Insight: In NATO’s new north, fresh chances to contain Moscow

Insight: In NATO’s new north, fresh chances to contain Moscow

Construction workers in Tornio, Finland and Karlskrona, Sweden are working on a project to improve the railway bridge that connects NATO’s Atlantic coastline in Norway to its new border with Russia. The electrification of this rail link, which is the only one between Sweden and Finland, was initially intended to provide locals with easier access to Stockholm. However, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the strategic importance of this project changed. Finland has now joined NATO, and Sweden hopes to follow suit. This development allows allies to monitor and contain Russia, and view northwest Europe as a unified bloc.

The rail improvements in Tornio will make it easier for allies to send reinforcements and equipment from across the Atlantic to Kemijarvi, which is close to the Russian border and military bases near Murmansk. The Russian Northern Fleet, stationed in this area, consists of submarines, warships, fighter planes, and nuclear warheads. In a conflict with NATO, the Fleet’s main objective would be to control the Barents Sea and prevent reinforcements from reaching Europe. Finland’s involvement in NATO helps to counter this threat.

Helsinki is not only opening its territory to NATO but also acquiring the necessary assets, such as fighter jets, to enhance northeastern defense and pose a risk to Russia in a conflict. Sweden’s contribution includes the deployment of new submarines in the Baltic Sea by 2028. These submarines will play a crucial role in protecting vulnerable seabed infrastructure and ensuring access. The destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in September 2022 highlighted the need for improved security measures. With five submarines, Sweden can effectively control the Baltic Sea and safeguard its interests.

Analysts believe that these developments are long overdue, as Russia has been actively expanding its military capabilities.Russia is strengthening its military and hybrid capabilities in the Arctic, using international environmental and economic cooperation as a cover, according to Samu Paukkunen, Deputy Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA). Paukkunen’s institute estimates that Western armed forces are about 10 years behind Russia in the Arctic. Despite the losses suffered in Ukraine, Russia’s naval component of the Northern Fleet and strategic bombers remain intact. Denmark phased out its submarine fleet in 2004 and has yet to decide on future investments, while Norway is ordering four new submarines. Sebastian Bruns, a senior researcher at Kiel University’s Institute for Security Policy, believes that Western countries have fallen behind in the Arctic over the past 25 years. These developments highlight how the expanded NATO alliance will reshape Europe’s security map, with the region from the Baltic to the high north becoming an integrated operating area for NATO. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Maus from NATO’s Allied Command Transformation emphasized the importance of considering the whole northern part as a single entity for NATO. Finland hosted its first Arctic military exercise as a NATO member in May, demonstrating its military capabilities and the potential for the region to serve as a military hub. Finland is investing in renewing its base to accommodate a new fleet of F-35 fighter jets. The May manoeuvres involved nearly 1,000 allied forces from the United States, Britain, Norway, and Sweden, along with 6,500 Finnish troops and 1,000 vehicles. Captain Kurt Rossi of the U.S. Army highlighted the significance of being able to train in Finland, close to Russia. The vulnerability of the shipping lane used by NATO for the exercise in the event of a conflict with Russia in the Baltic Sea area was also noted. Finland heavily relies on maritime freight for its supplies, making the east-west railway link across the high north a crucial alternative.According to Tuomo Lamberg, manager for cross border operations at Sweco, the only accessible route for cargo transportation by sea is the northern route, as the Russians can easily interrupt other routes. However, this risk may decrease when Sweden joins NATO.

Sweden currently has four submarines in its fleet, including the Gotland, which will bring NATO’s total in the Baltic countries to 12 by 2028. The Kiel institute predicts that Russia will add one to three submarines in the coming years, along with its fleet of modern warships and medium-range ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad.

The submarine commander Linden, who captained the Gotland for many years, describes it as the loneliest place in the world. During a typical mission, which lasts two to three weeks, there is no communication with headquarters. The Gotland-class submarines, along with Germany’s Type 212 submarines, are considered the most capable non-nuclear submarines in the world, according to researcher Bruns.

In submarine warfare, the primary concern is the location of the adversary. The quietness and maneuverability of the Gotland-class and Type 212 submarines make them difficult to detect. Linden emphasizes the importance of maintaining silence on board to avoid detection.

The Gotland is based in Karlskrona, across the Baltic from Kaliningrad. The Baltic Sea is one of the world’s busiest seaways, with an average of 1,500 vessels per day. The only way out is through the Kattegatt Sea between Denmark and Sweden, which can only be accessed through three narrow straits that submarines cannot pass through undetected.

If any of these straits were to be closed, it would severely impact sea freight traffic to Sweden and Finland and completely cut off the Baltic states. However, with Sweden joining NATO, this becomes more preventable as Sweden’s submarines will contribute to NATO’s listening powers.

Linden mentions that the Gotland’s crew can sometimes hear Russia’s vessels, with the range of sound travel varying depending on the seasons. By 2028, with the introduction of the new A26 design, Sweden’s submarine capacity for listening will increase.

Overall, the article highlights the importance of Sweden’s submarines in ensuring maritime security in the Baltic Sea region and the potential benefits of Sweden joining NATO.According to Bruns, the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), combat divers, or autonomous systems can be employed to protect submarines and their crew without putting them at risk. These technologies can be utilized for various missions, such as safeguarding pipelines or data cables, or deploying combat divers under the cover of darkness. The implementation of these capabilities will enhance Sweden’s ability to monitor and control activities in the Baltic Sea. Nick Childs, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, highlights that the inclusion of Germany, Sweden, and Finland in these efforts has significantly shifted the balance of power in the region. While it would make it challenging for the Russian Baltic Sea fleet to operate freely, it could still pose challenges for NATO. The article was reported by Anne Kauranen from Tornio, Johan Ahlander from Karlskrona, with additional reporting from Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen, and Sabine Siebold in Brussels. The article was edited by Sara Ledwith. The Thomson RushHourDaily Trust Principles apply.

About News Team

Hi, I'm Alex Perez, an experienced writer with a focus on lifestyle and culture news. From food and fashion to travel and entertainment, I love exploring the latest trends and sharing my insights with readers. I also have a strong interest in world news and business, and enjoy covering breaking stories and events.

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