- Sweden and Finland bid to become the next members of NATO.
- Including Finland, NATO borders would extend to the Kola Peninsula, a major Russian military center.
- Russia has spent the past decade modernizing and expanding military bases on the peninsula.
In May, Finland and Sweden jointly submitted their applications to join NATO, a historic move prompted by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Their potential entry into the Alliance will end their decades of official military nonalignment and reshape the security environment in Northern Europe.
said John Denny, a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council and a research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Institute for Strategic Studies.
The addition of Finland would double NATO’s land border with Russia from 750 miles to 1,600 miles and expand NATO’s border with the Kola Peninsula, an important part of Russia’s security architecture and an area Moscow considers a military stronghold.
The Kola Peninsula contains the largest concentration of nuclear weapons in the world. It gives access to the Barents Sea and the North Sea and has the only year-round ice-free ports in the Russian Arctic.
The peninsula is home to the Russian Northern Fleet, which hosts the majority of the country’s nuclear submarines. The fleet is an integral part of Russia’s nuclear triad and second nuclear strike capability.
2020 President Vladimir Putin has elevated the Northern Fleet to an independent military administrative district at the level of Russia’s other four military regions – Western, Southern, Central and Eastern – highlighting the importance of the Kola Peninsula and the Far North for Moscow.
The Kola Peninsula is home to several military bases and installations that support the Northern Fleet and serve as its base of operations in the Far North, and NATO officials say this is fundamental to Russia’s defense.
The Northern Fleet’s most impressive asset is the 20 or so operational submarines, many of which are nuclear-powered. Its mainstays are the fourth-generation Borei and Yasen-class submarines.
Among Russia’s newest submarines are the Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, each capable of carrying 16 ballistic missiles and up to 96 nuclear warheads. Two Borei-class submarines have been deployed with the Northern Fleet and three more are under construction and will join the fleet within a decade.
The first Yasen-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarine entered service in 2013, and its latest model, the Yasen-M, entered service last year. The Northern Fleet has two Yassin and will eventually be joined by three others.
The Yasins carry a mix of conventional cruise missiles capable of hitting land or sea targets — long-range weapons that NATO officials believe Russia could likely use against ports and other infrastructure.
The majority of the nuclear submarines of the Northern Fleet are stationed at the fleet’s headquarters in Severomorsk in the Kola Bay. There are also submarine bases at Zaozyorsk, which is only about 40 miles from Norway, at Gadzhiyevo on Olenya Bay, at Zapadnaya Litsa and at Vidyaevo.
The Pleistsk Cosmodrome, which includes RS-24 Yars thermonuclear ballistic missile batteries, is located on the peninsula, as are a number of air bases capable of supporting strategic bombers.
Nuclear Support Structures
In 2012, Putin ordered the modernization of Russia’s military arsenal, prioritizing nuclear weapons. A very large concentration of these weapons on the Kola Peninsula led to a program to develop, expand and modernize the facilities of the naval and air forces in the region.
According to a 2018 review of satellite imagery by The Barents Observer, a Norwegian subsidiary located just a few kilometers from the Russian border, Moscow is building 50 enhanced weapons caches to store nuclear and conventional long-range missiles in the peninsula’s Okolnaya Bay, which in northern Russia is The largest armory.
The Russian Defense Ministry is also expanding its bases on the Kola Peninsula to better support the Borei-class and Yasen-class submarines.
New docking facilities and other submarine infrastructure, as well as special loading and unloading facilities for nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, are being built at many submarine bases on the peninsula. Corrected operational shortcomings compared to the Soviet-era Northern Fleet.
Russia is also modernizing one of three air bases near Severomorsk. The upgrades to Severomorsk-1 Air Base will increase the Russian military’s awareness of the region and expand its scope of operations as access to the Arctic becomes more accessible.
Get cold feet
Finland and Sweden are already working closely with NATO. Both are NATO Partners of Extended Opportunity, the closest a non-member can have with the Alliance, and both are part of the NATO Response Force. NATO membership will deepen their cooperation.
“Russia is likely to be concerned about NATO’s proximity to Russian forces on the Kola Peninsula in times of peace and conflict,” Denny said, adding that Finland’s membership could allow NATO to “increase its knowledge of Russian activities” on the Kola Peninsula.
Despite the peninsula’s importance to Russia, Denny was skeptical that Moscow would need to “strengthen its military deterrence in the north” if Sweden and Finland joined the alliance.
Denny said NATO was currently suffering from a “serious lack of offensive-oriented military capabilities and capabilities” in the region. “There is no threat from NATO against Russia in Northern Europe at the moment, even if we include Finland and Sweden.”
“Instead, the threat from the West is constantly amplified by the Kremlin to bolster its domestic image and justify massive military spending,” Denny told Insider.
However, Russian military planning for operations in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic would be more complicated if Finland and Sweden joined NATO, because they “may be more willing and able to share information with NATO about Russian activities in these regions.” , echoing the comments of General Christopher Cavoli, the commander of the US Army in Europe.
Cavoli told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 26 that if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, the alliance would be completely surrounded by the Baltic Sea.
Cavoli said that the fence would pose “a number of different dilemmas, roughly engineering dilemmas, that Russia does not currently face, so it would be beneficial.”
Konstantin Atlamazoglu works on transatlantic and European security. He holds an MA in Security Studies and European Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Read the original article on Business Insider
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