Russia’s militarization of Kaliningrad – sign of forthcoming military stand-off?

According to reports, Russia is planning to deploy mid-range Iskander rockets in Kaliningrad and shore up all other military units. What is the purpose of such actions and should Lithuania and Europe be worried about growing militarization at its borders?

Lithuanian Minister of National Defence Juozas Olekas, defence expert reserve Major Daivis Petraitis and political observer Aleksandras Matonis discuss the situation with journalist Edmundas Jakilaitis on LRT news show “Focus of Attention”.

Mr. Petraitis, how much and what kind of forces are currently deployed in Kaliningrad?

DP: The Baltic Fleet group, the land force group as well as units of anti-aircraft and coast defence, special service units.

How much have these forces grown of late?

DP: We should look at quality rather than quantity. Under its defence reform, Russia has changed certain structures, reviewed force deployment concepts. In terms of quality, Kaliningrad is getting more militarized.

What proof is there of it?

DP: The proof is in regular military exercises that are growing in intensity. Modernized weaponry is shipped to Kaliningrad. So far, Russia is still at stage two of its rearmament as envisaged in the reform: it is equipping its forces with modern weaponry. When Russians are capable of producing new weapons, there will be more.

Mr. Matonis, what changes do you see in the extent of armed forces in Kaliningrad?

AM: When it comes to Kaliningrad, we need to take note of the number of troops there. Reportedly, there are 30,000-35,000 troops, two mechanized brigades, armoured vehicles in the hundreds rather than dozens. They hold regular exercises at sea, usually to coincide with NATO exercises. There’s also intelligence work, they monitor NATO squadrons. Moreover, Kaliningrad hosts huge air defence forces. The older complexes get replaced by new and modern ones. Their range is rather extensive, over 400 kilometres.

That covers not just the entire territory of Lithuania, but also most of Latvia and Poland. Besides, the units are highly mobile, they are mounted on vehicles and can be easily redeployed to any site, which increases their coverage. All these things need to be taken into account when we plan for our defence, especially when it comes to the possibility of permanent deployment of Iskander complexes in Kaliningrad.

The German media reported several years ago that this weaponry had been already deployed in Kaliningrad.

AM: Those reports proved to be inaccurate. Otherwise, this kind of intelligence is available only to decision makers. Iskander deployment in Kaliningrad has not been confirmed publicly. There’s intelligence, however, that these complexes were transported for exercise.

Minister Olekas, what is your take on reports about the militarization of Kaliningrad? Could these be messages tailored by Russia itself to intimidate NATO allies?

JO: Any concentration and modernization of arms at our borders is a threat. We must react to it, both in our own capacity and that of our allies. Russia is flexing its muscles. For years, no one tried to slow them down, Russians were engaging in one act of aggression after another, and quite successfully. As for the current reported threats to use nuclear weapon, this might be a case of deliberately leaking information in order to intimidate. On the other hand, it is also an incentive for us to prepare even better. The threat is not only for Lithuania. The 400-kilometre range from Kaliningrad can reach not just Poland, but Germany as well.

What is your reaction to reports in the British media that Russia is threatening with nuclear weapons if NATO continues to send forces to the Baltic states?

JO: Once again, it’s putting the cart before the horse. NATO did not do anything while Russia was already modernizing its weaponry and deploying it to Kaliningrad as well as organizing military exercises. That will continue even if we do nothing. The only factor that can stop Russia – our own concern with our security. I think that our current steps to shore up our defence are correct, albeit slightly overdue. Neither we nor our allies are doing anything provocative. Our actions are a response to developments in Kaliningrad Oblost, in Russia’s Western Military District, not vice versa.

AM: I’d like to add that NATO’s steps to increase presence in the Baltic states are symbolic rather than anything else. On the national level, I think, we can already start planning how to involve allies into a different level of defence. We still cannot afford to acquire mid-range air defence systems, they are very expensive. So we might perhaps ask our allies to help us the same way they helped Poland. In Poland, they recently deployed Patriot rocket complex – we should ask for one as well. Because Iskander in Kaliningrad makes us as well as the Poles worry.

Mr. Petraitis, what is the goal of Russia’s military reform?

DP: I think the reform was launched in 2003, it was the well-known Ivanov Doctrine. It outlined what forces Russia was to have. Then there followed long and diligent work to reach those goals. Russia realized that the antiquated Soviet forces it inherited needed a revamp, as they were not suitable for today’s world. They created new, modern forces.

That can wage 2.5 wars at once. What does that mean?

DP: Yes, this statement comes from the 2000 military doctrine. This was the political will at the time. It means that the country should be able to engage in two different wars in different places simultaneously and, at the same time, conduct a smaller military mission, so-called peace-keeping. At the time, Western countries had similar ambitions, but they eroded with time. And now the United States are prepared for only one and a half wars. The Russians, meanwhile, did not cut down on their ambitions and consistently worked to have a force able to be at war in several places at once.

What is the meaning of the latest Russian moves to concentrate forces at its western borders?

AM: It’s a method of intimidation and pressure. In 2007, Russia withdrew from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which allowed it to concentrate a lot of weapons near the Caucasus, after which there followed military aggression against Georgia. What is happening now is a similar move to mobilize weaponry unchecked by any international treaties. We cannot control it. Even though there are military inspections, they fail to give as a comprehensive view of what is truly happening in Kaliningrad Oblast.

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