Tag: S-400

Zapad 2017: what you need to know about Belarus and Russia’s military exercises

Zapad 2017: what you need to know about Belarus and Russia’s military exercises

Russia and Belarus kick off Zapah 2017: what you need to know

Russia and Belarus’ Zapad military exercises have provoked concern among Nato members and allies in eastern Europe.

“We are going to be watching very closely the course of these exercises,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Poland last month.

Here’s what you need to know

The numbers

Scheduled to last between September 14 and 20 in Belarus and eastern Russia the drills officially include 12,700 troops, with a little under half coming from Russia and the rest being Belarussian military. However, European sources have suggested up to 100 000 personnel could be involved, a figure denied by Moscow.

According to figures announced by Russia’s Defence Ministry, the drills will involve around 70 airplanes and helicopters, 10 combat ships, along with 680 units of combat equipment, including 250 tanks and 200 machine guns, multiple launch rocket systems and other heavy weaponry.

The scenario

The Russian Defence Ministry has always insisted that the purpose of the drills is purely defensive

The drills will take place on the territory of three ranges in Leningrad, Pskov and Kaliningrad in Russian and six ranges in Belarus. The name “Zapad” (which translates as “west”) is said to refer to the western part of Russia and Belarus and not the states of the European Union, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. He also called on western media not to politicise the exercise and not to misinterpret its objectives.

“Some people come to a conclusion, the exercise “Zapad 2017” aims to “set the stage for invasion” and “occupation” of Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine. None of this surprising theories has anything to do with the reality,” — Fomin announced.

According to the premise of the drills, Belarus gets attacked by three imaginary enemy states: Veyshnoria, Vesbaria and Lubenia. Lubenia is situated on the territory of western Belarus, while Veisbaria and Lubenia — are in territory belonging to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The aim of the drills is to test the ability of joint forces of Russia and Belarus to hold off the enemy’s attack and practice cooperation between the military administration of the two countries.

Nato concerns

The governments of states sharing borders with Russia have expressed fears that the drills will be used for military provocation.

The main concern is that Russian may use the exercise to relocate a large number of military personnel to Belarus. The head of staff of the Ukrainian Army, Victor Muzhenko, has suggested that Russia could then launch an assault on its neighbours on the grounds of “massive provocations” concerning “the abuse of rights and threats to the safety of Russian-speaking minority”.

Baltic states have similar concerns, even though the idea of an invasion is further off.

Latvia sent a task force to Belarus to observe the drills, justifying the move by citing the risk of incursions into its airspace: The minister for foreign affairs Edgars Rinkevics has indicated it is possible foreign military aircraft could overfly neighbouring territory. At the same time, he played down the prospect of military invasion — especially due to an enhanced Nato presence in the region.

Meanwhile, Latvia is also undertaking some additional security measures. Authorities have even called on fans of strike ball — a military game, where participants dress in camouflage and carry fake weapons — to give up on their hobby for a while, to avoid causing panic among populations in border regions.

The Lithuanian authorities share the position of Latvia. “We are prepared better, than during the “Zapad 2009” and “Zapad 2013” exercises, the president of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite declared on September, 14 in an interview for LRT radio station. “More defensive units and measures are now located on our territory”.

By Maria Epifanova

 

Russia’s formidable S-400 Triumf air defense missile system

Mikhail Japaridze/TASS

MOSCOW, October 9. /TASS/.

Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation reported on October 9, 2017 that Moscow and Riyadh had reached an agreement on the delivery of S-400 air defense missile systems and other armaments to Saudi Arabia.

The S-400 Triumf (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) is a Russian long-and medium-range air defense missile system. It is designed to destroy air attack and reconnaissance means (including stealth aircraft) and any other aerial targets amid intensive counter-fire and jamming.

Development and entry into service

The work on the conceptual design of the point air defense missile system initially designated as the S-300PM3 was launched by the Almaz research and production association (currently the Almaz research and production association named after Academician Alexander Raspletin, Moscow) in the mid-1980s under the supervision of Chief Designer Alexander Lemansky. This work was intensified in the late 1990s and on February 12, 1999 the system was demonstrated for the first time at the Kapustin Yar practice range (the Astrakhan Region) to then-Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev. The trials of the most advanced air defense missile system were carried out in the 2000s.

