Friday, January 15, 2016

Moscow Must Act Before NATO Uses Baltic Countries as Base to Attack Russia, Analysts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Russian propagandists often accuse the West of doing or planning to do what in fact Moscow has done or plans to do. Consequently, when they declare as now that NATO is planning to use the Baltic countries as a base to attack Russia that may in fact constitute the clearest early warning signal that Moscow may be planning to attack them first. 

            Vasily Vankov of the Svobodnaya pressa portal interviews three Moscow analysts about NATO’s moves in the Baltics and how Russia should counter them.  While the three different in their assessments, their words taken together are extremely disturbing for what they say about Moscow’s reading of the situation (

            Ivan Konovalov, the director of the Moscow Center on Strategic Conjunction, agrees that “the active development by NATO of a military place des arms in the Baltic countries represents a threat to the security of Russia,” Vankov says, and he points out that Moscow has already responded by announcing plans to create three new divisions “in the Western direction.”

            The Moscow analyst says that the Baltic countries are interested in having NATO forces on their territory because it is “economically profitable.” Indeed, he says, the governments of the three are “exploiting the sharpening of the confrontation between Russia and the West for their own goals.”

            NATO is having to spend an enormous amount of money on basing, even rotational basing, Konovalov argues, perhaps a much as a billion US dollars a year. That offers enormous income to the Baltic countries, but it also is an indication of Western and especially American intentions in the region.

            He says that Baltic and NATO claims that what is going on is purely defensive can be dismissed out of hand. Abrams tanks and artillery systems are hardly “technology with a purely defensive purpose.” And the fact that NATO insists on rotating its forces rather than basing them in the Baltics permanently does not affect their potential, especially in the future.

All this means, Konovalov says, that “Russia is forced to react given that this recalls the situation of 1941 when the Germans moved up major military groups to our borders but spoke about them as a defensive measure.” This equation of NATO and the Nazis, a staple of Soviet propaganda, suggests how some in Moscow are now reading the situation today.

In response to what NATO has been doing, he continues, “we have changed our defense plan” and shifted forces to the West. “This is absolutely justified,” given that enemies have most often attacked Russia from the West either through Ukraine or the Baltics given that the Pripet Marshes in Belarus are an obstacle. 

Konovalov notes that the German army in World War II was not able to make the breakthrough it expected precisely because “the countries of the Baltic at that time were part of the USSR.”  Resistance around Liepaja delayed them “for almost a week.”  That underscores how important they are, he suggests, for Russia’s defense against a Western attack.

The Moscow analyst further says that “in essence,” NATO tactical nuclear weapons have “already” arrived in the Baltic countries. That is because, he says, “the latest modification of the B-61 nuclear bombs can be installed on any air platform and not just in strategic bombers” as was the case earlier.  There are thus planes in the Baltics now which could carry them.

Vankov also spoke with Viktor Litovkin, a retired colonel who is a military commentator for the official Russian news agency TASS.  He too says that “the Baltic has been transformed into a serious military advance post of NATO on Russia’s borders,” one even more worrisome because of what the Western alliance is doing elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

One can conclude, Litovkin suggests, that what NATO is doing violates the Russia-NATO founding act, even though the West is playing games over the meaning of “significant contingents of forces.” No one knows just what constitutes those, he points out, and “Washington doesn’t want to negotiate with Moscow” about a more precise definition.

“The creation of the three divisions about which Sergey Shoygu spoke is only a small part of the measures for protecting our borders in the West,” Litovkin says.  Moscow can in case of need put S-400 units and Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad, although it hasn’t yet on a permanent basis thus allowing the Americans a chance to pull back.

It is of course the case that NATO “will not risk attacking Russia,” Litovkin says, given Russian power and especially its superiority in tactical nuclear weapons. But “an arms race” in the Baltic region, provoked he suggests by the West, creates a dangerous situation that could easily get out of hand.”

And finally Vankov spoke with Moscow military analyst Vladimir Shcherbakov who suggests that what NATO has done so far does not constitute the kind of threat some others see or justify “excessive alarmism.”  But at the same time, he warns that there are dangerous trends and Moscow must be ready to respond to them.

Russia’s military doctrine, he points out, says that Moscow can use nuclear weapons first if there is “a real threat to the loss of sovereignty, security, and the territorial integrity of the country.” As far as its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons is concerned, “no one knows” how large it is; but even the Americans acknowledge that it is bigger than the one NATO has.

Shcherbakov sees as a strategic threat to Russia in the Baltics in another sector. He suggests that the increasing visits by American naval ships to Baltic ports is worrisome because the US is laying increasing stress on navy-based rockets for defense and such rockets can be easily repurposed to be used for offensive operations.

All that is needed, he says, is to make a few modifications to missile systems intended for defense so that they can be used otherwise. “And that is already a means of attack and the most real threat which can come from the side of the Baltic region.”

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