Estonia's Spy Chief warns of possible Russian attacks
Mikk Marran, Director General of Estonia's spy agency Teabeamet, the equivalent of Britain's MI6, warns in the organisation's first ever Annual Report, released on 9 March, of new risks of attacks in the region and conflict with Russia.
The greatest danger the spy agency advises is of the Kremlin's leadership over-optimistically miscalculating the situation and potential opportunities, which could then lead to sudden armed conflict between Russia and the NATO allies.
"Russia, could also use force were NATO and Russia involved in another confrontation. By creating an additional conflict in the Baltics, Russia would be in a better position to force other protagonists to come to talks [and conclude hostilities]," Marran explained.
To enact this, Teabeamet contends, Moscow would have to transfer and deploy large numbers of troops from other military districts, most readily from northern and south-west Russia near the Ukraine; drills that the Kremlin has recently practised repeatedly with immense numbers of forces, as many as 180,000.
The objective of operations would not be total occupation, but the selective control and blocking by Russian forces of international border crossings, access to major cities, strategic districts and key installations.
The Kremlin operation would be conducted on a permanent basis, with the Baltic States falling immediately under Russian control and becoming effectively Russian versions of Hong Kong.
Moscow believes it has advantages over NATO
Russia considers in its defence planning that it has significant time and mobilisation advantages over NATO in the Baltic States. Baltic forces it judges can perform only limited operations and rely heavily on intervention and reinforcement by NATO. This would take very serious time-critical international decision making.
Whether that would be readily forthcoming as it was following the 9/11 attacks on New York City, which is the only previous occasion, cannot be judged.
Russia could attack Finland and Sweden
In any potential conflict in the Baltic region, the Kremlin would not respect neutrality, the assessment says. Moscow calculates that NATO could potentially use transit facilities in Finland and Sweden for reinforcements and incoming military hardware, particularly from the United States, and Russia has plans to attack them pre-emptively, despite not being NATO members.
The Kremlin continues to strengthen its armed forces
Marran suggests that any potential attack would be accomplished both by units located near the border, and by long range 'force projection', for example by the 1st Guards Tank Army, which was newly reformed in July 2015 and is currently located in Western Russia.
Any offensive would be made under the implied, tacit threat posed by Russia's huge superiority in numbers of tactical nuclear weapons, like it was in Ukraine.
Russian forces in the Baltic “operational direction” have been increased incrementally over time as part of long-term plans. Moscow has significantly strengthened its operational capabilities recently in the areas next to the Baltic by relocating units and increasing exercise frequencies and complexity.
The report highlights major changes in the 15th Army Aviation Brigade based at Ostrov next to the Estonian border and the basing of Iskander mobile, nuclear-capable, tactical ballistic missile batteries at Luga 80 miles from the border. Elements of the 6th Red Banner Combined Arms Army have been moved forward towards Estonia's northern border at Narva.
A large tank 'training school' is planned for Sertolovo near St. Petersburg an hour's drive from the border, with the arrival of a further Army Aviation Brigade, and signals' intelligence and Special Forces units also anticipated.
Attacks on critical targets are playing an increasingly important role in Russian military planning and in the Baltic countries their use would prevent and disrupt NATO reinforcements and deployment.
This would be achieved by ever-present mobile air and naval surface and submarine launched cruise missiles, enabling potential multiple attacks on key points, isolating the country from its allies and enabling the seizure of its territory, Teabeamet states.
The staging of the vast exercise "Union Shield" in 2015 involving the manoeuvre of large formations from the Kaliningrad enclave, Belarus, neighbouring Pskov and Leningrad regions and further afield, had an immediate and continuing effect on the security of the entire Baltic region.
The threat of the use of tactical nuclear weapons on NATO targets is unlikely, but still exists, the report warns.