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    A Latvian Army soldier walks with the NATO flag during the official welcoming ceremony of the NATO Canadian-led Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) combat battalion in Adazi, Latvia June 19, 2017

    Buildup in the Baltic: NATO Expansion an Offensive Threat to Russian Kaliningrad

    © REUTERS / Ints Kalnins
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    Concerned with the NATO buildup in the Baltic countries, Russian Senator Aleksei Kondratyev warned this week that the alliance may be preparing offensive plans against Russia in the region. Independent military and political observers comment on the senator's remarks, and the extent to which alliance expansion poses a threat to strategic stability.

    Speaking to media earlier this week, Kondratyev, a member of the Russian Senate's Committee on Defense and Security, remarked that the NATO alliance has already conducted five exercises in the Baltic region this year which carry an offensive, aggressive character aimed against Russia. 

    "For the first time in recent years, the aim of [NATO's] exercises was the possibility of transferring alliance troops to Estonian territory. A number of ships involved in these exercises are capable of carrying long-range cruise missiles which can reach cities in the Leningrad region and the city of St. Petersburg," the senator said.

    The buildup of NATO troops and equipment in Poland and Latvia under the pretext of defending the Suwalki corridor (the territory in northeast Poland between Kaliningrad and Belarus) was equally concerning, Kondratyev added, given the danger it poses to the Russian exclave.

    Drills including "the tasks of striking the Kaliningrad region are being worked out. The situation in the Baltic direction is extremely unstable," the senator warned.

    German army armoured hotwitzer 2000 fires during NATO enchanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania live shooting exercise in Pabrade military training field, Lithuania, May 17, 2017
    © REUTERS / Ints Kalnins
    German army armoured hotwitzer 2000 fires during NATO enchanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania live shooting exercise in Pabrade military training field, Lithuania, May 17, 2017

    Speaking to Svobodnaya Pressa, an independent online Russian newspaper, veteran military columnist Viktor Litovkin stressed that Senator Kondratyev had every reason to be concerned by the NATO buildup in the Baltic.

    "In my opinion, NATO is actively preparing for an attack on Russia," the retired colonel said. "This is evidenced by a number of factors. In the Baltic, special roads are being built to our borders; military airfields and other facilities are being modernized."

    "Furthermore, separate from NATO, the US is becoming active in the northwestern direction," Litovkin noted. "The US has deployed a motorized infantry brigade and a heavy tank brigade in Poland. US Patriot missile systems are being sent to Lithuania and Poland. Options are being worked out for the rapid transfer of troops in the Baltic states and Poland. Sometimes one gets the feeling that the US military is just preparing for the order to attack."

    In any case, the military observer emphasized that NATO's task, at a minimum, is to keep Russia's military strained, and to force EU countries to up their military budgets to 2% of GDP to guard against the mythical 'Russian threat'.

    "Of course for now, the capabilities of NATO and the United States are not on par with ours in this region. But we should not be indifferent to what is going on in the 'distant suburbs' of St. Petersburg," Litovkin said.

    Marine and paratroopers landing drill in Kaliningrad Region
    © Sputnik / Igor Zarembo
    Marine and paratroopers landing drill in Kaliningrad Region

    Russia, he added, will be forced to bear additional costs to counter the growing NATO threat, which poses the danger of a new arms race.

    "We will be forced to strengthen some of our brigades and reorganize them into divisions. This requires spending. Funds are also required for the creation of new military infrastructure – heated storage for military equipment, military towns in the Leningrad region, etc. In the near future, the military plans to deploy a brigade of Iskander [mobile short-range ballistic missile systems] to Kaliningrad. They too will require infrastructure."

    At the same time, however, Litovkin emphasized that Russia will not follow in the Soviet Union's footsteps in its approach to the threat posed by the Western alliance. "Of course we are not carrying the kinds of huge defense expenditures as existed in the Soviet era. Our tasks do not include showing the world that we have more weapons than NATO." 

    According to the analyst, one of the biggest dangers Russia faces today in the face of Western military planners is the fact that the Pentagon seems intent on challenging the global nuclear strategic balance. "The Americans are dreaming about neutralizing our nuclear missile capabilities. This is why they have such a strong interest in the Black and Baltic Seas, from where their Tomahawk cruise missiles are capable of reaching our ICBM bases in the Tver and Kaluga regions." 

    "For now," the expert said, "our missile silos beyond the Urals remain relatively unreachable. That is why we have paid a special attention to the defense of the Arctic and the North Sea Route. But the US and NATO desire to neutralize our nuclear shield in one blow is growing."

    Finally, Litovkin noted that NATO countries' recent operations on the ground, from Iraq to Afghanistan, to Libya and other countries have shown that their success can be limited when there is any serious resistance. 

    "Furthermore, NATO is becoming an increasingly loose structure, and it cannot be considered a certainty that in the event of conflict with Russia, all of the countries of the alliance would act as a united front. Nevertheless, I would not underestimate the enemy. Sometimes even a small dog's bite can be very painful," the expert concluded.

    RS-24 Yars mobile ground missile systems with at the military parade in Moscow marking the 72nd anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
    © Sputnik / Alexandr Vilf
    RS-24 Yars mobile ground missile systems with at the military parade in Moscow marking the 72nd anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

    For his part, political scientist and security expert Igor Nikolaichuk noted that NATO's Baltic buildup, conducted under the pretext of a Russian threat to the region, is actually based on the fact that the alliance has been in search of a new enemy ever since its operations in Afghanistan were curtailed.

    "The logic of the NATO leadership is as follows: if there are NATO troops in the Baltic states…then Russia certainly would not dare to attack the region," since it would lead to a major war, Nikolaichuk noted. In reality, the situation is rather different, the observer added. "Speaking honestly, Russia could easily seize the Baltic states in a matter of days, or even hours. But we do not need to do so." 

    According to Nikolaichuk, NATO understands perfectly well that Moscow lacks either the strategic or the political motivation for any offensive military operations in the Baltic. But they should also understand, however, that Russia would fight tooth and nail to defend Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary. 

    Ultimately, Nikolaichuk suggested that the alliance's Baltic buildup actually harks back to century-old geopolitical considerations, and not those of the US, but of their European allies. "In general, the Baltic question is important not so much for the US as for…Britain. Since the end of the First World War, the Anglo-Saxons got it into their head that this territory should not belong either to Russia or Germany, because in their opinion, control over this region by one or the other would give them too much influence in Eastern Europe."

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    NATO buildup, military buildup, response, NATO, Baltic Region, Russia, Eastern Europe
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