The militarization of Northern Europe

Swedish armored personnel carriers at Visby Harbor on the Baltic island of Gotland
Sept. 14, 2016: A 160-man combat team from Sweden’s Skaraborg Armored Regiment debarks at Visby Harbor on the strategic Baltic island of Gotland (source: dpa)
  • Northern Europe is now the focal point of Russia’s confrontation with NATO
  • A regional military buildup could paradoxically foster stability, as was the case in central Germany during the Cold War
  • NATO’s ability to deter Russia will be enhanced if Sweden and Finland join the alliance

Iskander short-range ballistic missiles have become a favorite means for Russia to demonstrate military prowess, and the Kremlin deploys them to Kaliningrad Oblast with the same gravitas and routine as the White House when it dispatches a carrier group to some trouble spot. So off went the Iskanders in early October, when Russia wanted to make a point about American criticisms of its bombing of Aleppo. “Barbarism” was the term used by the United States ambassador to the United Nations to describe these airstrikes, which caused Secretary of State John Kerry to break off talks with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov. The Iskanders have a range of 700 kilometers, which puts Berlin within range of these nuclear-capable missiles once they are deployed to Kaliningrad.

And the Kremlin did not stop there. The same day the U.S. announced that its spy satellites had spotted the Iskanders in Kaliningrad, the Russian Ministry for Civil Defense announced that it would conduct an exercise to “rehearse radiation, chemical and biological protection of military and civilians during emergencies at crucial and potentially dangerous facilities.” About 200,000 emergency personnel were scheduled to take part in the exercise, which would be conducted in areas with a population of about 40 million. As Moscow castigated alleged warmongers in the West, the missile deployment and civil defense exercises were the Kremlin’s way of saying that it did not fear escalation.

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