The Russians, the Arctic and the Baltics: Activism in Support of Strategic Re-Positioning


2015-04-23 By Robbin Laird

Copenhagen is a lovely city.

The Danes are hearty and friendly folks.

They just don’t seem the kind of folks who need to open their mail and a get a greeting from the Russian Ambassador, who after all is a guest in their country, that reads something like this:

I do not think that the Danes fully understand the consequences of what happens if Denmark joins the US-led missile defense.

If this happens, Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles.

So let us reverse the logic – the Danes tell the Russians that they are imperialists who are interfering in European affairs and seizing the territory of free states, reach agreements with states like China to operate on that territory, or that they should act like a civilized state.

Not likely to happen in a small country of a group of islands against a giant land mass with multiple time zones and led by Putin the Great.

To be blunt this is a policy of intimidation which we have seen from Russians before, but this time with the Ukrainian occupation coupled with an assertive Arctic policy and a clear design on the Baltics, it is not just about Denmark.

It is about a significant redesign of the map and putting Russia in the middle of it.

And to add a point to all of this, the Russians decided to paratroop into the Arctic and show their ability to paratroop to support their claims and protect their interests.

Only one small problem: they parachuted into the Danish zone of responsibility for search and rescue in the Arctic without bothering to tell any one. Of course, when one is asserting imperial presence, one need not tell the little guys anything of note.

And as the Nordic states look at this unchecked Russian ballet for regional influence, perhaps dominance, they are working together to sort out ways to better protect themselves.

This is hardly a dramatic and unwarranted reaction, notably in a world of uncertain American policies.

Earlier this month, the Nordic states issued a declaration of intent to work more closely together to protect their interests, which of course does not include invading Russia or seizing St. Petersburg, named for Peter the Great, but perhaps will become Putinburg over time.

According to an April 9, 2015 Reuters story:

Writing in a joint declaration, the defense ministers of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland said Northern Europe must prepare for possible crises or incidents because of Russia.

“Russia’s leaders have shown that they are prepared to make practical and effective use of military means in order to reach their political goals, even when this involves violating principles of international law,” the ministers wrote in a joint statement in daily Aftenposten.

“There is increasing military and intelligence activity in the Baltics and in our northern areas,” the ministers said. “The Russian military is challenging us along our borders and there have been several border infringements in the Baltics.”

The statement comes amid heightened tensions in Europe since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine a year ago. With large Russian minorities living in the Baltics, concerns have grown in the region about the risk of Russian intervention.

Finland, which borders Russia, and Sweden are not members of NATO but have increased cooperation with the trans-Atlantic alliance, and the joint declaration has been among their strongest responses to Russia’s aggression.

“Russia’s actions are the biggest challenge to the European security,” the ministers said. “Russia’s propaganda and political maneuvering are contributing to sowing discord between nations, and inside organizations like NATO and the EU.”

The ministers said that closer cooperation in the Nordics and solidarity with the Baltic would improve security through deterrence as it would lift the threshold for military events

This includes two neutral states, Sweden and Finland, and a clear target for the Russians is making sure that neutrality is interpreted very narrowly and that these two states stay in a clearly defined national territorial defense box, rather than contributing to Baltic and/or Arctic security.

The Russian government completely rejects the legitimacy of such an approach, notably as if the Nordics banded together they have enough capability to make the Russian agenda very difficult to succeed, and even more so as the West modernizes its forces.

Dmitry Rogozin (in white jacket) went to the North Pole late April 18, 2015 after his controversial visit to Svalbard. The man to his right in red jacket is Russia's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Sergey Donskoy. (Photo: from the Facebook profile of Dmitry Rogozin.)
Dmitry Rogozin (in white jacket) went to the North Pole late April 18, 2015 after his controversial visit to Svalbard. The man to his right in red jacket is Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Sergey Donskoy. (Photo: from the Facebook profile of Dmitry Rogozin.)

Reflective of the Russian stance is the position laid out by Artem Kureev in Russia Direct in a piece published on April 15, 2015.

Kureev is identified as an expert from the Moscow-based think tank “Helsinki+” that deals with protecting interests of Russians living in the Baltic countries. Kureev graduated from Saint Petersburg State University’s School of International Relations.

So what needs protecting?

A detailed analysis of the document raises questions as to which parts are declarative in nature and which will actually be implemented. The four areas highlighted pertain to increasing the number of joint exercises, intelligence sharing, military industry, and combating cyber threats.

The mechanisms needed to implement the initiatives in the declaration are lacking at present. Moreover, most of them require permanent cooperation and the establishment of coordination centers in the field of intelligence gathering and cyber security.