On April 28, 2007, the S-400 went into service and the first battalion of the newest surface-to-air missile systems assumed combat duty on August 6 that year in the town of Elektrostal (the Moscow Region). Six weeks later, On September 27, 2007, the Triumf’s developer, Alexander Lemansky who saw the launch of his missile system into serial production, died at the Kapustin Yar practice range. The system’s first live-fire exercises were successfully carried out at the Kapustin Yar practice range in 2011.

 

The S-400 is based on the S-300PMU2 air defense missile complex. It differs from its predecessors by its extended combat range and the capability of using new surface-to-air missile systems. It is capable of detecting and destroying low-observable (stealth) and fast-moving aerial targets.

S-400 system and its integral parts

The S-400 Triumf comprises the following:

  • a combat control post;
  • a three-coordinate jam-resistant phased array radar to detect aerial targets;
  • six-eight air defense missile complexes (with up to 12 transporter-launchers, and also a multifunctional four-coordinate illumination and detection radar);
  • a technical support system;
  • missile transporting vehicles;
  • a training simulator.

The S-400 system can also additionally include an all-altitude radar (detector) and movable towers for an antenna post. All the S-400’s means are mounted on the wheeled all-terrain chassis (produced by the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Factory and the Bryansk Automobile Enterprise) and can be transported by rail, water and air transport.

The S-400 can selectively operate with the use of no less than 5 missile types of various takeoff weights and launch ranges to create a layered air defense zone.

The S-400 is also capable of exercising control of other air defense missile systems (the Tor-M1, the Pantsyr-S1), providing highly effective air defense even amid a mass air attack with the use of electronic warfare means.

Technical characteristics

  • target detection range – up to 600 km;
  • aerodynamic target kill range – from 3 to 250 km;
  • tactical ballistic missile destruction range – from 5 to 60 km;
  • target destruction altitude – from 2 to 27 km;
  • engageable target velocity – up to 17,300 km/h;
  • the number of targets engaged at a time – up to 36 (up to six with one air defense missile complex);
  • the number of simultaneously guided missiles – 72;
  • the time of the system’s deployment from its march position – 5-10 min, the time of making the system combat ready from the deployed position – 3 min;
  • the operational service life of ground-based systems – no less than 20 years, air defense missiles – no less than 15 years;

Russian Aerospace Force Deputy Commander-in-Chief Viktor Gumyonny said on April 8, 2017 that missiles capable of “destroying targets in outer space, at long distances and large speeds” had started arriving for S-400 systems.

S-400 systems on combat duty in the Russian Armed Forces

According to public sources, 19 regiments armed with S-400 complexes were on combat duty in the Russian Armed Forces as of April 2017. Overall, these regiments included a total of 38 battalions and 304 launchers in Elektrostal, Dmitrov, Zvenigorod, Kurilovo (Moscow Region), Nakhodka (the Primorye Territory), Kaliningrad, Novorossiysk (the Krasnodar Territory), Polyarny (the Murmansk Region), Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (the Kamchatka Territory), Novosibirsk, Vladivostok, Sevastopol and other places.

The state armament program envisages the arrival of 56 S-400 battalions for troops by 2020, which will make it possible to rearm 28 two-battalion air defense missile regiments.

A battalion of Triumf surface-to-air missile systems was deployed on November 25, 2015 from the Moscow Region to Syria’s Hmeymim air base accommodating the Russian air task force. Later on, according to media reports, another S-400 battalion was deployed in the Syrian province of Hama.

 

 

Turkey agrees to purchase high-tech missile defence systems from Russia

S-400 Triumph air-defense system. Source: Ria Novisti

Turkey has agreed to purchase as many as four S-400 missile defence systems from Russia for $2.5bn, a report said on Thursday.

The deal signifies a shift from Turkish reliance on NATO for military aid.

