Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Estonian View of ZAPAD

What was Russia up to this year with their large-scale ZAPAD exercise on NATO's borders on the Baltic?

It is one thing to ponder that from the other side of the Atlantic, imagine it was taking place just a car commute away.

Worth your time to read it all, but digest these nuggets from Estonia's Postimees' Oliver Kund;
The flagship of the Northern Fleet, battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, made the news in late July when it was scheduled to appear in the St. Petersburg naval parade. Few know that the 252-meter ship partook in a military drill in the Baltic Sea on its way back, even though a ship of its size is not meant to be deployed in such narrow waters.

Landings closest to Estonia took place on the Gulf of Finland islands of Suursaar, Lavassaar, and T├╝tarsaar the latter of which lies fewer than 60 kilometers from the Estonian coast. The scope of activities in the Baltic Sea would have been even bigger had stormy weather not caused some of the exercises to be canceled. There was no such problem in the Arctic, where the Russian navy rehearsed sinking enemy frigates and tactical landings.

What happened on the other side of the Estonian land boundary? The main focal points were the Luga and Strugi Krasnye polygons the closest of which was once again some 60 kilometers from Estonia.

“The entire Western Military District was put on battle alert on September 14. All general staffs moved out; even the district headquarters, headed by General [Andrei] Kartapolov, was moved out of St. Petersburg,” former commander of the Defense Forces, retired general Ants Laaneots said.

Three out of four airborne divisions participated in drills in Strugi Krasnye. While modernized T72 tanks were sent to Belarus, equipment closer to the Estonian border included T90 main battle tanks and the brand new armored fighting vehicle BMPT. No land, air, or naval border violations were established by Estonia.

A lot of emphasis was placed on electronic warfare at this year’s Zapad. Russia is among the leading forces in the world when it comes to disrupting enemy communications as jammers at its disposal range from those aimed against individual squads to major transmitters that can cover hundreds of kilometers.

Disruptions to Latvia’s cell phone network on August 30 and emergency call service on September 13 were probably Russian tests. Mobile communications were disrupted using a powerful network jammer in Kaliningrad aimed at Gotland in Sweden and Aland in Finland.

“Our allies’ weakness lies in their dependency on long-range communications. Major countries need to keep in touch with the homeland when at war. The Russians realize that a corresponding strike would give them an advantage,” a Postimees source explained.

Zapad also offered new and surprising elements. For example, nuclear forces were involved in very early stages of the drills. If during Zapad 2009, Russia simulated a nuclear strike against Poland, and a similar flight of strategic bombers took place near Stockholm four years later, the nuclear exercise concentrated on the Baltic region this time.

Secondly, the exercise largely concentrated on the far north where additional forces were deployed from several other military districts.

Norwegian counter intelligence said in early October that Russia used strong electronic jammers on the Kola Peninsula. They caused SAS and Wideroe passenger aircraft to lose GPS signal climbing beyond 2,000 feet over a week.
It is a busy world out there. Pay attention.

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