A new Russian presidential decree suggests Moscow could be preparing for a standoff with new NATO member Finland and the Baltic states, according to independent investigative publication Agentstvo and a US think tank.
On Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry prepared a presidential decree that would strip the Russian Northern Fleet of its status as an “interspecific strategic territorial association.” It would transfer its four constituent regions (the Komi Republic, the Arkhangelsk and Murmansk Oblasts, and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug) into the reformed Leningrad Military District.
Russian military analyst Yuri Fyodorov told Agentstvo that the restoration of the Leningrad Military District suggests that Russia is preparing for possible conflicts with the Baltic states and NATO.
The Leningrad Military District, based near new NATO member Finland and the Baltic states, is a key component of Russia’s armed forces, overseeing parts of the national defense strategy in Russia’s western region. Finland shares an 800-mile border with Russia.
Finland joined the NATO military alliance this year in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. The Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – worked throughout the invasion to strengthen their defenses while sending aid to Ukraine.
Estonian counterintelligence said in a report this year that Russia sees the Baltic states as the most vulnerable part of NATO. This would make it a focus of military pressure in the event of a conflict between the organization and Moscow.
The Leningrad Military District was merged with the Moscow Military District, the Northern Fleet and the Baltic Fleet to form the Western Military District in 2010. However, Moscow changed course in August when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the military districts would be actively established.
“The district is supposed to wage war in a specific area of operations. The Leningrad Military District has two theaters of war, the Baltic countries and Finland,” said military analyst Fedorov. “For the district to have enough connections, it must be saturated with troops. Accordingly, the troops stationed in these regions will be relocated there [the district].”
Newsweek has emailed the Russian Defense Ministry and NATO for comment.
The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said in its latest analysis of the conflict in Ukraine on Sunday that the Russian Defense Ministry’s decision to redivide the Western Military District suggests Russia sees the need for restructuring its armed forces face NATO and will probably be stationed on the Finnish border.
“Although it remains unclear how Russia will be able to mobilize, train and organize these forces into new formations at the military district level,” the ISW said.
Fedorov said this restructuring was probably intended for the period after the war in Ukraine. He added that once the conflict ends, all nations involved will face the question of how to prepare for a future war.
The expert said that the NATO military alliance, the US and Europe could seek to station large deterrent forces on Russia’s borders, while Ukraine would seek to join NATO.
“Russia will face an even more difficult task because the army is battered, modern weapons have been exhausted and the war has exposed many weak points in the army. They will strive to rebuild forces capable of waging war in Europe and with Europe.” “Ukraine and NATO in the Western theater,” Fedorov said.
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