATO activities in the Baltic region have intensified. 12 exercises have already been held this year.
Russia is called the main threat in the new Polish defense doctrine presented in May. Decisions are taken to boost its naval power. Warsaw plans to increase the Army by up to 50 percent over the coming years, with at least three territorial defense brigades to be deployed at the country's eastern border.
Poland has sealed a contract with the US to acquire first strike capability, posing a threat to Russia. Last November, US State Department approved the sale to Poland of 70 AGM-158B JASSM-ER (extended range) missiles with an operational range of 1000+km (620 mi) – an effective stealth weapon to knock out key stationary infrastructure sites located deep in Russia’s territory. Russia is seriously threatened while this particular theme is kept out of public discourse in the West.
Poland has been implementing plans to form a 50,000 strong paramilitary territorial defense force, a planned military reserve component of the regular military, since 2015. Roughly, 20,000 guards will join the ranks of the new force in 2017. The country is on the way to becoming a regional military power with Russia’s “threat” used as a bogey to justify the plans.
NATO is building infrastructure for permanent military presence near Russia’s borders. The deployment breaches the Russia-NATO Founding Act (1997). By signing the document NATO pledged not to seek «additional permanent stationing of substantial ground combat forces» in the nations closer to Russia «in the current and foreseeable security environment».
Is there any reason for raising hullabaloo over a «threat» allegedly coming from the Kaliningrad region? Hardly so.
While NATO is deploying a multi-national military force in the three Baltic States and Poland, Russia is rather passive in the area. Actually, no significant steps have been taken to strengthen the Russian military presence there and in Russian regions bordering on the Baltic States for the past four years.
The military presence has dwindled exponentially since the Soviet Union’s collapse. In 1997, the 90, 000 strong 11th Guard Army was disbanded. In the 2009-2010, Russian forces in the Kaliningrad region were drastically reduced and have remained at the same low level ever since. Only one tank battalion remains as part of the separate 79th Motor Rifle Brigade.
At the beginning of 2010 Russia had 10,500 ground troops (excluding the 1,100 in the Marine Corps) in the Kaliningrad special district. There have been no significant changes since then. There were 32 submarines in the Baltic Fleet in 1991, and only 2 of them have remained. The Aerospace Forces have only a few Su-27 and Su-24M warplanes deployed in the region. The deployment of Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad since October 2016 has been taking place to take away the obsolete Tochka-U tactical missiles from service. It’s normal to place a modern weapon instead of an obsolete one. It boosts capability but not numbers.
The only steps taken so far to really boost the defense potential of the region are the formation of a new army aviation brigade in Ostrov in the Pskov region, and putting a regiment of the new S-400 anti-aircraft system on combat duty in Kaliningrad to replace the obsolete S-200s.
Russia could easily significantly increase its presence in the region. It could deploy many more cutting edge aircraft, Iskander missiles, army units and ships with Kalibr long-range cruise missiles. It has not done it as yet but if NATO continues increasing its potential in the area, Moscow will have no other way but take measures in response. It’s not too late to stop the dangerous arms race and military activities in this part of Europe.
The hysteria whipped up in the West around the “Russian build-up” in the Kaliningrad region is largely ignored by Moscow. Russia makes clear that it harbors no plans to threaten the Baltic and Scandinavian countries or Poland and is not seeking conflict here. The talk about Russia’s plans to invade the Baltic States, Poland or the Scandinavian countries is nonsense. Russia does have either motive or capability to do so.
Evidently, NATO's reinforcements in the Baltic region are a way to exert pressure on Russia over its foreign policy and an attempt to influence a hypothetical “grand bargain” on a range of security issues. Besides, NATO needs a “threat” to justify its reason d’etre. The one coming from terrorists does not provide a reason to maintain large multiservice formations with heavy equipment to boost defense industries while Russia does.