As it stands now, Russia will send two S-400s to Turkey next year with plans to build another two inside Turkey, Bloomberg News reported, citing a Turkish official.

It would mark the first time that Turkey has bought high-tech military equipment from Russia since an arms agreement was made after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Turkey currently relies on NATO-deployed missile batteries for long-range defence and any S-400 bought by Turkey would not be able to intergrate into the NATO system.

Prior to the potential S-400 deal, Turkey had purchased only minor weaponry including rocket-propelled grenades from Russia.

Russia first participated in a Turkish military tender for attack helicopters in 1995, but failed with a joint Israeli bid.
Russian forces deployed S-400s to Syria last year to protect its bases, although the system failed to detect or disrupt a US Tomahawk cruise missile strike on a Syrian government airbase in April, prompting consternation among Russian defence experts.

Meanwhile, Russia is open to discussing partially lifting its ban on tomato imports from Turkey, provided the move does not harm its own farmers or investors, agriculture minister Alexander Tkachev told Reuters on Thursday.

In a bid to resolve a trade row with Russia, Ankara has proposed that Moscow lift the ban on Turkish tomatoes during periods when Russian farmers are unable to grow their own.

Source: Middle East Eye.

New arms for Belarus and Russia’s military plans in the region

Joint Belarus-Russian military exercise 2015

Belarus Digest, By Siarhei Bohdan, 4 July 2017

On 20 June, Belarus signed a contract with the Russian Irkut corporation to purchase 12 Su-30SM fighter jets for $600m. This would be the largest ever arms deal between Minsk and Moscow. Earlier in June, Minsk also received its first batch of T-72 tanks, which were modernised in Russia.

At first glance, Russia seems to be arming Minsk. This fits with conjectures that the Kremlin is becoming increasingly hawkish and Minsk and Moscow are colluding to put their regional and Western opponents under pressure.

However, a more scrupulous analysis of such arms deals, as well as the armaments the Belarusian army possesses, paints a different picture. Moscow refuses to bolster the steadily declining Belarusian military’s capacity to conduct offensive operations, including joint large-scale operations with Russia.

Does the Kremlin really want to arm Belarus?

On 21 May, the head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation, Dmitry Shugaev commented that ‘Russia is interested in ensuring that the Belarusian army has modern equipment.’

Meanwhile, even Belvpo.com, a media outlet with probable (close) links to the Belarusian army, has repeatedly criticised Russia’s policy regarding weapons for Minsk over the past several months.

One of the publication’s authors, Valery Berazhnoi, recently lashed out at the Kremlin for refusing to supply Minsk with S-400 surface-to-air (SAM) systems and Iskander tactical ballistic missile systems. He noted that Russia had already given S-400s to China and Iskanders to Armenia.

Moreover,

For almost ten years, Belarusians were given promises [of receiving Iskanders]. Thus, in cooperation with the Chinese, the Belarusian defence industry created a fundamentally new type of weapon – the Palanez rocket system [because they could not get Iskanders].

The Belarussian Palanez rocket system, developed in cooperation with the Chinese

These are harsh words coming from a publication which is neither oppositional nor nationalist, but produced by retired Belarusian army officers.

Their stance corresponds with that of the Belarusian government. On 7 October 2016, president Alexander Lukashenka criticised Russia’s lack of willingness to supply weapons to Belarus during an assembly of the national parliament. In particular, he referred to the Iskander missile system: ‘So it turns out that in order to protect you [Russia], I must … buy a gun from you? Is that normal?’

The facts also point to Moscow’s reluctance to provide Minsk with arms. Lukashenka’s and Putin’s failure to boost Belarus’s offensive military capacities becomes obvious after a brief analysis of which weapons the Belarusian army has received and decommissioned over the past several years.

Aircraft: Minsk pays

On 20 June, the Moscow-based business daily Vedomosti explained that Russian loans would be used to finance the forthcoming deliveries of Su-30. In order to make it easier for the Belarusian budget, the Russian manufacturer would deliver about four aircraft a year.

