LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will pledge on Monday that its commitment to security and defence in Nordic and Baltic nations will not change after Brexit, seeking to reassure states affected by what foreign minister Boris Johnson described as “Russian antagonism”.
The Foreign Office said Johnson would host a meeting of foreign ministers from eight countries, including Estonia, Sweden and Latvia, on Monday to discuss issues including Russia, NATO and defence co-operation after Britain’s EU exit.
“In an increasingly complex world, Britain remains a reassuring presence to its friends, especially those facing continued Russian antagonism in the north of Europe and the Baltic region,” he said in a statement ahead of the meeting.
He cited the deployment British troops in Estonia, which in March reached around 800 personnel, as a statement that Britain stands by its allies “in the face of outside aggression” and of its commitment to NATO.
“Britain wants a safe and secure world, and as we leave the European Union, we will continue to defend and promote our common interests, as we rise to any challenges we face together,” he said.
The Russian practice, known as Zapad-17, seems to be the biggest exercise in the history of the Russian Federation. Ukraine’s Security Council has concluded that a total of 230,000 to 240,000 people will participate.
Western reviewers have talked about up to 100,000 participants.
Zapad-17, which starts officially on September 14th, can be described as a seizure exercise in which Russia’s ability to mobilize and go to war quickly will be practiced. The exercise takes place every four years, where the main exercises rotate between the different Russian military areas.
At the 2009 exercise, Russia was pursuing Warsaw in Poland with tactical nuclear weapons. Outside the exercise period, but the same year as Zapad-13, Russia practiced tactical nuclear weapons attacks against Sweden.
This year’s training activities are located both to neighboring Belarus and to Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Pskov and Smolensk oblast, as well as in the Baltic Sea.
Russia will also put its rail system on trial, as well as cyber-fighting units and nuclear weapons forces.
Officially, Russia is hacking up its exercises, all in order to avoid current Western inspections. According to the OSCE’s Wi-Fi document, more than 13,000 exercises have to be pre-advertised, as countries such as Sweden and Finland, as well as the NATO Alliance, have the right to send their own observers.
But this border is on the side of Russia, and takes advantage of the opportunity to test preparedness.
Emergency preparedness checks need not be pre-notified in accordance with the Wiendokument and are without obligation to invite observers. So what the paper is a little exercise, or several small ones is in fact a giant exercise that Russia keeps visitors away from.
And here’s an important difference between NATO’s open, transparent and long-term practice and Russian secret culture.
The exercise also means full mobilization in Kaliningrad, and that the reserves for the 76th airland division in Pskov have been called up.
Exercise in Russia has also been used several times to mask future military operations against other countries. During Kavkaz-08, the Russian troops remained in the field to shortly attack Georgia.
Zapad-13 was used to pinch and plan for the aggression against Ukraine, which was then carried out in 2014.
Center-15 was used as “cover up” to hide what kind of help was sent to Assad in Syria.
Last week, two Russian fighter aircraft violated Swedish airspace east of Gotland. It is based on this experience that nervousness in the West is particularly great, what really happens after the exercise? US Commander in Europe, General Ben Hodges, has been warned that Zapad may be a “Trojan horse” that places Russian soldiers and equipment in Belarus and can then be moved on.
And there are signs of increased number of provocations. Last week, two Russian fighter aircraft violated Swedish airspace east of Gotland.
Russia’s attempt to send the Kruzenstern school ship with 164 cadets on board to Mariehamn on Åland during Zapad-17 was stopped this week. Åland’s demilitarized position means that Finland is responsible for the defense of Åland without being allowed to prepare for this in peacetime.
But Finland also has the power to deny “state ships” to call at Åland. What is now used with Kruzenstern. The Finnish Chief of Staff has announced refusal, without further explanation. The most likely is Russia wanted to test Finland’s reactions with the visit, although a nightmare scenario is the ship would have been used for “green men”. “Green men” refers to masked soldiers in unmarked green army uniforms and carrying modern Russian military weapons and equipment that appeared during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014.
Åland’s demilitarized status and the legal basis of the 1921 Åland Convention and the bilateral peace agreement with the Soviet Union in 1940 (as confirmed in Paris 1947) makes the island’s vulnerability at least as great as Gotlands in the increasingly hot Baltic region.
Instead, the Russian propaganda now learns to grind additional laps of fears of terror from the event surrounding the school ship.
The official reason behind the planned schooling visit was a visit because Mariehamn wants to host Tall Ships Race 2021. Instead, the Russian propaganda now learns to grind additional laps of fears of terror from the event surrounding the school ship.
