The Militarization of the Baltic Sea

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - Since 1990, the German Navy is more than ever focusing its activities on the power struggle with Russia in the Baltic Sea. It is "conceivable" that "the eastern area of the Baltic Sea could become the venue for conflicts of interests and provocations," the head of a department in the German Navy Command wrote in an article published in the current edition of MarineForum. This necessitates preparations for "the regular and permanent presence of operational forces" and a resolute military buildup, and Berlin's announcement to procure five new corvettes is a signal in the right direction. At the same time, large scale maneuvers are regularly being held in the Baltic Sea. The most recent "BALTOPS 2017" exercise was focused around the scenario of naval combat against an enemy advancing "from the North." Strategic B-52 bombers - among others - we e training so close to the Russian border that Moscow saw itself forced to chase them off with fighter jets. B-52s can be equipped with nuclear arms. Moscow has announced Russian-Chinese naval exercises to be held this month - for the first time in the Baltic Sea.

Gateway to the Atlantic

Last March already, the specialized journal, MarineForum, assessed the growing importance the power struggle with Russia has for German naval activities. According to the journal, not only the Black Sea, but the Baltic Sea as well, is of high strategic importance to Moscow. From the Russian perspective, it is imperative to keep the Baltic Sea open, because of its significance not only as a "rear space" for the Russian naval forces, but also "as a gateway to the Atlantic for Russian maritime trade."[1] Moscow is at a large disadvantage, because, at the "Danish Straits," NATO controls the Baltic Sea's gateway to the Atlantic and is planning its "immediate and effective blockage" if conflicts escalate. Russia's position has also been considerably weakened through having lost "the largest part of its former [Baltic Sea, editors note] coastline." According to an analysis of high-ranking NATO officers, Russia is trying to counterbalance its disadvantages through a strategy of Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD).[2] The western war alliance, however, can counter this by seeking "sea control," wrote Navy Commander Peter Korte, Branch Head for Future Developments, in MarineForum.

Controlling the Space

The journal has expanded these reflections by publishing two basic articles on the German Navy regaining its capacity to "marginal sea warfare." It is "conceivable that the eastern area of the Baltic Sea, for example, could become the maritime venue for conflicts of interests and provocations," the journal notes in view of the escalating power struggle with Russia. To take up an effective position in the sea, a "regular and permanent presence of operational forces" is indispensable. It is also a matter of "regaining regional expertise" and, above all, "the will to control (particularly maritime and air) space together with our partners."[3] This requires comprehensive rearmament measures. It is helpful that the decision to procure five new corvettes has already been made (german-foreign-policy.com reported [4]). They have the "potentials for essential contributions" to offshore combat along the Baltic coasts, for example, with their "command capacity" or because of the "direct effects of their high precision weapons systems" - "on sea and on land."[5] In the MarineForum, Department Head Korte proposes diverse other measures of rearmament including "developing and integrating weapons systems of new technologies" (laser) and "intensifying the development and use of unmanned systems above and underwater" as well as "creating and further developing the capacity to detect and combat underwater targets."[6]

Air Control and Submarine Hunting

In addition to strategic military considerations and arms planning, practical exercises for combat in the Baltic Sea have long since begun. The most recent example was the US-led BALTOPS 2017 maneuvers, with around 4,000 soldiers participating from 14 countries, including Sweden and Finland, which are officially still neutral, but whose bonds to NATO are growing stronger.[7] The German Bundeswehr was on hand with five naval vessels. According to the German Navy, during the first half to the combat exercises, which began June 2, and ended June 17, training was mainly in "interoperability, conducting air and maritime defense operations with missiles and ordnance, mine warfare and countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare." Occasionally live ammunition was fired.[8] The second half of the exercises were based on a scenario, where regional "political tensions" lead to "unrest," "provocations," and "asymmetrical attacks." NATO exercised its response to the "fictional enemy," descending on the Baltic "from the north." Reference here to Russia is obvious.

Nuclear Bomber

These naval maneuvers were accompanied by constant provocations by NATO's air forces - particularly the US Air Force. Several times last month, US planes, including a B-52 bomber - and a Norwegian jet - flew over the Baltic and threateningly close to Russia's border. B-52s can be equipped with nuclear weapons. The Russian Air Force was forced to scramble to ward off the intruders. In mid-June, a NATO F-16 fighter approached a Russian plane over international waters. The plane was carrying Russia's Defense Minister to the Russian exclave, Kaliningrad. To threaten the adversary's defense minister, personally, is a new element in NATO's power struggle with Russia - further escalating the danger of war. In this case also, Russia's Air Force intercepted the NATO jet.[9] Tensions have also been exacerbated by the fact that US forces fired cruise missiles on an airport - in Syria - being used also by the Russian Air Force. The US has even violated the long-standing taboo of shooting down a Syrian combat plane. This has made it increasingly difficult for outsiders to judge the objective of NATO's Baltic operations. In reference to the buildup of forces in the Baltics, Russia's ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, was quoted to have said "NATO is creating a new military security environment that we cannot ignore, to which we must respond with our own military instruments."[10] NATO's constant provocations are intensifying the pressure.

Russian-Chinese Maneuvers

In fact, Moscow is increasing its counter-measures. Russia has announced it will be holding joint maneuvers with the People's Republic of China - the sixth since 2012. They will be held in the Baltic Sea - near Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg. In mid-June, a Chinese convoy sailed from Sanya Harbor, headed for Europe, where it is due to soon arrive. Beijing has dispatched a destroyer, a frigate and a supply vessel to the Baltic. According to information from China, this year's drill aims to jointly carry out rescue missions and protect the safety of economic activities at sea.[11] Whereas Chinese statements paint a purely defensive image and refer to scenarios, such as combating piracy, e. g. at the Horn of Africa, Russian media quite frankly say that the current maneuver ("Joint Sea 2017") will be held "at the epicenter of tensions and contradictions between Russia and NATO."[12]

[1] Heinz Dieter Jopp, Klaus Mommsen: Ostsee und Schwarzes Meer im Fokus. Russland und die NATO in den Randmeeren auf Konfrontationskurs? marineforum.info. See Struggle over Marginal Seas.
[2] Wesley Clark, Jüri Luik, Egon Ramms, Richard Shirreff: Closing NATO's Baltic Gap. Tallinn, May 2016.
[3] Peter Korte: Randmeerkriegsführung. Wiederaufbau einer Fähigkeit. Teil 1. In: MarineForum 5/2017. S. 6-9.
[4] See Billions for European Wars (II).
[5], [6] Peter Korte: Randmeerkriegsführung. Wiederaufbau einer Fähigkeit. Teil 2. In: MarineForum 6/2017. S. 17-19.
[7] See Die NATO-Norderweiterung and Die NATO wächst.
[8] BALTOPS: Mittendrin statt nur dabei. www.marine.de 23.06.2017.
[9] Kampfjet-Pilot wackelt mit Tragflächen, um Waffen zu zeigen. www.welt.de 21.06.2017.
[10] Russischer Kampfjet fängt B-52-Bomber über Ostsee ab. www.welt.de 07.06.2017.
[11] Chinese naval fleet departs for joint drill in Russia. news.xinhuanet.com 18.06.2017.
[12] Darauf zielt das erste russisch-chinesische Ostseemanöver ab. de.sputniknews.com 24.06.2017.