NATO and Russian Military Exercises in the Baltic Take On A Whole New Importance

We’re moving into military exercise season in the Baltic region. Every year at this time a number of modestly sized exercises crop up in and around NATO nations. Days later, similar exercises sprout up in and around Russia and Belarus. The dueling maneuvers increase in size and complexity, usually culminating on the NATO side with the commencement of BALTOPS, a major exercise held annually that involves ships, aircraft and equipment from over a dozen NATO member-states. This year, the spring exercise season’s stakes are considerably higher than usual given the continuing war in Ukraine, as well as the heightened tensions between Russia and the West. Both NATO and Russia will use the maneuvers to send a message to the other side, as well as work up their respective forces.  

Moscow got the jump on NATO by holding wargames in Kaliningrad which included simulated launches of SS-26 Stone (Iskander to the amateurs and social media ‘experts’) short range ballistic missiles. According to statements released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian forces in Kaliningrad practiced multiple strikes against simulated enemy missile batteries, airfields, protected infrastructure, military equipment and command posts belonging to a generic enemy. Russian personnel also roleplayed avoiding “a possible retaliatory strike” and working in areas of radiological and chemical agent contamination.

To put it in basic terms, Russian forces in Kaliningrad just ran a military exercise intended to work up its nuclear-capable forces and demonstrate how capable military personnel in Kaliningrad are when it comes to working amid a tactical nuclear or chemical exchange. The message here is simple; Russia takes the possibility of a limited nuclear war far more seriously than does NATO, and Moscow wants the world to be aware of this.

NATO also has several large-scale maneuvers set for this month and beyond. Arrow 22 is set to begin soon in Finland and will run for two weeks. British, US, Polish and Finnish troops will be taking part, as well as soldiers from other NATO members. The exercise is gaining more attention than usual owing to Finland and Sweden. Both nations are tentatively moving closer to applying for NATO membership as the security situation with regards to Russia continues to deteriorate in the Baltic region.

Russia’s “Hood Moment”

The battlecruiser HMS Hood was known as ‘The Mighty Hood.’ This sobriquet was reflective not only of the immense firepower she carried, but also of her prestige. She was not only a symbol of the Royal Navy, but one of the entire British Empire and all its glory. A proud and powerful peacock, adored by Britons and feared by her enemies. Hood’s death while hunting the Bismarck in Denmark Strait on 24 May, 1941 was a devastating blow to the Royal Navy and caused deep trauma across Great Britain. In some ways the Royal Navy never fully recovered from the loss of fabled battlecruiser. Six months later, the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor. Over the next three and a half years, the mantle of preeminent global naval power shifted to the US Navy, which continues to enjoy unmatched naval dominance on the oceans of the world to this day.

The Russian warship Moskva didn’t come close to matching HMS Hood’s prestige. An almost forty-year old Slava class cruiser, he was commissioned towards the end of the Cold War era and carried considerable firepower for a surface combatant. As flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, Moskva was a symbol of Russian naval power, though not to the degree Hood was for the British. Hood was a ship many Britons felt a deep attachment to. It’s not likely that many people aside from current sailors, naval officers and veterans of the Russian Navy were familiar with Moskva, even though he was the pride of Russia’s navy. But now that she has been gone under, Moskva will be mourned and grieved by the entire country.

Moskva’s loss, whether due to a shipboard fire or enemy action, is a significant blow to Russia at an already difficult point in the war. Morale will be negatively affected at the very least. Realistically speaking though, now Russia’s naval operations need an immediate refurbishing if Moskva was in fact the victim of a Ukrainian attack. The nation’s pride will be more difficult to repair, though Russia has already taken the first steps towards seeking reciprocity. The military factory responsible for producing Neptune anti-ship missiles was attacked last night outside Kiev.

Militarily, the effect Moskva’s sinking will have on operations remains to be seen. Long term, it will be interesting to see if the cruiser’s loss marks the imminent demise of Russian sea power, or if the disaster brings on needed changes and reform to the Russian fleet. Hood’s loss brought on a moment of truth for the Royal Navy and now eighty-one years later the Russian Navy, as well as the nation it serves, faces a similar moment.