However, money still remains an issue. When asked about the deliveries, Belarusian defence minister Andrei Raukou simply told Tut.by that ‘The contract specifies this with one line: as soon as funding starts.’

Tut.by also reports that the contract had been concluded directly, i.e., without the mediation of the Russian government. In other words, the Kremlin is in no haste to arm Minsk; Belarus must purchase arms like any other country.

Sukhoi Su-30

This seems to be a pattern. Last October, Lukashenka revealed the conditions on which Minsk had bought the S-300 SAM systems to the Belarusian parliament: ‘To my knowledge, we paid $170m, took the S-300s, repaired them, modernised them, and deployed them.’ In other words, Minsk paid Russia even for second-hand S-300PS – despite the fact that the Kremlin could hardly have sold them at a decent price anywhere.

Helicopters and fighter jets for sale

The Belarusian army will not enlarge its air force by adding the new Su-30SMs to it. According to then deputy defence minister Ihar Latsyankou in February 2016, it will use the new jets to replace currently active MiG-29s, which Belarus inherited from Soviet times.

Minsk is already looking to sell its MiGs. On 29 June, the Russian military analysis blog BMPD, citing an anonymous Serbian source, reported that although Serbia has currently stopped negotiating the purchase of eight MiG-29s from Belarus, it could conclude the deal in 2018 or later.

A similar situation exists regarding combat helicopters. On 25 June, Russian military aviation blogger kloch4 published an abusive but noteworthy analysis of Minsk’s plans to decommission its Mi-24 attack helicopters and sell them abroad.

After analysing numerous photographs of Belarusian army helicopters, he concluded that although Belarus had inherited more than seven dozen helicopters from the Soviet army:

…we can confirm a sharp weakening of the Mi-24 fleet in Belarus – there are only a dozen flying vehicles, some of them – the Mi-24 of non-attack modifications which cannot employ guided anti-tank weapons. The choppers of the latter kind have recently been returned to service, which indicates a certain armaments crisis … There were no attempts noticed to modernise the equipment in order to increase its combat capacities, including for night missions.

Its no wonder that on 10 June, the French daily Le Figaro quoted a UN Security Council document saying that the Mi-24 attack helicopters recently seen at airfields controlled by Libya’s Tobruk-based government had been purchased from Belarus. The UAE had bought them for its Libyan allies. The Emirati government has been buying military equipment for its Libyan friends for some years: in 2014, it purchased four Mi-24V attack helicopter from Belarus for Libya. Le Figaro‘s report might indicate that there were further such deals.

The Belarusian army’s attack helicopters are in even more dire straights than its fighter jets. Unlike fighter jets, which are partly being replaced by newer airplanes, Minsk has no such policy for its attack helicopters. It did not buy any new combat helicopters from Russia – only 18 Mi-17V5 transport helicopters. This is an odd choice for a country preparing for a clash with NATO.

Mi-17V5

Modernising Soviet armour once again

What’s more, there are no new tanks coming from Russia to strengthen Minsk’s military might either. On 2 June, the Belarusian army received its first batch of T-72B3 tanks from the Russian plant Uralvagonzavod. The T-72B3 model is the latest Russian modification (as of 2016) of the Soviet mass-produced T-72 tank.

As great as this might sound, this makes little difference for Belarus’s offensive capacities. First, Minsk received only four tanks, even though the Belarusian defence ministry subsequently signed a contract with the Russian firm on modernising another batch of T-72s.

Secondly, the Russians are modernising Belarus’s own T-72s. They are not providing new machines, not even T-90s, which have been deployed by the Russian army for many years already.

Belarus army T-72

The same can also be said about other types of armoured vehicles. Thus, contrary to claims by some Russian military analysts, Minsk has abandoned its plans to buy new Russian BTR-82As, an armoured personnel carrier. What’s more, for several years Belarus has been receiving lighter armoured vehicles of the Humvee-type not from Russia, but from China – and for free.

