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Could there be a Larger Conflict Between NATO and Russia in the Baltic
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Could there be a Larger Conflict Between NATO and Russia in the Baltic

Democratic Arab Center

NATO and Russia have entered a very risky game of escalation/counter-escalation in the Baltic Sea region since the beginning of the year.  The situation now has both Russian and NATO defense planners worrying about how far the confrontation will go.

In January 2016, the Russian Defense Ministry announced the formation of a new Baltic command, which would have 60,000 troops—three motor rifle divisions—stationed near the western region of Russia, bordering Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In addition, Russia said it is expanding its Baltic Fleet and has deployed a new generation of surface-to-air missiles into the Kaliningrad region, bordering on Poland and Lithuania. Those Kaliber SAM missiles can launch nuclear warheads, although NATO officials believe that the Kaliningrad deployment is exclusively conventional warheads. The Russian warships Serpukhov and Zeleny Dol were recently added to the Baltic Sea fleet, armed with long-range, new-generation cruise missiles.

Russia recently held four days of civil defense drills, involving 40 million Russian citizens, underscoring the country’s readiness for war. And the most recent maneuvers by the Russian Baltic Fleet involved a simulated attack on US warships in the Sea.

Russia has also recently test fired its’ newest generation missile, the RS-28 Sarmat (NATO officials have dubbed it Satan-2), which can carry multiple 40 megaton nuclear warheads that could wipe out a territory the size of France. Even as Russia faced serious budget shortages as the result of low oil prices, the Kremlin authorized significant investment in military research and development, particularly at the strategic nuclear level, in the field of cyber-warfare and a new generation of hyper-sonic missiles, capable of defeating the most advanced NATO missile defense systems.

Last week, Russia’s new aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov departed via the Baltic Sea for the Mediterranean Sea, passing through the Scandinavian coast, and the English Channel, en route to the coastal waters off Syria. British Royal Navy ships scrambled to tail the eight-ship Russian carrier group, and pressure from NATO headquarters forced Spain to cancel permission for the Russian ships to refuel at Spanish ports en route.

In response, NATO has begun the biggest deployment of military forces along the Russian border since the end of the Cold War. At the July NATO heads of state meeting in Warsaw, Poland, an agreement was ratified to deploy combat forces into the three Baltic states and Poland. That force will consist of seven combat brigades, including three heavy armored brigades, backed up by air power and land fire.  The beefed-up deployment will cost NATO member states $2.7 billion a year.

The US Navy has also deployed four Arleigh Burke class destroyers equipped with AEGIS missile defense systems to the Spanish port of Rata, and a separate land-based AEGIS system is being constructed in Romania on the Black Sea.

Next February, a combined NATO force of 1,500-3,000 troops will be dispatched to Poland. That combat brigade will be backed by British typhoon fighter jets, which will begin patrols over the Black Sea. A tank battalion will soon be deployed to Estonia. NATO is also beefing up its 40,000-man Rapid Response Force, which is designed to respond to any Russian moves on Europe’s eastern front within hours.

But despite these beefed-up deployments against the Russian borders in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, there are many serious NATO analysts who believe that the NATO response is too weak, and, as the result, is an invitation for Russia to take aggressive action. A recent RAND Corporation study, prepared for the Pentagon, warned that the small size of the NATO forces being deployed to the Baltics is “inviting a devastating war, rather than deterring it.” The RAND study centered on a war game, based on the Russian deployments into the Crimean peninsula, just prior to its annexation, but this time directed against the Baltic States. The game ended with a disastrous defeat for NATO in a matter of days. Russian’s moves in the Baltic leave NATO and the United States with three equally unpalatable options. NATO could launch a prolonged counter-offensive to take back the Baltic capitals; NATO could threaten Moscow with direct attack; or NATO could accept the outcome of the Russian lightning strikes and devise a long-term counter-strategy. The RAND study concluded that options one and two would lead to nuclear war; option three would result in a new Cold War that could eventually go hot.

General Sir Richard Shirreff, former deputy supreme allied commander in Europe, wrote a CNN assessment October, 21, 2016, warning that “If Russia puts one soldier across the borders of the Baltic states it means war with NATO. Latvia, Estonia ,and Lithuania have been members of NATO since 2004 and are therefore protected under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the founding document of NATO, which states that an attack on one is an attack on all. A Russian attack on the Baltic states puts America at war with Russia—meaning nuclear war, because Russia integrates nuclear weapons into every aspect of its military doctrine.

“And don’t think Russia would limit itself to the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Any form of nuclear release by the Russians would almost certainly precipitate nuclear retaliation by the United States.”

General Shirreff called for a much larger NATO deployment into the Baltics and Eastern Europe, one that would represent a credible deterrent, rather than a token force that could be over-run within hours. General Curtis Scaparrotti, the new NATO Commander-in-Chief, agrees with General Shirreff, but has not specified the force size and composition required to provide a credible deterrent.

The United States is moving forward with its own modernization of tactical nuclear weapons, deployed in Europe as part of that credible deterrent. The new B61-12 will be equipped with advanced guidance systems for greater accuracy and range, thus making it possible to greatly reduce the size of the nuclear payload. In effect, both Russia and NATO are revising their war-fighting doctrines and arsenals to integrate tactical nuclear weapons into combat plans, along with hyper-sonic missiles and advanced cyber-warfare systems.

But for now, the NATO force deployment into the Baltic states and Poland is a “tripwire” deployment, not a full-scale credible deterrent. The “tripwire” extends from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and warns Russia that any action against forward-based NATO forces brings the entire force of NATO into confrontation with Russia. By positioning small contingents of America, British, German and French NATO combat forces in the frontline areas along the western and southern borders of Russia, NATO is warning that the consequences of a limited Russian incursion could be general war.

Source : Middle East Briefing

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