Wednesday, March 25, 2015

So Gotland is Irrelevant?

While this article has an interesting point that Russia might occupy Sweden's Gotland Island in order to conquer the Baltic states and isolate Poland from the rest of NATO, ultimately the scenario rests on the threat and actual use of nukes that make capturing Gotland rather irrelevant.

The article sets out the scenario:

Last week Russia’s air force progressed from testing military preparedness to dry runs for a major air assault. A combination of transport planes and fighter jets flew from Russia over the entire Baltic Sea to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. While Sweden didn’t even manage to get a plane in the air, Italian air force jets flying out from ┼áiauliai air base in Lithuania intercepted and identified the Russian jets. The Italian fighters were outnumbered 4 to 1.

The obvious targets of Russian aggression along the Baltic Sea, namely Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all share a land border with Russia, so there is no need to mount a large scale air assault to overrun these tiny states. But to keep these three nations occupied and oppressed, Putin must keep the US air force and the US Navy out of the Baltic Sea. This is why Russia is preparing to assault, occupy and fortify Sweden’s Gotland Island.

On the one hand, such a possibility would mean that if we want US Marine equipment stored in the Baltic states, we'd best not move our stores in Norway in case we need them to eject the Russians from Gotland.

And it means that if we kept Baltic state islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Riga in our hands should the Russians march into the Baltic states, they'd be cut off too if Russia holds Gotland.

But then the scenario escalates way beyond the Russians using Gotland to hold us off in the Baltic Sea.

Why would Russia capture Gotland Island to screen their conquests in the Baltic states if ultimately Russia needs to use nuclear weapons to keep NATO from counter-attacking? Gotland Island becomes completely irrelevant in that case.

Gotland Island should be on our radar screens, I admit. I hadn't figured that Russia would take actions to draw in neutrals. But it could make sense in a conventional conflict.

And I just can't see Russia initiating nuclear weapons use that way.  That's a Hell of a risk to take when we would absolutely have to retaliate with a nuclear strike--likely against a Russian military target--if we had any hope that nuclear deterrence would work in the future against anyone with nukes and an attitude.

I think a Russian attack on NATO could be made at Narva with much lower risk to Russia than flinging nukes around.

Also, I wish we still had a couple armored cavalry regiments in our force structure. Basing one in Latvia to conduct a delaying action south to attrite the Russian invaders would be helpful.

UPDATE: Doh! I don't know why I wrote Bornholm in the title. Bornholm is a Danish Island off the southern tip of Sweden.  It would have been important to hold the Soviet Baltic fleet out of the North Sea.

I think it was on my mind because I was shocked that Sweden was going to send a small force to Gotland and I recalled that Denmark had during the Cold War a decent sized force on Bornholm.

I wasn't making an indirect comment on a Russian threat to Bornholm. I meant to indicate that the whole scenario that started with the Russian capture of Gotland didn't actually require the capture of Gotland at all since the scenario escalates to nuclear warfare to scare us off.

Although if the logic of taking Gotland holds, the logic would apply to Bornholm.