In sum, an analysis of Belarusian military hardware purchases and sales does not seem to indicate any preparation for large-scale operations involving Belarusian participation, such as a Russian invasion of the Suwalki gap to reach the Kaliningrad Province or indeed anything larger than counterinsurgency missions. Moreover, Belarus still retains its brigade-based army structure – which it adopted for smaller operations – while since 2014 Russian has been reestablishing larger units – divisions and even armies – suitable for fighting large-scale wars.

Is Minsk just out of money? Perhaps, but Russia is not demonstrating any willingness to boost the combat capacities of its Belarusian ally for such deployments by supplying it with appropriate weapons.

The only new equipment Belarus received from Moscow over the last five years was trainer jets and transport helicopters, with Tor-M2 SAM systems being the largest Russian contribution to Belarusian defence. And Minsk paid for them.

Thus, it is clear that if Russia has any plans for larger offensive operations, the Belarusian armed forces have no place in them.

 

Antimissile ‘umbrella’ to be created over Russia’s enitre territory

Russia Flies Strategic Space Warfare Missile.

TASS Russian News Agency, 8 June 2017

Russia’s defense industry has proposed to the Defense Ministry a rational missile defense option that will allow for opening an anti-missile umbrella over the country’s whole territory, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Wednesday.

“The joint working group for creating the technical basis of Russia’s air and space defense, which I have led since 2012, has arrived at the conclusion that the industry and military scientists have managed to propose to the Defense Ministry a rational option of creating the country’s missile defense shield, including the ground and space components. Once Russia’s integral space system is in place, Russia will find itself under an anti-missile umbrella,” he said.

S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft missile system.

Earlier, the commander of Russia’s space force, Lieutenant-General Aleksandr Golovko said the new generation radar Voronezh-DM, commissioned in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, will enter combat duty by the end of this year.

This radar is capable of identifying ballistic and hypersonic targets 6,000 kilometers away. It has been used in the experimental mode since the end of last year. Joint crews of Russia’s aerospace force and the manufacturers maintained the radar’s test operation.

The radar has spotted six launches of inter-continental ballistic missiles so far. The northeastern part of the Pacific and the North are within the radar’s area of responsibility.

The Voronezh-DM radar, built in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, is an integral element of the missile attack warning system.

 

More:
http://tass.com/defense/950236

Some 60,000 Russian troops deployed in Crimea today – [Opinion]

UNIAN Information Agency, 3 June 2017

To date, there are a total of 60,000 Russian troops in Crimea, and their number could increase to 100,000 or 120,000 in the future, according to the online newspaper ZN.UA.

According to experts, the radical change in the military-strategic balance in the region was influenced not so much by the number of servicemen as by the strike missiles and means of their delivery, concentrated on the territory of Crimea during the period of occupation, ZN.UA reports.

“In fact, in the center of the Black Sea – on the Crimean peninsula – the Russian Federation has created and continues to rapidly build up the so-called anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) zone, that is a protected area where the enemy troops could not get in without risk of suffering unacceptable losses,” the experts said. Russia has also deployed six nuclear warheads in Crimea – Dzhemilev. They also note that the “protected area” with the center in Crimea is formed by different types of modern land- and sea-based tactical missile systems (Iskander and Caliber), coastal anti-ship complexes (Bastion and Ball), air defense missile systems (S-300, S-400, Buk-2M, and Pantsir), electronic warfare systems, etc.

As reported, the missiles of the Iskander, Caliber, and Bastion complexes are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. “This ‘area’ could not only target the coastal regions of all the Black Sea countries, but it can also reach the territories of the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, including Crete, as well as Balkan countries, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, Iraq, the coasts of Egypt and southern Italy,” the experts added.

They assume a high probability that nuclear warheads for sea and coastal missile systems are deployed in Crimea. As UNIAN reported earlier, Russia had been building up its military potential in occupied Crimea, preparing for a possible offensive.

 

The Kaliningrad Oblast Today: A “Military Bastion 2.0”, not a “Bridge of Cooperation”

Diplomaatia, By Sergei Suhhankin, 2 June 2017

In the late 1990s/early 2000s, Kaliningrad Oblast—the Russian enclave situated on the shores of the Baltic Sea—was frequently referred to as a would-be “pilot region” and/or “bridge of cooperation” between Russia and the European Union.

