Russia has moved ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad Oblast and has carried out nuclear tests there, which raises concerns about the possibility of Russia deciding to block off access to the Baltic Sea, according to the report of US Land Forces in Europe commander Lieutenant General Ben Hodges at Defence One portal.
A «significant amount of capability» has been stationed in Kaliningrad Oblast, including anti-ship weapons, anti-air defences and electronic warfare equipment, said Hodges.
«They could make it very difficult for any of us to get up into the Baltic Sea if we needed to in a contingency,» – he said on a briefing in Pentagon.
Russia has conducted what NATO commanders call ‘snap exercises’. This means massive war games that were not previously announced and ones that include the use of highly-developed weapons. Whenever NATO organizes similar-scale exercises, Russian observers are invited to attend them, which they often do. NATO officials were never invited to the ‘snap exercises’ in Kaliningrad and Belarus.
«We find out about them when they’re happening,» – admits the US general.
For its exercises in Kaliningrad, Russia has deployed mobile, short-range ballistic missiles ‘Iskander’, Hodges reported.
«We have seen them do exercises where […] there’s a nuclear strike,» – he said, adding that Russian exercises did not use any abstract names. Instead, it was openly stated that «NATO is the adversary». «I mean, they’re pretty blunt about that,» – the general described Russia’s stance.
Hodges noted that Russia has not made any large-scale exercise to block off access to the Baltic Sea specifically. «I haven’t seen one exercise that looked like a complete rehearsal for that,» – he said. Nevertheless, «they’ve done lots of the components that would be required to do those various things in terms of air, maritime, [and] land forces,» – Hodges added.
Earlier in 2015, Russia warned Denmark that its ships would become nuclear targets should Denmark’s government join NATO’s missile defence project. Hodges called such threats as «irresponsible use of the ‘nuclear’ word».
«You can understand why our allies on the eastern flank of NATO, particularly in the Baltic region are nervous, are uneasy,» – added Hodges.
Kaliningrad Oblast, located between Poland and Lithuania, is a strategically important point for Russian navy. Russian air forces are also stationed there. By blocking off access to the Baltic Sea, Russia could potentially delay the arrival of NATO reinforcements to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
In response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, USA deployed units to Poland and Baltic States in April 2014. American forces also participate in war games there. As confirmed by Hodges, they will continue doing so in the next two years as well.
NATO has also decided to increase intensity of air space patrols in Baltic States and create NATO command headquarters in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.
In 2014, the alliance also approved the Action Plan. The goal of this plan is to calm down NATO member states in Central and Eastern Europe. NATO has made it clear on multiple occasions that it will come to aid its allies in the event of a war with Russia. NATO member states have also reached an agreement in regards to the formation of rapid response forces.