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The Baltic Noose The Kremlin Fears

Austin Bay on

Has the Kremlin decided to fight a hot war in the Baltic Sea's cold waters?

On June 17 the Russian Navy deliberately violated Danish territorial water, specifically the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm, which lies north of Poland. During the Cold War Bornholm was a Berlin-like intelligence outpost behind enemy lines.

On June 18 a Russian border patrol helicopter violated Estonian airspace. Two days later the Kremlin threatened Lithuania, warning it would take "measures to defend its national interests" -- to protect Kaliningrad. On June 21, Estonia claimed that Russia was conducting military exercises that included "simulated missile attacks" targeting against Estonia.

With its principle offensive ground forces fighting a dreadful war of attrition in eastern Ukraine, Russia really isn't in a position to militarily bully and intimidate NATO nations with martial tantrums. Yet over a four-day period Russia directed physical and verbal threats of war at three small nations on the Baltic Sea.

Russia attacked Lithuania with words -- but over an important subject, the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. Estonia concluded the helicopter overflight warranted summoning Russia's ambassador. Did the simulated missile attack affect that decision? Perhaps that occurred in a secret Russian wargame -- but not so secret a game Estonia didn't get the word. Look to Ukraine to see what real missile attacks do to cities.

Denmark faced an overt military probe of its territorial integrity. A Russian warship violated Danish waters twice.

 

Finland noticed the four days of provocation and issued, well, not a threat per se, but a riposte of sorts. On June 22 -- the fifth day -- Gen. Timo Kivinen, Finland's Chief of Defense, told Reuters: "We have systematically developed our military defense(s) precisely for this type of warfare that is being waged there (in Ukraine), with a massive use of firepower, armored forces and also air forces." Then he added, "Ukraine has been a tough bite to chew (for Russia) and so would be Finland."

The general didn't mention Finland's "zones of defense" featuring bunkers, camouflaged positions and connecting routes that take advantage of Finland's often-difficult terrain. Their depots also stock civilian supplies.

So why the flurry of Russian threats?

Estonia's Defense Ministry told Bloomberg News the upcoming NATO summit in Madrid in part explains the Kremlin's saber-rattling. Russia is angry. That summit will consider Finland's and Sweden's bids to join the alliance.

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