The Kola peninsula. Lesson thirty

Despite its large land mass and the fact that Russia has ports in all four directions, the number of ports are relatively small. The usefulness of the Russian ports are also often limited due to both climatic conditions and the long transport distances.

In the north, only the larger ports in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk have international status, and of these, only Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula in the furthest north can handle regular traffic all year round. At the Arkhangelsk area in the bay south of the Kola Peninsula, a thick, impenetrable ice is formed in the winter.

A statistical assumption is that the Russian revenue for the ports in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea is four times as large as that for the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in the Barents Sea.

The above was written by FOI associates Tomas Malmlöf & Johan Tejpar in their FOI publication ”Ett skepp kommer lastat” published in 2013.

Military in Kola

The following information is from 2015 and it gives a picture of the importance Russia attribute to the Barents region. These are bases planned and/or existing in 2015:
The Alakurtti airbase with the Marine bombardiers.
The newly deployed 80:th independent motorised rifle infantry brigade, one of Russias two Arctic brigades at Alakurtti.
The other newly deployed brigade, the Arctic 200:th independent mechanized infantry brigade, is located in Pechenga, former finnish Petsamo, and it is adjacent to Norway.
13 Airbases and 10 air defense radar stations have been constructed or were to be constructed on Russia’s Arctic coast, according to PISM (Polish Institute of International Affairs).
They also have an Air defense division, a coastal missile defense and a missile regiment. At least they were supposed to be built in the Kola peninsula in 2015.

A deployed S-500 Triumph in Kola can cover the Swedish airbase Kallax in Luleå, if the S-500 is deployed near the Finnish border. But it is not optimal, to try to shoot down cargo-airplanes approaching Kallax, with the S-500 system deployed in Russia. If you fly under a certain altitude while coming in to land at Kallax the Russian radarbeam is going to fail to detect you because your flying in radar shadow. We are talking about altitudes under 9,000 m, so it is not realistic to think that an S-500 can do the job since the cargo-airplane under any circumstances will come in to land under an altitude of 9,000 m, thus under the radar horizon. Both the 400 km range variant of the S-400 and the 600 km range S-500 are optimized for interception of ballistic missiles, not shooting down airplanes, for these reasons. There are other S-400 variants with shorter range for shooting down enemy aircrafts. Air defense missile systems are used or should best be used for defensive purposes. It’s not an offensive weapon.

Not even the exit and the entrance to the Baltic Sea through the Danish Great Belt and the Swedish-Danish Öresund or even the Kiel canal plays any absolute role if Russia are developing the infrastructure in the Murmansk region, with its ports, its navy and its Airports.

NATO can lock in Russia in the Baltic region, if Russia tries something fatal in the Baltic region, leading to issues. Has the Murmansk railway to Severomorsk been kept in condition? Has the Port of Severomorsk been developed? Has the airport in Murmansk been developed? And so on.

The actions speak for themselves, according to the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), 16 deep-water ports will be built on Russia’s Arctic coast.

Of course reality is that NATO is probably not going to blockade Russia in the Baltic region, because to many NATO countries are dependent on Russian energy. The Netherlands with its port in Rotterdam is a European energy hub. What remains are sanctions, but how effective would that be? Thus, there would only be one solution if Russia attack the Baltic states – war.

 

Homework:

What do you think? Do you think the biggest implications with a bypass of the Baltic region will be military and economically coercive in the Barents and/or in the Baltic region, or do you think the implications will be just economical? Explain your conclusions please.

Sources;
PISM (Polish Institute of International Affairs), 2015.
The FOI publication ”Ett skepp kommer lastat”, published in 2013. Cited with permission.

Roger M. Klang, defense political Spokesman for the Christian Values Party (Kristna Värdepartiet) in Sweden

1) To be or NATO be. Lesson twentysix

Since 2014, a threatening Russian rhetoric combined with an aggressive behavior on the military air and sea arena has been displayed towards both Sweden and Finland, mainly regarding our approach to NATO. Russia threatens us, not because we could seek membership in NATO, but because we are approaching NATO. This is both good and bad news.

The good news is that Putin knows that Russia cannot reasonably attack Sweden unprovoked and that there is room for us to slip into and acclimatize in NATO in the future without formally joining.

The bad news is that it gets more difficult to formally join NATO. Unfortunately, Russia’s rhetoric is toxic, everybody are fascists and Russia is entitled to expansive self-defense. This means that they have stopped every form of dialogue. It means more polarization that can lead to war. Everything is depending on Russia now.

The question as I see it is not if Sweden and Finland should join NATO. The question is; how strong military forces each country must have, in order to have the freedom of choice both to stand outside NATO alt. to join NATO.

If we should be non-aligned or full-fledged NATO members also boil down to; Can NATO, i.e. the US, deploy forces via the Atlantic puddle or via the air and deploy mechanized troops before the one week military resistance is over and Gotland and/or northern Norrland and Scania in the south are taken. At a superficial glance, the most important thing seems to be to get help with air forces.

But it is not enough having a significant airforce to beat the Russians in northern Norrland, because the enemy has mobile air defense systems. Therefore, the most important thing for us is that we have our own air defense systems in Norrland and preferably land-based cruise missiles with supportive types of UAS and that we can meet the enemy on the ground.