But already the week before the current visit, Åland is visited by a Swedish-Russian “peace action”. There, activists from Sweden and Russia will conduct activism during an escalating scenario. From Sweden, two environmentalist parliamentarians, Carl Schlyter and Annika Lillimets participate.
No participant from Finland is expected to have a strong reaction to being just an external influence on Åland. “Peace activists” thus help to increase the security policy tension.
Finland has also announced that it is running local defense exercises to improve government cooperation, among other things. It should also be read in plain text to be able to handle “green men”. The troops practice in Kajanaland, South Karelia, South Savolax, Southern Finland and Satakunta.
The message that Finland is close to its friends was strengthened when President Niinistö visited Donald Trump in the White House on Monday evening, Swedish time. There, the US President stressed the ties to Finland and that the USA was “very protective, extremely protective” in the Baltic Sea Region.
At the same time, Trump avoided direct questions if he regards Russia as a threat, yet stressing that if threats appear “we’ll handle them.”
“We are doing everything to preserve peace in the Baltic Sea area,” said President Sauli Niinistö from the Speaker’s Court in the White House. “When I met Putin a few weeks ago, I asked about the Chinese navy practicing Russia. Putin replied that that exercise was not aimed at anyone. Then I found out that we are practicing with the United States and Sweden, and it is not aimed at anyone either. ”
Prior to Zapad’s practice, NATO has strengthened with, among other things, 600 skid hunters in the Baltics. It is not an impressive numeral but should be seen as a signal to Russia that if one finds something, one gets to fight with more Americans, and in itself it can be war-restrained.
In Sweden, Zapad partially coincides with its own defense defense exercise Aurora 17 (18-27 September), where almost half of the Swedish defense team participates in 19,000 people together with connections from Finland, Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Lithuania, France and the United States.
Aurora is the largest Swedish exercise of nearly a quarter of a century and an important reconciliation in the work of getting a defense consisting of two brigades. This is comparable to the fact that the Swedish defense in 1971 had 31 brigades.
But despite the fact that the Russian exercise is expected to be closer to five times as big as the total Swedish defense and twelve times as high as Aurora-17, the Swedish debate and media reports are more dominated by various peace activists demonstration plans and questioning of Swedish practice.
One who walks in these footsteps is Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt who equals the level of provocations between the Russian offensive nuclear weapons exercise with the defense force’s defense exercise.
Some major protests against the Russian aggressive exercise, including nuclear weapons, we can not see from the peace movement in Sweden. So Gudrun Schyman, Sven Hirdman, with several teachings, continues to wear shades, earlobes and eyelashes to continue living in another reality.
And as the Ukrainian Security Council notes on its website: “Zapad-17 is another step for Russia to promote confrontation on the European continent. It requires a truly serious response from both West and Ukraine. The state leadership, Ukrainian defense and other security and detention agencies are now taking the necessary steps to protect our state. ”
The warning for autumn storms in the Baltic Sea area is thus here. There may be a lot of cold to handle both accidental and deliberate incidents.
By the way, Peter Hultqvist is the best defense minister Sweden can have in this position.
By Patrik Oksanen, security and defense policy consultant for several of the MittMedia Group’s liberal and center party leader pages. Oksanen is a daily editor of Hudiksvalls Tidning and currently a political editor at ÖP.
The topic of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route (NSR) now associates with a most important strategic direction of future and it is a criteria of all the innovations in scientific research, in the environment and in raising of the country’s defense capabilities. Thus, major projects have begun in the Arctic.
They were beginning of the NSR infrastructures, Doctor of Law at the Far East Federal University Vyacheslav Gavrilov told TASS. The upcoming Eastern Economic Forum due in Vladivostok on September 6-7 will devote a session to development of the Arctic and the NSR.
The session will be titled Development of the Northern Sea Route: From Words to Results. TASS is the event’s general information partner and moderator of the investment projects’ presentation zone.
Arctic trend as a criterion
The Arctic trend is not an important strategic direction and it has become a criterion of everything new in the scientific, environmental, defense spheres.
This makes much easier the complex development of the North, the expert said. “The problem of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route now associates clearly both by representatives of the Russian political and economic elite, and by people of this country with one of the most important strategic directions of Russia’s future development, with growth of its resource, logistics and technological abilities,” he said.
“The Arctic trend is now a sort of litmus test for all the new and advance in modern scientific humanitarian and technological research, in environment and in raising the country’s defense capabilities.”
The public consensus regarding necessary complex development of the Russian North makes settlement of this task much easier from the administrative, financial, human resource and other points of view.
