Russia Defense Report – Jan. 30, 2016: Fortress Kaliningrad

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Text by J.Hawk

When the troops of the 1st Baltic Front under the command of General Ivan Bagramyan captured the city of Koenigsberg from the Wehrmacht, they probably had no idea that less than half a century later the city and region of Kaliningrad would be Russia’s westernmost outpost, cut off from Russia’s mainland and bordering with two member states of a hostile military alliance, NATO.

This peculiar position means that Kaliningrad plays an important role in the relationship between Russia and the West. Should the relations between the two deteriorate to the point of military confrontation, Kaliningrad Region would play a pivotal role. Indeed, following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and the reunification of Crimea with Russia, Polish media ran several stories discussing a possible campaign by the Polish army against Russian forces based in Kaliningrad. Media coverage in other Western countries has sought to portray Russia’s naval and air operations on and over the Baltic Sea as somehow illegitimate, which also suggests that the public opinion is being prepared for potential NATO military action against the enclave. The strengthening of NATO’s military presence in the Baltic states, ostensibly to defend these countries against “Russian aggression”, has the actual effect of threatening a military isolation of Kaliningrad and reducing Russia’s ability to defend that part of its territory. Further complicating the situation is the fact that the only overland route between Russia’s mainland and Kaliningrad Region that does not lead through a NATO country is through Belarus, whose government could also become the target of a Western-inspired “color revolution.” It is also not difficult to imagine the West adopting a packet of unilateral economic sanctions targeting Kaliningrad, following the example of sanctions leveled against Crimea.

Which naturally leads one to ask, why is Kaliningrad of such importance, and what forces are available for its defense? The Kaliningrad Defensive Region, which is organizationally part of the Western Military District, houses the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet and is the site of Russia’s only naval base on the Baltic Sea that never becomes ice-bound, in contrast to the more northern bases in the Gulf of Finland such as Kronshtadt or St. Petersburg. It also is the home to the Yantar shipyard, one of Russia’s main ship-building facilities capable of constructing large surface ships. It is the site of a Voronezh-DM missile launch early warning radar which provides coverage of most of Europe. Even more importantly, Kaliningrad can serve as the launch-pad for Iskander-M ballistic and Kalibr cruise missiles and tactical aircraft which can reach the proposed US Euro-ABM sites planned for Eastern Europe and attack infrastructure such as railroad junctions, airports, and seaports needed by NATO to deploy its forces. Its long-range anti-ship and air defense batteries would greatly complicate NATO’s efforts to come to the aid of the Baltic States in the event of conflict with Russia, a concern evident in a US general’s recent comments on the impact of basing S-400 in Kaliningrad. Which makes Kaliningrad an important of Russia’s conventional deterrence posture.

For that reason, should the Russia-West confrontation continue, we can expect the forces assigned to the Kaliningrad Defensive Region to increase. While no Iskander-M units are based there permanently, only a missile brigade equipped with Tochka-U short-range missiles, Russia did conduct a temporary deployment of Iskanders to Kaliningrad in May 2015 as part of a military exercise. While there are no Kalibr-equipped ships currently assigned to the Baltic Fleet, there are now plans to construct a series of light frigates armed with such missiles. And when Defense Minister Shoygu announced the formation of three new Ground Forces divisions in the Western Military District, sources close to the ministry stated one of them would be stationed in Kaliningrad. Currently, only a single motorized rifle brigade is stationed there, and a Naval Infantry Brigade that is at approximately 25% strength, supported by a fighter aviation regiment, an S-300 air defense regiment, and helicopter units.

Will we see the transformation of Kaliningrad into a major militarized outpost similar to Crimea, bristling with missile batteries and defended by a powerful land force? A lot depends on the future of Russia-West relations. It appears that the prospect of reinforcing Crimea is being used as a bargaining chip, to induce NATO and the US to enter into negotiations with Russia on a new security framework for Central Europe, to replace the one that was shattered due to NATO’s expansion eastward and the attempts to bring Ukraine into NATO. For that reason, the state of Kaliningrad’s defenses is the barometer of the Russia-West relations as much as Crimea is.

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  • Igor Dano

    Russia has to claim back from Estonia and Latvia all land, which was first purchased from Sweden and then attached to Estonia and Latvia by Peter the Great.

    • Interesting idea. When was that?
      “With the Capitulation of Estonia and Livonia in 1710 the Swedish dominions Estonia and Livonia were integrated into the Russian Empire following their conquest during the Great Northern War.”
      The great northern war, never heard of it.

      • renics nikoros

        August 30, 1721, the Swedes two million silver coins gave way to Peter the Great Livonia and Riga. As a result of the signing of the August 30, 1721 Treaty of Nystad

        • renics nikoros

          As Russians have bought Riga. Alexande Gurin.
          He was the first Russian investor who has bought residence permit in our city. And at the same time the uniform people which have made Latvians. 290 years ago, on August 30, 1721, Swedes for two million silver coins have conceded to Peter the Great Liflyandiya and Riga.
          … On September 4, 1721 since early morning on streets of St. Petersburg under sounds of pipes and timpani, riders in white scarfs with the fluttering banners in hands drove about. Panels of banners have been embroidered by images of a laurel wreath. Greens of laurels symbolized the end of war, victorious for Russia, with Sweden.
          Celebrations on the occasion of signing of the Nishtadtsky world lasted on August 30, 1721 in the capital of Russia two months. On festivals, also the delegation from Riga has hurried. Also I have soon sent the joyful letter to Liflyandiya: Rigans were awarded the audience by the queen Ekaterina (the former servant of the liflyandsky pastor) and has graciously allowed to kiss a dress edge. Some historians describe inclusion of Riga into structure of the Russian Empire approximately so. In the last quarter of the 17th century in Stockholm, there lived a prince by the name of Karl, the child proud and self-confident. Once he has come into an office of the father (Carla too) has seen the map of Riga there and has written on it: “God has given me this city, the devil won’t take away it from me”.
          However, Prince Karl didn’t know that in far Moskovia the boy by the name of Pyotr, the child vigorous and aggressive grew up. Being only three years old, he already played with the pushechka made especially for its fun. When Pyotr has grown, up and became the tsar, has decided to take away from Karl XII Rigu to have a convenient exit to the Baltic Sea. I have brought together big army, I have drilled it and I have seized the city. Well just some invader! Actually, today in the Latvian press of Peter the Great also award with quite often-similar epithets.

