Pentagon Confronts Russia In The Baltic Sea

by Rick Rozoff

Friday, 29 January 2010 10:01

PutinTwelve months ago a new U.S. administration entered the White
House as the world entered a new year.

Two and a half weeks later the nation’s new vice president, Joseph
Biden, spoke at the annual Munich Security Conference and said "it’s
time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where
we can and should be working together with Russia."

Incongruously to any who expected a change in tact if not substance
regarding strained U.S.-Russian relations, in the same speech Biden
emphasized that, using the "New World Order" shibboleth of the past
generation at the end, "Two months from now, the members of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather to celebrate the 60th year of
this Alliance. This Alliance has been the cornerstone of our common
security since the end of World War II. It has anchored the United
States in Europe and helped forge a Europe whole and free." [1]

Six months before, while Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, he rushed to the nation of Georgia five days after the
end of the country’s five-day war with Russia as an emissary for the
George W. Bush administration, and pledged $1 billion in assistance
to the beleaguered regime of former U.S. resident Mikheil Saakashvili.

To demonstrate how serious Biden and the government he represented
were about rhetorical gimmicks like reset buttons, four months after
his Munich address Biden visited Ukraine and Georgia to shore up their
"color revolution"-bred heads of state (outgoing Ukrainian President
Viktor Yushchenko is married to a Chicagoan and former Ronald Reagan
and George H.W. Bush official) in their anti-Russian and pro-NATO

While back in Georgia he insisted "We understand that Georgia aspires
to join NATO. We fully support that aspiration."

In Ukraine he said "As we reset the relationship with Russia, we
reaffirm our commitment to an independent Ukraine, and we recognize
no sphere of influence or no ability of any other nation to veto the
choices an independent nation makes," [2] also in reference to joining
the U.S.-dominated military bloc. Biden’s grammar may have been murky,
but his message was unmistakeably clear.

Upon his return home Biden gave an interview to the Wall Street
Journal, the contents of which were indicated by the title the
newspaper gave its account of them – "Biden Says Weakened Russia
Will Bend to U.S." – and which were characterized by the Center for
Strategic and International Studies as "the most critical statements
from a senior administration official to date vis-a-vis Russia." [3]

It took the Barack Obama government eight months to make its first
friendly gesture to Russia. In September of last year the American
president and Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that they were
abandoning the Bush administration’s plan to station ten ground-based
midcourse interceptor missiles in Poland in favor of a "stronger,
smarter, and swifter" alternative.

The new system would rely on the deployment of Aegis class warships
equipped with SM-3 (Standard Missile-3) missiles – with a range of
at least 500 kilometers (310 miles) – which "provide the flexibility
to move interceptors from one region to another if needed," [4]
in Gates’ words.

The first location for their deployment will be the Baltic Sea
according to all indications.

The proximity of Russia’s two largest cities, St. Petersburg and
Moscow, especially the first, to the Baltic coast makes the basing of
American warships with interceptor missiles in that sea the equivalent
of Russia stationing comparable vessels with the same capability in
the Atlantic Ocean near Delaware Bay, within easy striking distance
of New York City and Washington, D.C.

Although Washington canceled the earlier interceptor missile plans for
Poland, on January 20 the defense ministry of that country announced
that not only would the Pentagon go ahead with the deployment of a
Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-ballistic missile battery in the
country, but that it would be based on the Baltic Sea coast 35 miles
from Russia’s Kaliningrad district. [5]

The previous month Viktor Zavarzin, the head of the Defense Committee
of the Russian State Duma (the lower house of parliament), said "Russia
is concerned with how rapidly new NATO members are upgrading their
military infrastructure" and "that Russia was especially concerned
with the reconstruction of air bases in the Baltic countries for
NATO’s purposes which include signal and air intelligence radio of
Russian territory." [6]

As it should be.

Since the Baltic Sea nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were
ushered into NATO as full members in 2004, warplanes from Alliance
member states have shared four-month rotations in patrolling the
region, with two U.S. deployments to date.

