Tag Archives: Estonia

Russian Military Power

Finland’s National Defense University has published a study entitled Russian Politico-Military Development and Finland.  If the media reporting is accurate, it may read a little like a latter-day Soviet Military Power.

Now few have read the document since there’s only a two-page English precis to go with press accounts of its contents.  Perhaps the entire thing will appear in English soon.

But here’s the gist. 

NATO and other Western countries believe war is an outdated idea, and U.S. power and interest in Europe are waning.  Russia, meanwhile, is seeking to revise the verdict of the Cold War, restore its great power status, and regain the Soviet sphere of influence.

It’s modernizing its crumbling armed forces with increasing investments [i.e. the 19-trillion-ruble State Program of Armaments or GPV 2011-2020].  The formation of the Unified Strategic Command (OSK) West (aka the new Western MD) has shifted the Russian Army’s center of gravity from Western Europe to the Northwest [at Finland].  And:

“The Russian armed forces are being improved by forming high-readiness forces with a capability of achieving operational results directly from peacetime employment.”

Finally, the study’s authors seem to see a Russian military resurgence that needs to be met by reinvigorating Finland’s territorial defense system:

“A large military reserve force is an indication of the will to defend the country, and has a major preventative value.”

It’s worth challenging three central propositions here.

Russia’s “increasing investments” in its military.  The Finnish report is reacting a priori to plans for large outlays for defense procurement that may or may not happen.  They authors are concerned about Russia’s intention to modernize, and what its forces might look like after modernization.  The current GPV could go the way of its predecessors; the first annual state defense order (GOZ) to fulfill the GPV isn’t exactly proceeding smoothly.  It’s important also to consider what’s being modernized.  In many cases, Moscow plans to replace arms and equipment from the 1980s and earlier, and not everything will be a world-class fourth- or fifth-generation weapons system.  Lots of the “new” models will be based on late Soviet-era designs.  

The shift to the Northwest.  To some extent, there may be an effort to get forces closer to their likely theater of operations.  But hysterical assertions of vastly increased Russian forces shouldn’t be taken seriously.  It’s largely the same forces organized differently, and certainly not all opposite Finland.  The creation of OSK West or the Western MD was also an attempt to cut redundant command and staff echelons and get the Ground Troops out of the expensive environs of Moscow and Moscow Oblast.  One could easily argue the Defense Ministry’s placed a higher priority on forces in the Southern or Eastern MDs. 

The formation of high readiness units.  The report’s authors are quoted as saying Russia’s high readiness forces will be ready to leave garrison, and begin offensive operations in an hour, according to Vzglyad’s interpretation of a Russian-language media outlet in Estonia.  In reality, the forces are now more highly ready to depart the garrison and get combat orders.  No one can say what those orders will say.  Any combat missions will have to be carried out by troops who generally have less than six months in the army, and they’ll be lucky to execute a successful defensive operation.  Also, let’s hope the Finnish study says that this high readiness was really more about getting rid of useless, hollow, low readiness cadre units.

But, as Newsru cites a former deputy commander of the OGV(s) in the North Caucasus, it’s hardly possible to talk about Russian efforts to encircle anyone “in the condition which we’re in, and with those obvious army problems which we have.”

No one should misunderstand.  The Finns are to be admired for their perspicacity when it comes to Moscow.  They’re keen observers of what’s happening in Russia.  They have to be. 

But there’s obviously a huge issue of perspective.  Things look very different from Helsinki, Washington, Paris, London, and Berlin.  Russia’s capabilities are somewhat hyped in a public debate about what level of forces and readiness Finland needs to deter Russia.

But, all in all, it doesn’t help anyone in the long-term to inflate [re-inflate?] a Soviet-style military threat.  A realistic assessment of Russian capabilities and intentions will lead to practical, affordable measures to counter them.

NATO Exercise in Baltic Region

People apparently love this issue, almost as much as information and netcentric warfare . . . .  So, give the people want they want.

Today’s Kommersant says, “They’ve Decided to Have Maneuvers on Russia’s Doorstep.”

The NATO leadership has decided to exercise in the airspace over Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, with forces from those countries plus the U.S., France, and Poland.  Kommersant calls it a symbolic start to a large-scale program with the Baltic member-states that will continue through this year.

The staff of NATO’s joint air forces command is quoted as calling the exercises ‘routine’ and having a strictly ‘organizational character.’  But they will also be “a demonstration of alliance solidarity with the countries of the Baltic region that have joined it.”

Participants intend to give special attention to increased coordination between NATO air forces and to patrolling air space.  It will give NATO a great opportunity to use regional air forces and evaluate their readiness.

The Baltic Region Training Event scheduled for 17-20 March was developed at the end of 2008.  France will use its Mirage 2000C, Lithuania its L-39 Albatros, Poland F-16, and the U.S. tanker aircraft.  Latvia and Estonia will provide ground control.  Fighters will land at Tallinn airport for refueling and simulated maintenance.

Kommersant says the issue of serious exercises with the Baltic members came up after Russia’s short war with Georgia in August 2008.  Baltic concerns were reinforced after Moscow’s Zapad-2009 exercise with Belorussia.  According to the paper, Baltic leaders saw in this exercise work on various scenarios for seizing the Baltic countries.  It notes that Russia’s possible purchase of France’s Mistral has also caused a stir in the Baltics and Poland.  Leaders of the former Soviet republics have asked the U.S. to press Paris not to sell it, according to Kommersant.

Washington and Brussels have heard Baltic concerns and planned a series of political and military steps to calm them.  Kommersant names the agreement to place Patriot air defense missiles in Morong, Poland, 75 km from Kaliningrad’s border in April as one of the steps.  NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly will meet in Riga in May.  Also noted is the June amphibious exercise in Estonia in which 500 U.S. Marines will participate.  Kommersant says Estonian officers will command the exercise.

The steps will culminate this fall in a joint ground exercise involving 2,000 U.S., Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian troops as well as transport ships.

Newsru.com added a comment from Fedor Lukyanov, chief editor of the foreign affairs journal ‘Russia in Global Politics.’  He noted that the Baltics don’t trust NATO completely, and European members of the alliance most of all, and suspect that they won’t risk relations with Russia in a crisis.  The fact that these will be the first on-the-ground exercises in the Baltics since the countries joined the alliance 6 years ago just serves as extra confirmation of this.

Moscow Makes Note of U.S. Exercise with Estonia

In Gazeta, Denis Telmanov covers plans for a U.S. amphibious landing exercise in Estonia on 11 July.  According to Tallinn, 500 U.S. Marines will land from the USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41) and conduct a 10-day exercise with an Estonian recce battalion.  Estonia’s Defense Minister says this exercise will show that NATO’s serious about defending the Baltic states.  He said it won’t have any aggressive character, and therefore won’t harm relations with Moscow.  Telmanov raises the issue of whether this exercise prepares a defense against Russia in a Georgian-style scenario.

Then Telmanov turns to Leonid Ivashov to comment and he’s at his vitriolic best.  Ivashov calls the exercise hidden aggression against Russia, “When exercises are conducted, a situation is played out, no one just simply conducts exercises.  In every instance, the U.S. wants to work out scenarios of military action in these countries, since they see a threat from Russia.” 

Ivashov thinks the U.S. has the strategic aim of gaining “maneuver room” in the Baltic.  He concludes, “Controlling this territory, it’s possible to organize everything there as it suits–color revolutions, crises.  But the Baltic–this is a sore point for Russia, right next to the second capital–St. Petersburg.  These exercises need to demonstrate how far these three countries have moved away from Russia.”