          The most amazing is the fact that nobody and ever disproved the similar version. And the first it was sounded, perhaps, by the visiting Italian Francesco Algarotti who was mistakenly noting that Pyotr has opened a window to Europe. Meanwhile Novgorodians swam across the Baltic Sea in 500 years prior to Peter the Great’s birth. Also, hint them somebody that, going for the sea, they “get into a window”; the Russian seamen just wouldn’t understand the joker.
          Long before the beginning of Northern war at the mouth of Neva the large island was called as Vasilevskiy (nowadays – the center of St. Petersburg). Called it so because the Novgorod posadnik Vasily has in ancient times built the summer residence here, or, simply speaking, giving. The Russian tsar also wanted to return this primordially Russian land occupied by Swedes at the beginning of the 17th century. Any plans with the axe in a hand to break Latvia and “to cut a window” at it didn’t exist.
          But why then the Russian troops have entered Riga, and Sweden has sold to the Russian tsar, in effect, the city, which is already lost by it?
          Peter the Great has begun the reign with in what east Slavs were engaged already about one thousand years, – struggled with the nomads threatening from the Great Steppe. While he was at war with the Crimean Tatars and their patrons Turks, the leader of the liflyandsky nobility Johann Reyngold Patkul prepared the complaint for the Polish king on excesses of Swedes in Liflyandiya. The Swedish King Karl XI has carried out a reduction in Liflyandiya (read: nationalization) of manors. More than 80 percent of all earth began to belong to the Swedish crown, and have begun to consider serfs by property of the king. The deprived lands and honor the German barons have been shocked by such violation of a private property.
          Here they have also remembered that Liflyandiya – the Polish territory which is illegally occupied by Swedes in the first half of the XVII century.
          “Invaders – from Latvia, it is our earth!” – The Baltic Germans have
          decided to demand. Johann Pat Kul literally begged the Polish king Augustus Silny to restore the international legality.
          The king has agreed, but has reasonably solved: for war, allies are necessary. I have created the coalition with Denmark, and to persuade to enter Russia into the anti-Swedish alliance I have sent the same Patkul to Moscow as the person who is extremely interested. Patkul’s mission was very difficult. At last, the leader of the liflyandsky nobility has found the necessary argument: having returned itself an exit to the Baltic Sea, Russia will establish the close relations with the western countries will learn to be at war in an European way then it will break Turks and Tatars and will forever finish the Tatar attacks on the Russian land. (Patkul’s words were prophetical: having reorganized army at Pyotr, Russia in the second half of the XVIII century has forever finished attacks of the Crimean Tatars).
          Allies have agreed: the mouth of Neva – to Pyotr, Riga – to Augustus. It was supposed that liflyandsky manors will be denationalized and returned to legitimate owners. And the mad teenager Karl XII (who has already “become famous” for the tricks) let plays tricks in Stockholm further. Small
          victorious war had to lighten allies mood. They haven’t considered one: the mad teenager Karl was the great commander! He has effortlessly forced to capitulation of the skilled Danish king, has crushed the Russian army near Narva, on meadows to Spilva near Riga has won against sound Saxon troops (Augustus Silny was not only the king of Poland, but also the Elector of Saxony), has intruded in Poland and has overcome its army. As a result “small victorious war” lasted more than 20 years.
          Karl XII considered as the instigator of war of the Polish king and wrote in the letter to the French monarch that Augustus’s behavior is shameful and deserves a revenge. Swedes repeatedly won against Poles and Saxons. At last, the initiator of Northern war hasn’t sustained and secretly from Peter the Great has made a separate peace with Swedes. At the same time the Saxon Elector has even refused the Polish crown (Karl XII has picked up to Poland other king) and was humiliated, having represented to the Swedish monarch a sword with which several years his Russian tsar has presented earlier. All Russian-Polish arrangements have been buried, Russia unexpectedly had to battle against Swedes alone.
          Irony of history: after the Poltava battle Karl XII ran, having thrown all property which was available at himself, including an ill-fated sword. It has appeared at Peter the Great again. Before the tsar there was a question what to do (not with a sword, and with war continuation). Karl XII didn’t wish the world on the Russian conditions and military need demanded to besiege Riga. Pyotr has returned later a sword to Augustus Silny. I have considered to give to the incorrect ally Riga taken by the Russian troops excessive. On the Nishtadtsky world, Sweden has sold to Russia Liflyandiya and her main town for two million silver coins. It is thought, in the long-term plan from this transaction the one who during Northern war wasn’t taken into account by the powers that be – the Latvian people was the winner. In the XVIII century under the power of the powerful empire there was gradually all territory of Latvia. After accession to Russia in 1795 of Kurlyandsky’s duchy Latvians have stopped being the divided people. There is no it, it would be much more difficult to proclaimon November 18, 1918 the Republic of Latvia.