Economic development’s trigger
With understanding of how it is important to develop the Arctic, the country has begun there a few major projects, which are, among others, directed at development of the NSR infrastructures and at keeping it busy.
“This tendency’s result is beginning of many new Arctic projects – investment and infrastructure – having the objective of making the Russian Arctic zone a trigger of further development of the Russian economy, of using advantages of the country’s geo-strategic position in its relations with foreign counterparts,” the expert continued.
He mentioned as examples beginning of a practical development of the Arctic oil and gas deposits in Yamal and the Pechora Sea; construction of a new marine port in Sabetta for regular shipments of the liquefied natural gas to countries of Europe, America and the Asia-Pacific Region; projects on modernization and deepening of the sea ports in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk and other cities and towns along the Northern Sea Route, without which its development is absolutely impossible.
Another important project, he continued, are plans to build the strategic Belkomur railway with involvement of a Chinese company: the new route will connect regions of Siberia and the Urals with sea ports of the Russian North-Western Federal District, thus keeping NSR busy in the eastern direction.
In development of the Arctic, legal aspects are of major importance, and Russia lately has done great job in this direction, he said. “In the past years, Russia made great job in the political-legal provision and protection of this country’s interests in the Arctic, including its right for jurisdiction referring to the Northern Sea Route based on provisions of the modern international law,” the expert said.
Russia has adopted changes to the current legislation regarding state regulations of commercial navigation in waters of the Northern Sea Route, fixing the NSR legal status and its borders.
Eastern Economic Forum
The forum is the biggest international communication platform for cooperation between businesses, political and expert communities from Russia, the Pacific Region and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The event organizers report confirmations received from 24 delegations, including representatives of China, Japan, Australian, Canada and the US, as well as European countries like the UK, Germany and others.
In 2016, the Forum gathered 3,500 participants, who presented 111 projects worth total investments of 2.2 trillion rubles ($37 billion). The forum’s delegations signed 216 agreements worth 1.85 trillion rubles ($31 billion).
About Belkomur project
The BelKomUr project (‘Bel’ stands for White Sea, called Beloye in Russian, ‘Kom’ stands for Komi Republic and ‘Ur’ stands for Urals) is a new railway route, which will connect industrially developed regions in Siberia and the Urals with ports in Russia’s North and North-West.
The project will add to effective development of the Arctic projects and will form the international railway route across Russia between Russia’s European North and China, thus cutting by 800km the transportation distance for deliveries from Siberia and the Urals. At the regional level, the project will boost up industrial and social-economic developments in Komi, Perm, Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and other adjusting areas.
As the route is implemented, another 39 investment projects will develop further the North-Western part of Russia, attracting more than 720 billion rubles (almost $13 billion) in private investments, and offering 28,000 new jobs. The new railway’s annual capacity will be 35 million tons.
Coal, mineral fertilizers, oil, timber, ores, construction materials, containers will be taken to the backbone ports of the Northern Sea Routes: to the ports of Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Belomorsk, and later on also to Sabetta.
The extra-budgetary funding of the railway construction will exceed 260 billion rubles ($4.5 billion). As the exploitation term (26 years) expires, the Belkomur railway will be transferred for further use to the Russian Federation. The project’s investor is China’s Poly International Holding Co., Ltd, which is read to invest in the project up to 5.5 billion dollars.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Baltic Post.
All of the three services of the Finnish Defence Forces will participate in the AURORA 17 exercise organised by the Swedish Armed Forces. The exercise will be take place in areas around Stockholm, Gotland and Gothenburg and in the southern Baltic Sea 11-29 September 2017. Approximately 19,000 soldiers and other authorities from Sweden are participating in the exercise, as well as troops from Lithuania, Norway, Poland, France, Denmark, Estonia and the United States.
The Finnish Defence Forces’ total strength in the exercise is 300 persons. From the Finnish Army, the participants include a conscript infantry company in training in Pori Brigade’s Finnish Rapid Deployment Force, two NH90 transport helicopters, and staff officers. From the Finnish Navy, the participants consist of 15 staff officers from the headquarters of the Swedish-Finnish Naval Task Group. The Finnish Air Force contingent will consist of 6-8 F/A-18 multirole fighters operating from bases in Finland and Sweden.
The exercise is a part of planned military cooperation between Finland and Sweden. The goal of the participation is to develop bilateral military cooperation between Finland and Sweden and to develop skills of operating in a multinational environment. Additionally, the services have their own operational goals.
