Comments on Russian Military Activities in the Baltic Region

Recent trends in NATO-Russia relationships seem to be far from policy of reset declared by Obama Administration. Some high level official statements concerning different political issues such as results of the Parliament elections in Russia, NATO anti- missile  system in Europe, possible Russian missile deployment in Kaliningrad area could have significant political and military consequences not only for the Baltic Sea region but also for entire spectrum of NATO-Russia relationships.

We can assume that one of the most important issues for the near future, which include NATO Summit 2012 in Chicago and Russian President Elections, is NATO anti-missile system in Europe and possible Russian military answer. So far, no agreement has been reached between NATO and Russia on this issue. The main Russian concerns and proposals are following: Russia is convinced that NATO anti-missile system is aimed against Russia, against its Strategic Nuclear capability. Russia wants to have additional NATO guarantees regarding the System as well as proposal to have different configuration of System which would allow the opportunity to have more control from Russian side.

On the other hand, NATO strongly suggests that the System is not aimed against Russia or Russian capabilities, because Russia is not viewed as the enemy of the Alliance. Therefore, there is no need for the additional documents or guarantees from NATO side. NATO would have an agreement that there could be two separate missile defense systems- that of NATO and Russia, with enhanced information exchange possibility.

Recent Russian high level political statements have common approach- if Russian demands will not be met; Russia holds the right to answer in kind. One of the military activities which Russia is ready to take is the deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad and Belarus. What is the most important military utility for Iskander missiles and why deployment of those missile systems is high on agenda in NATO-Russia relationships?

There are three versions of Iskander missile systems- Iskander-M, Iskander-E and Iskander-K with different range and targeting possibilities. The M system is designed for Russian Armed forces with range of 400-500 km, whereas E version is designed for the export with range of 280 km. Most probably, Iskander-M version would be deployed in Kaliningrad and Belarus if Russian higher political authorities will take such a decision.

Iskander missile system is designed to destroy small and area targets. These targets could be: missile systems, long-range artillery, air defense and anti-missile defense systems, airfields, command and control assets, communications assets, other high value infrastructure targets. This missile system definitely meets tactical and technical requirements.

What are the key features of Iskander missile system what could cause the area of concern for NATO?

Perhaps, one could emphasize several issues- the range of the system, possibilities for launch, mobility of the system, accuracy and ability to penetrate air defense systems. Certainly, the infrastructure of NATO anti-missile system in Europe would be within the range of Iskander missile systems, and one could assume that Iskander missiles could be used as pre-emptive strike asset. Secondly, a clandestine preparation for launch and high mobility of missile launching platforms creates difficulties to detect, track and counter the missile system before the launch.

In flight, missile performs evasive maneuvers and releases decoys in order to penetrate active air defense systems. At the final stage of the flight Iskander missile system could provide high precision strike possibility.

One may assume that deployment of these missile systems in Kaliningrad and Belarus would have several political and military consequences. The first of all, it could be used by Russian side to reinforce Mr.Putin position before the Elections in March 2012, as well as show of Russian commitment to counter NATO plans in Eastern Europe. From the military perspective, deployment of Iskander missile systems could be seen as attempt of Russia to counter NATO anti-missile defense system in Europe. Overall, it could mean that Baltic Sea region and Eastern Europe will be high on the military screen again since the end of the Cold War. Perhaps, it could lead to further military build-up from both- NATO and Russian side in the near future.

Published 18 October 2011

Author Raimonds Rublovskis