June 2015 – EUROPE – Russian forces rehearsed the invasion of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark during a military exercise involving 33,000 troops, according to a new study of Baltic security. The man oeuvres, which took place in March, assumed that a Western-backed uprising against President Vladimir Putin was taking place in Moscow. Under the scenario posited by the exercise, Russia responded by launching a simulated assault on four regional neighbors. Some troops practiced attacking Norway with the aim of seizing an area in the north of the country. Other Russian forces rehearsed the capture of the Aland Islands from Finland. More units drilled how to seize Gotland Island from Sweden and Bornholm Island from Denmark. These Baltic territories lie across vital shipping lanes, making them key military objectives. The capture of these islands would allow Russia to seal off the Baltic and isolate Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic States,” wrote Edward Lucas, the senior vice-president of the Centre for European Policy Analysis and the author of the report. Of the countries targeted by this Russian exercise, Denmark and Norway are members of NATO, while Finland and Sweden are officially neutral. Mr. Lucas argues that all four should enhance their military cooperation with other vulnerable states, particularly Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Russia is carrying out a regular series of military exercises near the borders of NATO countries, involving land, sea and air forces. NATO has responded with drills of its own, including “BALTOPS 2015”, an exercise in the Baltic earlier this month involving 49 warships from 14 NAT0 countries.
Significantly, Finland and Sweden chose to join these maneuvers as NATO “partner” countries. The Kremlin’s military maneuvers betray a preoccupation with achieving dominance of the Baltic – and a willingness to use nuclear weapons. In June last year, Russian jets simulated a nuclear attack on Bornholm, timed to coincide with an annual festival on the Danish island involving the country’s entire political leadership and 90,000 guests. “Had the attack actually taken place, Denmark would have been decapitated,” writes Mr. Lucas. In addition, Russian bombers routinely probe the air defenses of NATO countries, forcing the alliance to scramble jet fighters in response. The presence of Russian intruders, who switch off the “transponder” devices that aircraft use to detect one another, has led to a series of near-misses with civil airliners. –Telegraph