Shortly before the patrols began almost six years ago the Russian
media reported that "Relations between Russia and Estonia have been
tense ever since NATO built a radar station on the Russian-Estonian
border last year. On March 23, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman
Alexander Yakovenko warned Russia would retaliate ‘if NATO planes fly
over Russian borders after the Baltic nations join the alliance.’" [7]

Last year the Obama-Biden administration went ahead with a series of
major military exercises in the Baltic region:

The annual BALTOPS (Baltic Operations), the largest international
military exercise conducted in the Baltic Sea, run by the U.S. Navy,
NATO and the latter’s Partnership for Peace program which included
naval forces from twelve nations – Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden
and the United States – led by U.S. Carrier Strike Group 12.

The 10-day Loyal Arrow 2009 NATO military exercises in Sweden with
50 jet fighters (the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 Eagle among them) and

The Cold Response 09 NATO exercises in Norway (north and west of the
Baltic) with over 7,000 troops from thirteen nations as well as air
and naval forces.

"Cold Response 2010 is expected to be even larger" than last year’s
war games. [8] The U.S. Marine Corps "is planning Cold Response
2010, an exercise in Norway that could include a company of infantry
Marines and a detachment of trainers with Marine Corps Forces Special
Operations Command." [9]

"The Corps has used caves carved into the sides of mountains
here [Norway] for nearly 20 years, storing vehicles, equipment
and ammunition later shipped everywhere from the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan to training exercises in Africa….[T]he Norwegians plan
their security knowing that Marines will defend Norway in an attack
using everything from Humvees to Howitzers that are already in place."


The Defense Professionals website in Germany published a report
on January 26 of a meeting of the Nordic-Baltic Chiefs of Defense
(Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Finland. Lithuania and Sweden)
to plan the "Baltic Host, Sabre Strike, and Amber Hope exercises to
be held in the Baltics this and the following year."

"Exercise Baltic Host will be held this year in Latvia for participants
from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the US." [11] Last year’s Baltic
Host in Estonia included military personnel from that nation and from
Latvia, Lithuania, United States European Command (EUCOM) and Strike
Force NATO.

The earlier Amber Hope 07 was held in Lithuania and included the
participation of over 1,700 troops from NATO and Partnership for
Peace countries: Armenia, Britain, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany,
Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, as well as representatives from NATO
multinational headquarters.

Earlier this month a planning conference was held at the Gen. Adolfas
Ramanauskas Warfare Training Center in Lithuania for the Sabre Strike
2010 military drills "where representatives of Lithuania, Latvia,
Estonia and the US prepare[d] documentation and draft plans for the
exercise which is scheduled to take place in Latvia in October 2010."

"Sabre Strike 2010 will be designed to tune together interoperability
procedures of the three Baltic States and the US with prospects of
participation in the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force)
operation in Afghanistan and other multinational operations in the
future. This exercise for the first time will pull together troops of
the Baltic States and the US for a training event of such character."


2,000 troops from the four nations will take part and the war games
will end with "a complex field exercise." [13]

On January 28 the Helsingin Sanomat announced that "Finland is to
play host to what is by far the largest naval military exercise that
has ever been seen in Finnish territorial waters" in September which
"will be joined by 50 ships and 2,500 persons."

The Northern Coasts maneuvers will include warships and troops from
Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland, the Netherlands,
Sweden and the United States and will consist of both sea and land
drills, and the "maritime operations will be supported by air and
special troops." [14]

Not only hosting the largest naval war games in its history – ones
simulating "a conflict between two countries that has an effect on
the surrounding countries as well" – Finland will provide "nearly
the entire Navy fleet" for the operation.

A local reported inquired whether the maneuvers were related to
Russia’s plans for a natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea:

"At least according to the Finnish Navy, the exercise does not have
anything to do with the Baltic Sea’s planned underwater gas pipeline,
Nord Stream.

"But at least off hand, Annele Apajakari, Chief Public Information
Officer at Navy Command Finland, was unable to say why also the United
States, the Netherlands, and France will be involved." [15]

The preceding day the same newspaper ran a story about prospective
NATO-Russia military tensions in the Baltic region and quoted retired
Lieutenant-General Matti Ahola as warning: "If the United States
were to bring its planned anti-missile vessels into the Baltic Sea,
it would bring about a reaction." [16]

That was a week after the announcement that U.S. Patriot missiles
and 100 troops were headed to Poland’s – eastern – Baltic coast.