The answer to whether the United States can deploy forces in time I guess depends on their willingness to sacrifice soldiers and tax mony for us, and it also depends on what kind of military branch and weapon systems we can expect them to help us with, and in which part(s) of Sweden the war is raging.

Air force reinforcements could in principle arrive here before the week is over. But then we may not have any remaining relevant airbases given that we have probably been combated. Then we are faced with “fait accompli” regarding Gotland’s air defense. American air forces need 2-4 days before they can reach Norway. Marine forces need 8-14 days, and green forces need 1-2 months before they can reach a Swedish or Norwegian port.

What could possibly make a difference on the island of Gotland is, above all, target-measuring ability for cruise missiles, but also soldiers with FGM-148 Javelin against combat vehicles and air defense systems, etc. The first mentioned probably requires compatibility in certain areas, because information must be able to be linked and used by a platform with cruise missiles which is located e.g. in Skagerack.

In Norrland, our airbases will probably also be combated. But possibly the railway connection between the Norwegian Trondheim, where the United States has pre-stocked materiel in different mountain rooms, and Swedish Luleå is intact or can be repaired quickly.

The Port of Gothenburg can be used, but Russia can threaten to mine it. Whether they make real of the threat or not, noone will dare to use the harbor before it is mine-searched.

If the Finnish army lasts for just over 3 weeks, a heavy American mechanized brigade with equipment and personnel will be able to deploy, in addition to the combat vehicles that may be pre-stored in a total of 8 mountain rooms in the Trøndelagsregion, in Norway with transport flights and from there to Norrland and/or Finland via the railway. But there is no reason to assume that the railway remains intact all the way, though all the way may not be needed.

One can ask whether the Swedish influence in the world decreases if we join NATO where the enemy always is called Russia, China or the militant Islamism. But what do the politicians really mean by “non-alignment”, do they mean that we should be solitary and alignment free (read; completely alone in the world), or do they mean that we should safeguard our freedom to choose our alliance partners as we see fit?

From the beginning our neutrality policy was called; “Alliance in peace, aimed at neutrality in war” when the declaration was first formulated by Olof Palme and the Social Democrats in the early 1970s. The Swedish Social Democrats largely adhere to this declaration today. The declaration is easy to read and it can be interpreted in only two ways. Olof Palme wasn’t a cowardly man but the way the world sees this declaration reads either ”cowardice” or ”I am a traitor”. The problem for us is that the next war can very well be confined to ourselves and a well-known provocator, so that we are the ones standing with our pants down.

One can look at our non-alignment today as if we want to keep our freedom to act as we see fit, or in other words to make decisions after our conscience. Praxis is that we choose alliance partners and not only for our own gain. Given the unilateral declaration of solidarity proclamated by our former so called right wing government, it is a matter of being free to choose our own alliance partners. But the declaration of solidarity was not popular, at least not in Finland, and this is because we cannot back up our former governments great fine words militarily.

There is no doubt that as long as the Baltic countries can count on American help, Sweden can count on an American interest in using our territory. Ironically, this means that Russia too has an interest in using our territory. From that presumption, it becomes a race for Swedish territory. Traditionally, this has been the strongest argument for Swedish neutrality policy. But then we need to be able to control our own territory, and we can hardly do that at present date.

The Americans can unload on the Swedish west coast, including at Landvetter Airport, and transport the materiel on land to the north, east and south. The notion that the Americans may wish to win a minor stalemate in the Baltic Sea can be the main reason why the island of Öland actually would turn out to be a very strategic island for both the US and Russia. The Americans therefore need many allies in Sweden. They need large sections of the population and defense organisation to be NATO friends.

The Balkans and Camp Bondsteel have become extremely important for the US northern European strategy. It is no secret that NATO has been on a charm offensive against several countries in the Balkans in 2016.

The Russians need Visby Airport on northern Gotland, which is favoured by Gotland being an island. Visby is the largest resort on Gotland and is located on the island’s west coast.

Each country has unique conditions in unique times. Sweden and Finland have been warned in disguised terms to join NATO. Our situation can be likened to a trust exercise where a person closes his eyes, crosses his arms and falls back towards a person who is supposed to catch him in his fall. Will the US catch us in our fall backwards, or will we hit the ground without any possibility of cushioning our fall?

On the other hand, Sweden participates in the recurring international joint ventures Baltops, Northern Coasts and the Archtic Challenge Excercise, where participants from several countries in Europe and the US participate. We are already participating in the RFP (Reserve Forces Pool) within the framework of NATO Response Forces. Archtic Challenge Excercise is led rotated by Sweden, Finland and Norway. Baltops is led by the United States for best interoperability of the exercise.

Homework:

Do you think that Sweden and Finland should seek to be invited to the NATO Membership Action Plan and join the NATO alliance simultaneously in the near future? Please motivate your standpoint.

Will the US catch us in our, albeit somewhat cussioned fall to be honest, you think?

Roger M. Klang, defense political Spokesman for the Christian Values Party (Kristna Värdepartiet) in Sweden