Implications of Russia`s A2/AD capabilities in Kaliningrad for NATO security

Implications of Russia`s A2/AD capabilities in Kaliningrad for NATO security

Summary

The militarization of Kaliningrad region has been intensified lately, posing great threats to NATO`s Baltic allies. Russia has opted for an asymmetric A2/AD strategy and deployed S-300, S-400 and Bastion defense systems covering the territories of Poland and Lithuania as well as the whole Suwalki corridor which is considered as NATO`s choke point. As a result, NATO`s freedom of movement even within its own territory could be limited and the access to the operational areas denied.

Introduction

A Russian exclave bordering such NATO allies as Lithuania and Poland has always been a central point at issue both in a transatlantic dialogue and in Russia-NATO relations. Kaliningrad region became part of the USSR under the Potsdam Agreement. Its permanent status was to be determined at a further peace settlement which never happened. Thus, Kaliningrad remained “Soviet” and subsequently “Russian”. It bears not only symbolic meaning for contemporary Russia, but also a great strategic one, as it became a heavily militarized region, so called Russian “bastion” in Europe posing considerable military threats primarily to NATO`s Baltic allies due to its A2/AD capabilities. This article aims to analyze Russia`s A2/AD capabilities deployed in Kaliningrad and to outline their effects on NATO security.

What are A2/AD capabilities?

According to US ‘Joint Operational Access Concept’, A2/AD stands for Anti-Access and Area Denial, where ‘anti-access refers to those actions and capabilities, usually long-range, designed to prevent an opposing force from entering an operational area’, while ‘area denial refers to those actions and capabilities designed to limit adversary`s freedom of action within the operational area’. [1]

To put it simple, A2/AD strategy is intended to prevent an adversary from entering the theater (Anti-Access) through the use of long-range weaponry and deprive him of freedom of action and movement therein (Area Denial) by means of shorter-range missiles.

A2/AD strategy usually involves a variety of missile defense measures such as surface-to-air missiles (SAM), anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM), cruise missiles (anti-ship cruise missile, ASCM), etc.

Russia`s A2/AD measures in Kaliningrad

As it has already been mentioned, Kaliningrad region is heavily militarized. The 336th Guards Marine Brigade (Baltic Fleet Command) as well as the 79th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade (Western Military District) and the 7th Guards Motor Rifle Regiment are located in the region. The air component is also strong. For instance, the 152nd Guards Missile Brigade (Chernyakovsk Air Base) equipped with Tochka-U missile systems (ranging up to 120 km) is of high offensive potential.

As for the defensive capabilities of Russia in Kaliningrad, S-300, S-400 missile defense systems as well as Bastion system are to be taken into consideration.

S-300 missiles have a range of 150-200 km and, located in Kaliningrad, cover border areas of Lithuania and Poland. As for S-400 systems, they range from 250 up to 400 km, and thus can reach the capitals of the two countries as well as cover the whole Suwalki corridor. In 2016 Russia deployed the Bastion defense system (K-300P Bastion-P) with a range from 120 to 300 km aiming to combat aircraft carriers approaching the coast [2].

Given the aforementioned, it is clear that S-300, S-400 and Bastion missile defense systems play a significant part in Russia`s A2/AD strategy, as their operation covers territories of 2 NATO allies and significantly hampers any NATO reinforcements there.

NATO`s choke point

As Ben Hodges, US Army Lieutenant General, once said: ‘If Kremlin wants to undermine the Alliance, the best way to do that is to demonstrate us that we cannot protect our allies – to launch a hybrid attack and cut the Suwalki corridor off’ [3]. The Suwalki corridor is a 100-km borderline between Poland and Lithuania which connects the Baltic states with their NATO allies. In other words, there is no other way for NATO states to conduct reinforcements and protect their Baltic allies in case of Russian offensive. What is more, S-400 missile system fully covers the Corridor, thus denying any ‘missile access’ by NATO in case of the conflict. Given the fact that the militarization of Kaliningrad and Russia`s Western Military District has been intensified, while Kremlin is also able to launch attacks from Belarusian territory, the Suwalki Corridor appears to be particularly vulnerable [4]. Hence, denying the corridor to NATO would be a top priority in case of Russia`s offensive against the Baltic states.

Implications

Although it is obvious that NATO outmatches Russia in global conventional military force, Russia`s A2/AD strategy significantly shifts security balance in the Baltics and entails serious implications for the security of NATO states there.

Firstly, missile defense systems located in Kaliningrad constrain Alliance`s freedom of movement even within its own territory as well as deny NATO force deployment to the area of operations. Thus, in the event of a conflict, NATO might find itself unable to conduct full-scale reinforcements in the Baltic region to protect its allies there.

Secondly, Russia`s A2/AD measures in Kaliningrad might disrupt NATO Navy surface and submarine operations and even threaten them out to an extent where they may not operate effectively [5]. This essentially means that NATO forces will have to be deployed not where it is most efficient to operate, but where it is at least safe.

And, finally, enjoying full freedom of movement as well as missile defense in Kaliningrad, Russia might conduct an offense against Baltic states from Belarusian territory by easily taking over the Suwalki corridor and, thus, cutting Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from any reinforcements and supplies from Poland or Germany.

What can be done?

Nothing in this article should suggest that Russian aggression against NATO Baltic allies is likely to happen, however, as a matter of prudence, appropriate measures are to be taken to mitigate NATO`s vulnerability in the region.

First, NATO should develop a comprehensive strategy and invest in weapons systems capable of breaking A2/AD systems, namely standoff weaponry which may be launched at a distance sufficient to evade defensive fire from the target area. The employment of unmanned ships which can misguide anti-missile systems may also be an efficient solution. Second, coordinated ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconaissance) activities are crucial, since the appropriate measures in this regard would allow to identify the enemy`s intentions, thus diminishing the risk of miscalculation. Finally, all the other measures that could significantly raise the cost of any military adventuristic attempts by Russia against one or more NATO states particularly in the Baltic region should be worthy of consideration.

Conclusion

Although NATO enjoys global conventional force superiority, it is particularly vulnerable in the Baltic region, where Russia successfully employs A2/AD strategy aiming to prevent any NATO operations as well as hamper its reinforcements. The Suwalki corridor appears to make the situation more advantageous for Russia due to the fact that once the Corridor is taken over, all the Baltic NATO members would be cut off from their allies. Even though nothing in the article implies that Russia`s offense is likely, standoff weapons as well as unmanned ships misguiding missile defense systems are suggested as efficient tools to decrease NATO`s vulnerability in the region and to enhance the security of its Baltic allies.

Yuliia Parkhomenko, “Ad Astra” Senior Fellow for Russian Foreign Policy