Sadly, this was nothing more than a mirage created by the air of freedom spreading across Central and Eastern Europe as a result of the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The vestiges of these hopes were removed irrevocably between 2009 and 2016. This period did nothing but corroborate the unwelcome reality that Kaliningrad is neither a “pilot” nor a “bridge”. It is a growing source of threat, skilfully used by Moscow to intimidate the countries of the Baltic Sea region. Conceived as a military bulwark against the West in 1945, the oblast now seems to be returning to its historical roots and a mission chosen for it by the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

What was supposed to happen … and what actually occurred

The start of the journey for post-1991 Kaliningrad was quite optimistic. The advent of progressive, liberal-oriented governor Yurii Matochkin (1991–6), the region’s proximity to Europe, and a benevolent stance on cooperation with the West among a sizeable part of the Russian ruling elite, provided many foreign and domestic experts with idealistic hopes of Kaliningrad soon becoming the “Russian gateway” to Europe and a “Baltic Hong Kong”. Indeed, the oblast was given an opportunity to feel a bit European not only by virtue of its geography but also through various EU-backed initiatives—an opportunity inconceivable for the vast majority of Russian regions. Yet the expectations were not destined to be realised. The reality proved much more disappointing than the dream.

Instead of a “Baltic Hong Kong”, Kaliningrad became a Russian embarrassment and the “black hole” of Europe.1 Instead of an island of prosperity and joint projects, it would rapidly deteriorate into the “Russian AIDS/HIV capital”, “double periphery” and “smugglers’ capital” of the Baltic. This was profoundly aggravated by the absence of any coherent strategy on Kaliningrad on the part of Moscow, which resulted in the economic collapse of the oblast in 1998.

In the minds of the local population, the pervasive impoverishment and humiliation (especially given the extent of progress in neighbouring states) that ensued after 1991 were inseparable from “liberal experiment” and the unfriendly posture of the “West”. These sentiments were easy to breed: having been isolated prior to 1991, Kaliningrad was simply not prepared to face the newly globalising world in which prosperity was measured by readiness to compete and change rather than the size of subsidies allocated by the federal centre under imaginary pretexts.

The way out: Back to the USSR?

During the Soviet period, Kaliningrad Oblast was a somewhat privileged region: the ability to travel to the Baltic States and sizable economic subsidies secured a relatively prosperous lifestyle, unimaginable for many citizens of the USSR. Moreover, the lion’s share of the local economy was tightly bound with the needs of locally stationed armed forces personnel. Many scholars believe that between 1945 and 1991 Kaliningrad was the most heavily militarised place in Europe (and probably the world).2 But this was a “golden cage” and an illusion of well-being, as became particularly clear after 1991 and would have a sobering effect on the local population. Regretfully, lessons were not learned and the sources of hardship were not correctly identified.

That is why, when, in 1999, Moscow started cracking down on local freedoms established by the first governor, the reaction of the vast majority of Kaliningraders was mild, to say the least. Unfortunately, the prospect of stability outweighed the opportunities offered by a free market based on competition and merit.

In the meantime, it should also be acknowledged that, in spite of growing political assertiveness displayed after 2003, Moscow did not dare to use Kaliningrad as the venue for a massive military build-up and a regional “scarecrow”. Its mission was mainly seen as an auxiliary mechanism and a venue for negotiations with key European players (as deemed by Moscow) and a mouthpiece for “anti-Baltic” sentiment. Incidentally, this was clearly demonstrated during the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad/Konigsberg in 2005. Meanwhile, public obedience was to be secured through a new law on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) adopted in 2006 that removed the last vestiges of freedom and fully transferred the local economy under Moscow’s direct supervision/dictate.

Vicissitudes of history: How Kaliningrad turned into a “military bastion 2.0”

Those (quite numerous) experts who argued that, with the collapse of the USSR, Kaliningrad Oblast irrevocably lost its military potential and no longer posed a serious security threat to the region turned out to be wrong. Between 2009 and 2016 the oblast underwent intensive militarisation that rapidly transformed it into a formidable outpost of Russian military might in the Baltic Sea region.

