In light of conventional forces balance, it would be possible to field a considerable conventional strike force against the Baltic countries with very little warning. A significant conclusion of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences’ "A National Strategy for Neighboring Areas" research project is that NATO apparently would not be able to react quickly enough in case of a possible military conflict in the Baltic countries, but would be faced with a fait accompli. Latvia is not really planning serious defense of its territory, Latvian soldiers don't even have suitable uniforms for Latvian climate, but use desert uniforms that are meant for Afghanistan. Estonia on the other hand is preparing mostly for defending its territory.
The current ground forces east of the Baltic states and southeast of Finland are under the command of the Russian 6th Army Headquarters. The number of Russian troop units and troop strength in the former Leningrad MD has changed markedly since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The large decrease that took place in the late 1990s and at the start of this century has changed to an increased capability again. Starting in 2008, when Russia launched all-encompassing army reforms, many units in the Baltic region - the Pskov oblast, Leningrad oblast and Kaliningrad - have been disbanded, but many others have received significant reinforcements. Some new army bases have also been opened.
Perhaps most importantly is the concentration around Pskov, where the 76th Guards Air Assault Division is based. An elite paratrooper unit, the 76th Air Assault Division received new weaponry and equipment, but the most important thing is that the unit would be composed only of contract soldiers and professional NCOs. Pskov also hosts the 2nd Independent Spetsnaz Brigade. Both units have been kept fully manned, and the Spetsnaz brigade has seen major upgrades after 2008.
Putin made evident his interest in the Baltic States too by establishing an airbase for helicopters in Ostrov, Pskov Oblast near the borders of Latvia and Estonia. The airbase is intended for such military helicopters as Ka-52, Mi-34, Mi-28 and others. That is a recent development, and it of course, raises the question of why there is a need for such a base, especially given its geographic location. The base has an offensive capability.
The newly formed Russian army helicopter brigade began training flights in the northwest of the country near the borders with the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, a spokesman for the Western Military District said 30 April 2014. “Helicopters of the army aviation brigade of the Western Military District, based in the Pskov region, have begun regular training flights in the skies over northwestern Russia,” Col. Oleg Kochetkov said. Kochetkov said the flights involve dozens of Mi-28N Night Hunter and Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters as well as Mi-8MTV-5 and Mi-26T combat transport helicopters.
During the 2014 Ukrainian crisis, the number of helicopters, attack helicopters, stationed in that base tripled. NATO says the Russian base has 100 combat helicopters, including Mi-28N Night Hunters and Ka-52 Alligators.
The 15th army aviation brigade, formed in December 2013 and stationed at the Ostrov airbase, is fully equipped with new, recently-built helicopters. The brigade initially comprised three helicopter squadrons, with two more to be added in the near future. Media in the former Soviet Baltic states, as well as Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom, have expressed security concerns about Russia’s decision to station the 15th brigade near NATO’s borders.
Another important development occurred in Luga, on the other side of Lake Peipus, which is home to the 9th Artillery Brigade and 26th Missile Brigade. Before the 2008 reforms it was only half-manned, but by 2014 it was fully-manned. The Artillery Brigade actually had enough weaponry to form a second artillery base in the event of crisis. The relevant personnel just have to be deployed there.
Since 2010, Iskander-M ballistic short-range missiles have been stationed with the Missile Brigade. The minimum range of these is 500 km, but based on some public sources, it could be 700-750 kilometers. It is a precision weapon system that can hit high-value strategic targets - bridges, bunkers, ports, airports, etc. The range extends to half of Latvia and quite easily up to northern Finland. Thus with very little warning, they can deal a major strike on strategic points in any part of Estonia or Latvia.
Tactical ballistic missiles and cruise missiles are assuming an increasing operational-tactical role and augment aviation strike forces well. The country’s military authorities have great expectations with regard to the Iskander missile system. In carrying out strategic strikes, the Luga Iskander missile brigade is of fundamental importance. Along with air power, its accurate strikes could be used to suppress any organized defence by opponents, taking advantage of their lack of readiness.
A new mech infantry unit - the 25th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade - was created in Vladimirsky Lager, between Pskov and Luga. Such a unit didn't previously exist there. It's a new formation which shows that the general staff feels this area is important enough that it needed to be reinforced. The Pskov Amphibious Landing Division is about as big as the peacetime ranks of the Estonian Defense Forces. So actually, there has never been a imbalance of forces here for the Russians.
In the St. Petersburg area, two key developments have occurred prior to 2014. S-300 BMU-2 Anti-aircraft defenses were moved close to St. Petersburg. With a range of up to 250 km, when placed in this position, they could be used systems to close all of Estonian airspace without leaving the Russian Federation borders, and target any plane in Estonian airspace. It is likely that in a matter of a few years one of the regiments in this missile brigade would be re-armed with even more powerful S-400 Triumph surface-to-air missile systems, which have a theoretical range of up to 450 km.
Near St. Petersburg, the 138th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, which is on permanent stand-by. It took part in the massive exercises which took place right before the March 2014 invasion of Ukraine. There is also a Russian Air Force base north of the city, where fighter planes are based. There's also one mid-range AA brigade armed with a PUK anti-aircraft missile battery. Also near St. Petersburg, in Levašovo, there is a key army air base, with a combination helicopter and combat helicopter regiment. In 2014 a new type K-52 attack helicopters should arrived, Russia's newest combat helicopters. They could be called Russian Apaches.
One development in 2013 was the helicopter base that was re-opened in Ostrov, near the Estonian-Latvian border. A squadron's worth of assault helicopter were based there as of the end of 2013. In 2014 transport helicopter and K-52 attack helicopters also arrived. It's important for these Baltic NATO members, because previously they had to reckon with one helicopter base when defending their airspace, but now there are two of them. Double in quantity, and the new aircraft are also better in quality.
An Arctic Brigade, recruited from Spetsnaz special forces accustomed to Arctic conditions, was also to be established in Pechenga, according to an announcement by the commander of Russia’s ground forces in March 2011. Plans have since been postponed to 2015. It is too early to tell if the brigade will be an entirely new unit.
Readiness varies from one unit to the next. Most, like the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, the 2nd Independent Spetnaz Brigade and the 138th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade near Kamenka are actually at a high state of readiness. A week until combat operations. Some units probably have even a higher level of readiness. For example, the elite paratrooper division has a rapid response battalion that has always been at 12-hour readiness. The same is true for the Pskov division.
The Pskov Air Assault Division has 6,000-7,000 men. That fluctuates seasonally depending on the number of conscripts. There are two call-ups a year in Russia. The 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade has 1,000 men. The 25th Motor Rifle Brigade has about 3,000, the 138th Motor Rifle Brigade in Kamenka has about 3,000 as well. The Baltic Fleet Marine Brigade in Kaliningrad has about 3,500 men, and the motor rifle brigade there has about 2,500-3,000, while the Independent Motor Rifle Brigade has about 1,600-1,800 men.
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