Sweden will be hosting a total of 16 countries for the 2017 edition of the German Navy-sponsored exercise Northern Coasts 2017.
The international exercise is taking place between September 8 and 21 off Gotland and in the Southern Baltic Sea.
A general goal of the drill is to develop skills in maritime surveillance, anti-surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and mine counter-measures. At a tactical stage, a fictitious but realistic scenario will see participants respond to a multinational crisis in maritime areas.
Northern Coasts is a recurring exercise which has been taking place in the Baltic Sea since 2007. European naval ships will be operating in multiple task groups composed of up to seven ships from different nations.
The previous two editions of the exercise were hosted by Germany in 2015 and Denmark in 2016.
RIGA, Aug 21 (LETA) – Last week Latvia signed an agreement with the Danish armed forces on purchase of Stinger air-defense systems, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis (Greens/Farmers) said in an interview with the Latvian public television on Monday.
He did not disclose the sum of the purchase or the number of the equipment. “The sum of the deal is not too high, but we will get quite a considerable number of weapons,” he said.
The minister said that he is proud of the deal. “It is very important for development of our armed forces […] we will be able to defend our country more efficienctly, if there is such a necessity,” the minister said.
He also said that the air-defense systems might be delivered already this year or early next year.
Portuguese Navy frigate NRP Francisco de Almeida (F334) departed its homeport of Lisbon Naval Base on August 6 to join NATO’s standing maritime group 1 (SNMG1).
The former Karel Doorman-class frigate will join units from Canada, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Norway for operations in the North and Baltic Sea.
During the frigate’s time with SNMG1, the maritime group will be commanded by Norwegian Navy Commodore Petter Kammerhuber from aboard the flagship of the group, HNoMS Otto Sverdrup.
NRP Francisco de Almeida will be commanded Frigate captain João Pedro Monteiro da Silva who will have a crew of 188 at his disposal, including two boarding teams, a team of divers. The frigate also has an embarked Lynx helicopter on board.
The crew are set to return home on December 6.
NRP Francisco de Almeida is a former Karel Doorman frigate Portugal purchased from the Netherlands. The two countries signed a contract for two frigates in 2006 with former HNLMS Van Nes being renamed to NRP Bartolomeu Dias (F333) and transferred to Portugal in 2009 and former HNLMS Van Galen renamed to NRP Francisco de Almeida (F334) and transferred in 2010.
The 122 meter frigate is armed with the OTO Melara 76 mm gun, MK48 VLS-launched Sea Sparrow missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, MK46 torpedoes and the Dutch Goalkeeper close-in weapon system (CIWS).
The Swedish military has released a statement announcing plans to hold its largest joint military exercise in years with NATO members this September.
The exercise will be labeled Aurora 17 and will involve land, air, and sea elements of the Swedish military and participating NATO members.
It will count over 19,000 Swedish personnel and 40 government agencies, 1,435 troops from the U.S. and smaller contingents from France, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.
“Through frequent and extensive training and exercise, especially with other defense forces, Sweden is strengthening its deterrence effect and makes it more credible,” the statement said.
There has been internal debate in Sweden and Finland concerning the possibility of joining NATO, and both have played higher profile roles in NATO summits. Russia’s increasing military assertiveness since its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatist rebels in Ukraine has raised concerns in neighboring countries and NATO.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia would see Sweden joining NATO as a serious encroachment and would demand a military response.
Aurora 17 will mark another in a string of increasingly large and elaborate military exercises taking place in the Baltics and eastern Europe.
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The U.S. Air Force has yet to stand up a squadron of F-35s in Europe, but it’s already working on how to integrate the fifth-generation combat jet with some of its closest allies in the region.
U.S. Air Forces in Europe this week brought together about 50 senior military fliers and planners from eight nations, all with a stake in the newest and most expensive fighter aircraft on the block.
The two-day forum on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter served to promote cooperation among the U.S. and its European counterparts that are already flying the plane or plan to do so. The goal was to share lessons learned and build common approaches that will support integrated flying operations in Europe in the future.
“We have to find a way to nest it all together,” said Gen. Tod Wolters, USAFE and Air Forces Africa commander.
“At the end of the day, if we can say this is something that we’re fusing into the system … we’re in a great place,” he told the group, which included fighter pilots, base commanders and chiefs of staff. The Army, NATO and the Marine Corps also sent representatives, as did Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Lightning II manufacturer.
The forum, which concluded late Thursday, was the first of its kind in Europe, officials said. It followed a similar conference held in March in the Pacific, where Japan, South Korea and Australia have all purchased the F-35.