However, the first alarm signal for the West came long before 2009. In June 1999, Exercise Zapad-99 was held. As a result, Russia adopted a new national security concept that recognised the weakness of Russian conventional forces and enabled Moscow to use its nuclear potential in the event of an emergency.3 Another troublesome episode related to the alleged deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of the oblast in the early 2000s, which was vehemently denied by the Russian side. Sadly, the majority of European politicians, experts and intellectuals decided to avoid the issue in order not to antagonise the Kremlin.

A truly dangerous threshold was crossed in 2007. The notorious “Munich Speech” by President Putin not only showed the existing abyss between Russia and the West, it also identified Russian readiness to use Kaliningrad as a pawn in a power play against NATO. From this point on, Moscow began to pursue “Iskander diplomacy”4—threats to deploy nuclear missiles on the enclave’s territory if the West did not agree to Russia’s demands.

The growing military potential of Russian activities in the enclave can be conditionally separated onto organisational reforms and military build-up.5

1. Organizational reforms. Between 1991 and 2016, the Baltic Sea Fleet attained a disgraceful reputation as a “nest of crime”6 and “the Kremlin’s headache”.7 In order to restore its former military might, Moscow undertook a drastic move, decapitating the entire Baltic Sea Fleet overnight by sacking virtually all its top-rank commanders. Of course, it would be premature to draw any far-reaching conclusions; rather, this should be seen as a sign of commitment on the Kremlin’s part to act decisively and upgrade not only military capabilities as such, but also eliminate the remnants of the previous chaos.

2. Military build-up

– Military exercises. Strategic military exercises under the codename Zapad (carried out in 1999, 2009 and 2013) have shown the growing extent of Russia’s regional ambitions and its determination to preserve military superiority over NATO forces on this flank. The most striking differences between the three exercises were their territorial scope and the manpower and technical compound employed. The most recent Zapad may have involved up to 100,000 military personnel.

– Technical re-equipment. Within a very brief period, formidable and up-to-date examples of Russian weaponry have been deployed on the territory of the oblast. These include S-400 complexes, Bastion missile systems (including Onyx missiles with a range of 600 km or even 800 km),8 Kalibr missiles (up to 3,000 km) and nuclear-capable Iskander-M missile complexes (500 km), as well as various anti-missile installations (such as Podsolnukh-E and Voronezh-M radars).

In the end, as a result of a broad range of military-related activities in the Western Military District (WMD) carried out in 2015–6, Russia has been able to attain complete conventional superiority over NATO forces in the Baltic. In this regard, the striking transformation experienced by Kaliningrad certainly played an essential role in this process. It should be stressed that Kaliningrad Oblast has become the centre of the so-called anti-access/area-denial ‘bubble’ (A2/AD),9 posing a serious challenge to the Baltic States and Poland and simultaneously reducing the strategic geopolitical role of Belarus. Moreover, due to the build-up of the enclave’s military strength, in the event of a direct military encounter with NATO forces in the region Russia could easily occupy Gotland and the Åland Islands, effectively turning the entire Baltic Sea into “Mare Nostrum”—an eloquent definition presented by the Soviet admiral Nikolay Kuznetsov in the late 1940s.

Moreover, Russia’s decision to walk out of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) in 2015 has granted the Kremlin the right to beef up its military presence on the oblast’s territory to the extent that Moscow deems appropriate without any requirement to be accountable to any external players. The consequences of this move are yet to be fully understood.

There is, however, yet another facet related to the profound security-related transformations experienced by Kaliningrad Oblast—the so-called “Suwałki Gap”.

What is the “Suwałki Gap”, and who should be scared?