In an article bearing the headline "Thanks to Poland, the alliance
will defend the Baltics," the British weekly the Economist on January
14 wrote that NATO would "stand by its weakest members – the Baltic
states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania" – and was elaborating
"formal contingency plans to defend them."

The magazine reported that "The main push came from Poland, a big
American ally in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the first to gain
contingency plans – initially only against a putative (and implausible)
attack from Belarus, a country barely a quarter of its size….Poland
accelerated its push for a bilateral security relationship with
America, including the stationing of Patriot anti-missile rockets on
Polish soil in return for hosting a missile-defence base." [17]

"Formal approval is still pending and the countries concerned have
been urged to keep it under wraps. But sources close to the talks say
the deal is done: the Baltic states will get their plans, probably
approved by NATO’s military side rather than its political wing. They
will be presented as an annex to existing plans regarding Poland,
but with an added regional dimension. That leaves room for Sweden and
Finland (not members of the alliance but increasingly close to it)
to take a role in the planning too. A big bilateral American exercise
already planned for the Baltic this summer is likely to widen to
include other countries." [18]

Poland is the prototype for and the foundation upon which the Pentagon
and NATO are constructing a formidable military – naval, air, ground
and interceptor missile – network in the Baltic Sea region on Russia’s
northwest frontier.

Late last year Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vygaudas Usackas
delivered a lecture called "The New NATO Strategic Concept: Lithuania’s
Vision" to participants of the Higher Command Studies Course of the
Baltic Defense College (BALTDEFCOL) in which he stated "NATO is the
embodiment of transatlantic relations. NATO should remain open to
western countries, such as Finland or Sweden, to eastern countries
like Ukraine or Georgia, as well as to the Balkan countries: Bosnia
and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and other countries."

[19] (The Baltic Defense College is based in Estonia and in addition
to instructing officers from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also trains
personnel from other NATO and EU states and countries like Bosnia,
Georgia, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.)

As well as advocating the incorporation of states neighboring Russia
to its west and its south into NATO, the Lithuanian foreign minister
asserted "that Article 5 was the basis of the organisation and it
should remain the cornerstone of NATO in the future." [20]

NATO’s Article 5 is a mutual military assistance obligation, the main
substance of which is in its first paragraph, which reads:

"The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them
in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against
them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack
occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or
collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of
the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by
taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties,
such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force,
to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."

The outlines of a NATO "defense force" in the Baltic area and beyond
were further delineated last November when it was revealed that Poland,
Lithuania and Ukraine are to establish a "joint army." The combined
military unit "may have a political objective. It is meant to set
up an alternative center of military consolidation for West European
projects, a center which could embrace former Soviet republics (above
all Ukraine), now outside NATO. There is no doubt who will control this
process, considering U.S. influence in Poland and the Baltics." [21]

Additionally, it will be linked to the Multinational Corps Northeast
which was initially formed of Danish, German and Polish troops
and later joined by forces from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the
Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. And the U.S. "[T]he
Baltic military has cooperation experience with Polish troops. The
Ukrainian military, too, has cooperation experience with NATO within
the Partnership for Peace program….Establishment of a permanent
brigade-class joint unit is expected to improve teamwork, allowing
Ukrainians to grow into NATO’s command, staff, tactical and logistic
culture." [22]

The Multinational Corps Northeast has been used in Afghanistan where
it has acquired direct combat zone experience.

The American client responsible for Ukraine’s abrupt pro-NATO
orientation, President Viktor Yushchenko, barely won 5 percent of
the vote in this year’s January 17 presidential election and is on
his way out of office barring a reprise of the "orange revolution"
of six years ago. Though at the NATO Military Committee meeting on
January 27 Colonel-General Ivan Svyda, Chief of the General Staff
and Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, announced
that his nation was training troops for the NATO Response Force,
a 25,000-troop global strike force. "The NATO Response Force (NRF)
is a highly ready and technologically advanced force made up of land,
air, sea and special forces components that the Alliance can deploy
quickly wherever needed.