North Korea Tests Its Newest ICBM

Slipping away from Ukraine for a brief spell, North Korea’s latest missile test is raising concerns across the world. The US, South Korea and Japan have all condemned what looks to be the test of an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) by the North on Thursday, its first ICBM test since 2017. The test was far from unexpected. US officials have been warning for weeks now that an ICBM test was probable in the ‘near future.’ The missile flew for 71 minutes, traveled a distance of 671 miles, and reached a maximum altitude of 3,852 miles. It landed 100 miles off the coast of Japan, prompting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to label the launch as ‘reckless’ and ‘unacceptable.’

This missile, officially named the Hwasong-17, has upgraded capabilities over its predecessor, with the ability to reach the United States and carry multiple-independently targeted re-entry vehicles. In other words, more than a single warhead. It is more of a threat to the United States than Western Pacific nations, yet this has not deterred South Korea from staging its own demonstration in response to Pyongyang’s launch, firing its own ballistic and cruise missiles and dropping guided bombs, in order to “demonstrate the determination and capability to immediately respond and punish” North Korea.

Ukraine Update 25 February, 2022 (Evening)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is preparing his fellow countrymen for the coming defense of Kiev. Zelenskiy, in a video broadcast earlier today, laid out the situation. Russian forces continue advancing on Kiev and he expects the Russians to storm the capital city in the early morning hours. “This night will be very difficult, and the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians,” he said, later adding, “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.” The president intends to remain in Kiev and not evacuate. There’s no doubting his courage, but at this time it may be better for Ukraine’s leader to leave Kiev and travel west safety. The time might soon arrive when a government-in-exile must be formed. Zelenskiy is the most high-profile Ukrainian politician and he’ll carry considerable clout.

It is just after 3 AM in Kiev and explosions can now be heard in the distance. If a Russian ground attack does materialize, it will likely come before dawn and be supported by heavy amounts of artillery and air support. The Ukrainian Air Force has lost air superiority over the eastern half of the country, as mentioned earlier, so Kiev’s defenders will be forced to fight beneath a very hostile sky.

Author’s Note: I’ll try and get another update out as the situation develops closer to the morning in Kiev.

Ukraine Update: 25 February, 2022 (AM)

We are at a point now where Kiev’s life expectancy is being measured in hours instead of days or weeks. A second Russian effort to gain control of Hostomel Airport northwest of the capital city has been successful, 24 hours after the initial assault was defeated. This morning, a larger airmobile force struck the airport and seized it. The move, in conjunction with progress made by the Russian effort to the north out of Belarus, has effectively flanked Kiev from the west. Kiev’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said the city is now entering a ‘defensive phase.’ A number of Russian saboteurs and special operations troops have been attempting to infiltrate the city in order to create havoc.

In the early morning hours, the capital city was struck by several Russian missiles and air attacks. Explosions rocked the darkness and an aircraft crashed into a residential area of the city. Unfortunately, the aircraft was a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter.  By all accounts, the Ukrainian Air Force has lost control of the air. Fantasy tales about the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ aside, the Ukrainian Air Force is in a difficult spot right now and its leaders really need to think about sending its surviving combat aircraft out of the country while the time remains to do so.

News from the east and south is little better. Minutes ago, it was learned that Russian forces have broken through the Ukrainian defenses at Kherson and are now moving to exploit the success before the Ukrainians can try to seal off the penetration.

A Russian amphibious landing is underway west of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. Details on the situation are few. It is not clear if the Russians or Ukrainians are in control of the city proper and surrounding area, despite a number of videos making the rounds on social media that suggest Russian troops control at least part of the city. The arrival of the Russian force from the sea could very well prove to be the final nail in the coffin of any Ukrainian forces remaining in the city.

Things are happening much faster now. As a result, for the next 24 hours or so the Ukraine Update posts are only going to be able to provide glimpses of what’s taking place.