Put another way, it is, in fact, a bid to set up a separate entity with its own staff, divisions and, it seems, head office. However, all this requires significant additional outlays and the signing of specific multilateral agreements. Yet such structures already exist within the NATO framework; for instance, Estonia’s cherished Cyber ​​Defense Center.

It is more than likely that within the framework of enhanced cooperation all five Nordic countries will start taking an active part in the operations of these structures. However, it is clear that neither Stockholm nor Helsinki wants to play second fiddle to the Baltic countries and both are intent on creating their own agencies in the field of security in conjunction with the rest of Scandinavia. Hence, another cyber center could crop up on Russia’s borders within a few years.

It is also quite possible that large-scale military exercises simulating a joint response to an attack from the East could be carried out with the Nordic countries.

Next up, time to assert one’s interests against the aggressive Norwegians, for they might launch long boats and end up in Kiev.

So in a story published by ABC news on April 20, 2015, Russia drops in on disputed territory as if it was their own.

Russia on Monday dismissed Norway’s protests over a weekend visit to a Norwegian archipelago by a delegation that included Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin.

During a visit to the Arctic on Sunday to inaugurate Russia’s new floating research station, the delegation stopped by Norway’s Svalbard islands.

Rogozin, who oversees defense in the government among other things and is known for his nationalist views, has been slapped with sanctions barring him entry to the European Union and non-EU Norway over his position on Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Norway demanded that Moscow explain why he visited the islands given the sanctions imposed on him.

In response, Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the accusations as “absurd” and said that the delegation made the stop for “logistical reasons”. The ministry also cited a 1920 treaty granting access to the islands to nationals of all signatory nations including Russia.

The Norwegian response: Norway will now consider reinforced measures regarding entry to Svalbard.

“From the Norwegian side we will consider reinforced measures concerning entry, also including Svalbard,” Frode Andersen says to BarentsObserver.

First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov questioned Norway’s right to have Svalbard.

The islands are “not fully under Norwegian sovereignty,” he said.

Last year Rogozin become the person who is responsible for Arctic matters. He has been in charge of plans to reopen Russian military bases in the area.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted this photo of himself on April 18, 2015. The photo is taken just outside the terminal building at Longyearbyen airport. (Photo: from Rogozin's tweet.)
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted this photo of himself on April 18, 2015. The photo is taken just outside the terminal building at Longyearbyen airport. (Photo: from Rogozin’s tweet.)

Russia’s new focus on the Arctic can be compared with the annexation of Crimea, says Rogozin in a video that was published April 20th.”

And Americans out there, Rogozin thinks the loss of Alaska is not acceptable either.

According to this piece in the Alaska Dispatch News published on March 27, 2015:

Lurking in the Russian plan for its Far East is a sinister figure who believes that Alaska is a legitimate part of Russian manifest destiny – Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.  

It was betrayal, Rogozin believes, that led to the sale of what is rightfully Russia’s to the United States. In the forward to Ivan Mironov’s book, “Alaska Betrayed and Sold,” Rogozin equates the sale of Alaska to another betrayal: Mikhail Gorbochev’s and Boris Yeltsin’s breaking up the former Soviet Union. 

Rogozin is not a crackpot. He’s the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and one of President Putin’s right-hand men.

He’s on the U.S. State Department list of individuals responsible for destabilizing the Ukraine among other nefarious accomplishments intended to reunite the former Soviet Union into the Russian Federation.

And, he’s the newly appointed head of Arctic policy for Russia, likely forming a new government entity designed to carry out Putin’s militarization and development policy in the Arctic.  

If I lived in the Baltics, I would be a bit more than nervous, for as Secretary Kerry has warned us these guys live in the 19th century, and we remember what that century eventually delivered to the world in the 20th.

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” Kerry told the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Well unless you do.

In a follow up piece, I am going to address a way ahead in Baltic defense, which will lay possible ways to make any repeat of Ukraine in the Baltics a deadly one for the Russians.

In this story published on April 15, 2015, published by Business Insider, the Russian paratrooping event was highlighted:

More than 50 Russian soldiers parachuted onto drifting Arctic ice near the North Pole last week in a first-ever training exercise, Russia Beyond The Headlines reports.

The Russian paratroopers parachuted along with airdropped supplies from an Ilyushin-76 military transport aircraft at 89 degrees North latitude Tuesday, April 8. In collaboration with the Expedition Center of the Russian Geographic Society, the paratroopers will build a camp and train in the rescue of polar expeditions.

Airborne Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Yevgney Meshkov said the drop proceeded without accidents and that soldiers are equipped with knives and hunting guns to guard against wild animals.

And earlier, the Russians made history by partrooping onto a floating iceberg.