"It is capable of performing missions worldwide across the whole
spectrum of operations…." [23]

The Ukrainian military chief announced "We selected 12 detachments that
are undergoing training in line with NATO standards and represent
all types and branches of troops, including engineer units, the
marines, field engineers, chemical and biological defense troops
and others. Up to 500 Ukrainian servicemen will participate in the
[alliance’s response] force." [24]

The U.S. and NATO intend Ukraine to serve as a bridge between their
new outposts on the Baltic Sea to the north and Georgia and Azerbaijan
on Russia’s southern border.

Ukraine is being mentored and shepherded into the NATO pen with
the U.S. employing the Baltic states of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and
Lithuania as both models and guides. The same mechanism with the same
actors is being used for Georgia.

Last month the defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
signed a communique on joint military collaboration which "welcomed
closer military cooperation in the security sector between the Baltic
States and the USA which also included joint exercises in the Baltic
region." [25]

After releasing the statement, the three defense chiefs visited the
Adazi Training Base in Latvia and "met with Gen. Roger A. Brady,
Commander US Air Forces in Europe and NATO Allied Air Component.

"In the communique the NATO operation in Afghanistan was underscored
as a priority of all the Baltic States." [26]

On January 1 the Trilateral Baltic Battalion (BALTBAT) – with troops
from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – began duty in the 14th rotation of
the NATO Response Force. "On the same date Lithuanians…also enter[ed]
a half-year standby period in the EU Battle Group." [27]

On the Western end of the Baltic, on January 17 Swedish Defense
Minister Sten Tolgfors spoke on the Targeting Decisions on
Strengthening Defense Capability (TDSDC) program launched on January 1,
pledged that "Sweden will develop its national defense in cooperation
with NATO and neighbors Finland, Denmark and Norway" and added:

"Our defense policy adds a new neighborhood perspective. The structure
and direction of Sweden’s Armed Forces will continue to have a clear
Baltic profile. We have northern Europe’s largest and most qualified
Air Force that is twice as large as any of our neighbors, and it has
a full operational range."

"It is the biggest renewal of security and defense policy for decades
in Sweden. We will use 2010 to make the requisite decisions to carry
out the modernization of our military, and civilian crisis, management
capabilities." [28]

Under the new program all members of the Swedish armed forces,
now transitioned from a conscript to an all-volunteer (according to
NATO demands for military "professionalization" of member and partner
states) status, "are to be available for deployment at home or abroad
in five to seven days in situations of ‘heightened alert.’" [29]

"In the old system, a third of the forces – which in 2008 meant
11,400 military personnel – were supposed to be able to deploy within
one year from mobilization. In the new defence system, all 50,000
members of the forces would have to be ‘usable and available’ within
a week….The soldiers in the conscript army could never be used for
missions outside Sweden’s borders, but now that all soldiers will
either be full-time employees or on contract, they will be available
to deploy anywhere….New is also the focus on the Baltic Sea Region."


Last autumn a German Luftwaffe Eurofighter intercepted a Russian plane
over the Baltic Sea. "After the German jet challenged the radar plane,
the Russians scrambled two fighters, which approached at supersonic
speed. Finnish jets then escorted the Russians back to international
airspace, averting a further escalation of the situation." [31]

This month NATO extended its Baltic warplane deployments until 2014.

"The Baltic skies are presently secured by the so-called NATO air
police, which in addition to fighter planes also provide air defense
systems and manpower." [32]

Added to the permanent presence of Western military aircraft are
now American Patriot missiles and troops to operate them in Poland,
"a demonstrative anti-Russian move" according to a leading general
of the latter nation. [33]

Persistent U.S. and NATO military moves are threatening to turn the
Baltic Sea region into a powder keg that another hostile encounter
between Western and Russian military aircraft could ignite at any time.

As to government officials and the news media in Russia, a year is
a sufficiently long period of time to awaken from the illusion of an
imaginative rest button that will reverse a decade of NATO penetration
of the Baltic Sea and the consolidation of military infrastructure
there aimed squarely – and exclusively – at their own nation.