Joining the U.S. at the European forum were Israel, Italy, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Turkey. Those nations have all purchased the aircraft. Israel and Italy are the first to be flying the plane in the region.
“We like to remind (people that) Italy was the first nation to fly the airplane overseas, across the Atlantic, so we are very proud of that,” said Maj. Gen. Aurelio Colagrande, chief of staff of Italy’s air command, noting that his country’s air force currently has three F-35s in its inventory.
The aircraft has had problems, he said, but that’s to be expected from a “brand-new machine.”
Despite those challenges, “we are very confident that the F-35 is a very capable airplane and all the issues that we are having right now will be solved in the future,” he said.
In the States, too, the F-35 program has been beset by technical and other problems. Most recently, F-35A flight operations at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., were temporarily paused last month when some pilots experienced symptoms similar to hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation.
The U.S. is expected to spend nearly $400 billion to buy about 2,443 aircraft, making it the Pentagon’s most expensive procurement program in history. President Donald Trump, Sen. John McCain and other prominent critics of the program have assailed its budget overruns.
But Lockheed Martin officials said Thursday the company is continuing to drive down costs because of manufacturing efficiencies gained through increased production rates. They expect to drop the cost for one aircraft to $85 million in 2019, about the same price tag as a fourth-generation fighter, said Bob Dulaney, a Lockhead Martin aeronautics representative.
The cost for the Air Force version of the plane fell below $100 million for the first time earlier this year, according to a February report in The New York Times.
The U.S. Air Force in Europe is still on track to stand up its first squadron overseas at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in 2020, said Col. Todd Canterbury, director of Headquarters Air Force F-35 Integration Office.
“Facilities are under construction as we speak,” he said, “as well as other infrastructure that comes with adding two more squadrons.”
It’s been a long time since the U.S. and some of its European allies and partners gained a new aircraft system around the same time, said Maj. Gen Timothy Fay, USAFE-AFAFRICA vice commander.
“Bringing the F-35 into this theater will really change the way we do business here in a way that we probably haven’t seen for decades,” Fay said.
Sweden, one of Europe’s last remaining neutral militaries, will host U.S. missile systems and a handful of troops from NATO allies in a marquee exercise this autumn.
Aurora 2017 will be Sweden’s attempt to test its own defenses against what it describes as a “larger, sophisticated opponent.” Over 19,000 Swedish troops will take part across the country, joined by forces from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Norway and the U.S. All but Finland, also nonaligned, are members of NATO.
“They haven’t done something like this in 25, 30 years,” U.S. Army in Europe’s Ben Hodges told Pentagon newspaper Stars and Stripeson Thursday. He confirmed the U.S. will deploy a Patriot missile battery, helicopters and a National Guard tank company to the Scandinavian country for Aurora 2017.
Concerned by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military reinforcement, Poland has already agreed to purchase the Patriot system, while Lithuania has called on the U.S. to deploy a battery on its turf.
“Deterrence lies at the core of a strong defense, one that rises to all threats and overcomes all challenges,” the Swedish armed forces’ description of the September drill reads. “It is designed to deter potential attackers, and force them to carefully consider the risks of attacking our country.”
Running in parallel is a major Russian drill on the other side of the Baltic Sea, which nearby Lithuania has already condemned as a “simulating an attack” on NATO. Concern of a clash with Russia has run high in Europe’s northeast, where neutral states or U.S. allies share the most considerable borders with Russia.
Aurora will take place across Sweden, including the solitary island of Gotland, which was demilitarized after the Soviet Union’s collapse and which Sweden has more recently rearmed in a symbolic indicator of Stockholm’s concerns over current Russian foreign policy.
Danish troops will get training in how to deal with Russian misinformation before being sent to join a NATO military build-up in Estonia in January, Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said on Monday.
“It is a whole new world. The Danish soldiers need to be extremely aware of that. Therefore I have arranged with the armed forces that the soldiers being sent out in January are informed and educated in how to protect themselves,” Frederiksen told Danish broadcaster DR.
“It is easy to imagine they will become exposed to intimidation and fake rumors,” he said of the 200 Danish soldiers being deployed.
In February, Lithuanian prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into a false report of a 15-year-old girl being raped by German NATO soldiers which spread quickly on social media.
NATO accused Russia of being behind the false report and said it expected more propaganda of this sort in the future.
Both NATO and the European Union are concerned by Russia’s ability to use television and the internet to project what they say is deliberate misinformation. Russia has denied being involved in any cyber warfare targeting Western governments or institutions.