Staunton, October 19 – The presence of NATO forces in the Baltic Sea region has sparked discussions about the need to restore Russia’s military capacity in Kaliningrad, but “to restore what Russia itself for decades has destroyed will require enormous efforts,” possibly more than Moscow can currently afford, according to Andrey Rezchikov.
In Moscow’s Vzglyad today, the Russian analyst says that Western officials have long talked about Russia’s “militarization of Kaliningrad,” talk that reached a crescendo during the recent Zapad-2017 exercises and that has been used to justify the presence of NATO forces in the region (vz.ru/politics/2017/10/19/139608.html).
“In reality,” Rezchikov continues, “Russian forces in the region” are far fewer than NATO’s in the same theater and vastly fewer than they were in the early 1990s. At that time, for example, there were 32 submarines in the Baltic Fleet; now, there are “only two” remaining. There were then 90,000 Russian soldiers; now, there are a total of 11,600. And almost 900 tanks were withdrawn in 2008 alone.
According to the newspaper’s sources, in the early years of this century, the relationship of forces between NATO and Russia was 21 to 1 in the Western alliance’s favor. By the middle of the first decade, it has become 32 to 1 in favor of NATO. With the arrival of NATO forces in the region this year, the relationship may be even more lopsided against Russia.
Moscow failed to consider this possibility and to begin the building up of forces. Now, Rezchikov says, it faces many bottlenecks: there aren’t enough pilots to man the planes Moscow wants to play the primary defense force of the oblast because there aren’t enough being trained, and Lithuania has blocked the introduction of tanks by land. (They can still come by sea.)
As a result, according to one retired Russian general with whom the journalist spoke, “aviation regiments will be restored only on paper.” In reality, they will be hollow. Moscow officials and Duma members talk tough about building up defenses, the general says; but they aren’t committing the enormous resources needed according to a long-term plan.
Unless that changes, Kaliningrad will remain in a militarily weak position for some time to come.