Kaliningrad’s status as a centre of the A2/AD “bubble” is inseparable from the Suwałki Gap (“przesmyk Suwalski” in Polish) phenomenon. Approximately 100 kilometres wide, this strip of land connects Poland and Lithuania and has the oblast and Belarus at its upper and lower extremities. The strategic importance of this area has been specifically underscored by the Commander of the United States Army in Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who stated that it could potentially be a target of Russian military aggression.10

If this became a reality, the three Baltic States would be effectively cut off from other NATO countries. Moreover, by using Baltiysk and Kronstadt—home ports of the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet—Russia could complete the blockade from the sea.However, for this to be feasible Moscow would need the full and unconditional support of Belarus. But, given the most recent (as well as more distant) differences between the two countries, such support appears to be in real doubt; just remember Alexander Lukashenka’s stance on the Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

In the light of these developments, the upcoming military exercises Zapad-2017 are viewed with an ever-growing sense of alarm in Minsk (notwithstanding the official rhetoric). The most frequently stated sentiment in the Belarusian media is not about the transfer of additional Russian troops to Belarusian territory for the exercises, but how many of these troops will leave when they end.

What should we expect?

The speed with which Russia turned the “Kaliningrad puzzle” into the “Kaliningrad headache”11 is truly impressive. The prompt mobilisation of resources within a short period—an essential element of every authoritative regime—has been used to its optimum by Moscow in pursuing its strategic goals in the Baltic theatre.

It should be stated that a re-militarised Kaliningrad poses a serious and far-reaching challenge not only to regional players, but also to transatlantic relations. Russia is likely to speculate on a further build-up of military power in the enclave as a “just response” to NATO’s regional activities and under the shield of alleged Russophobia in the Baltic States.

But these impressive transformations must not be over-exaggerated. Having suffered a sound geopolitical defeat in 1991, Russia has been able to attain some semblance of status quo on the Baltic, but not to achieve the position enjoyed by the USSR. This said, it must still be argued that NATO has far greater potential in the region. This, however, implies that some steps should be taken. Their success will dictate the trajectory of the development of the entire region for the foreseeable future.

______

1 Sergey Sukhankin, ‘Kaliningrad in the “Mirror World”: From Soviet “Bastion” to Russian “Fortress”’. CIDOB, Barcelona, June 2016. Available at: http://www.cidob.org/es/publicaciones/serie_de_publicacion/notes_internacionals/n1_151/kaliningrad_in_the_mirror_world_from_soviet_bastion_to_russian_fortress

2 Sergey Sukhankin, ‘Kaliningrad: Russia’s island in Europe’. New Eastern Europe, Cracow, 29 January 2016. Available at: http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/interviews/1876-kaliningrad-russia-s-island-in-europe

3 For more information, see: https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_01-02/docjf00

4 https://jamestown.org/program/russia-flexes-iskander-muscles-northwestern-flank/

5 https://jamestown.org/multimedia/us-russia-security-europes-flanks-panel-four/

6 https://jamestown.org/program/the-russian-baltic-sea-fleet-a-nest-of-crime/

7 https://jamestown.org/program/russias-western-flank-a-mighty-pillar-or-a-headache-part-one/; https://jamestown.org/program/russias-western-flank-a-mighty-pillar-or-a-headache-part-two/

8 https://topwar.ru/112398-oniks-800-km-mif-ili-realnost.html

9 http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR229/RAND_RR229.pdf

10 http://www.baltictimes.com/u_s__army_commander_warns_of_russian_blocking_of_baltic_defence/

11 http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_kaliningrad_from_boomtown_to_battle_station_7256?utm_content=buffer87cfe&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Top Russian official says Moscow ready to sell affordable weaponry to Serbia

Buk anti-aircraft missile system.

TASS Russian News Agency, 2 June 2017

Serbia has shifted its focus on obtaining the Tor and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems rather than the S-300 missiles. It’s final decision on any purchase will depend on the country’s budget, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters on Thursday.

“The S-300 is an expensive system,” he said. “It costs really a lot and does Serbia have enough funds to pay for it?” “Serbia is much more interested in creating a close-combat air-defense network and for this purpose we have the Tors and the Buks, which are armaments for close-range and medium-range combat,” Rogozin said. “As for the S-300s and S-400s, they are for the long-range combat. So it will depend on how much money the Serbian government is prepared to shell out.”   More: http://tass.com/defense/949127