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Latvia’s Push for a NATO Naval Base

NATO’s member states have agreed to base 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and Poland. That is extremely welcome news in these Baltic Sea countries, whose governments have long been lobbying for exactly such a presence.

But, while NATO allies regularly conduct naval exercises in this tiny ocean, the alliance doesn’t have a permanent naval presence there. Now Latvia is proposing a novel arrangement: a NATO presence in an old Soviet port.

Until Latvia‘s occupation ended in 1991, its port city of Liepaja housed an immense Soviet naval base. Large parts of the Soviet Union’s Baltic fleet including submarines were based there, as was nuclear weapons storage. With 26,000 military staff working for the naval base, which took up one third of the city, it was perhaps not surprising that the Soviet authorities designated the port area a closed city that did not appear on any maps.

Finland's New Anti-NATO Party and Its Founder

A curious chain of events has unfolded in Finland that makes one wonder about the country’s newly formed anti-NATO political party, its founder, and his discomforting relationships with some shadowy characters.

Paavo Väyrynen is a veteran politician of the first order. Representing Finland's primarily rural Center Party, he has been a candidate for president three times. And, he has also served at one time or other as foreign minister, labor minister, minister for foreign trade and international development, minister of trade, as well as an MP and now an MEP. Earlier this month, as the country begins to debate NATO membership, Väyrynen announced that he’s launching a new party, the Citizens’ Party, which he says will fight to maintain Finland’s military non-allied status. That is, he wants to keep Finland out of NATO.

Refugees Resettling in Latvia

Six out of 4.6 million: a figure so small it’s hardly worth mentioning. But earlier this month, Latvia accepted its first six refugees from the current refugee crisis. Considering that 4.6 million Syrians have fled their country since civil war erupted five years ago, that’s a miniscule figure. Besides, only three of the asylum seekers received by Latvia were Syrians—the others were Eritreans.

Still, their arrival is a breakthrough considering that like its Baltic neighbors, Latvia has virtually no experience receiving or integrating refugees from other parts of the world. Indeed, in agreeing to receive asylum seekers—it will accept a total of 500 within the next two years (possibly up to 800)—Latvia can claim to have acted in accordance with its new status as a full-fledged member of the EU and the Schengen area.

Dismantling Nukes is Good, But How To Safely Bury Them?

Who knows what one might find in London in 10,000 years’ time? Or New York or Berlin? The town of Carlsbad, by contrast, has a clear future ahead. For the next 10,000 years, a facility nearby will store clothing, lab equipment, rags, and other everyday items contaminated by atomic bombs.

At the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located in the desert 26 miles (42 kilometres) from Carlsbad, New Mexico, toxic material is stored 2,150 feet (655 meters) below the surface in plastic-lined steel drums in rooms carved out of a 250-million-year-old salt bed. “Bedded salt is free of fresh flowing water, easily mined, impermeable and geologically stable; an ideal medium for permanently isolating long-lived radioactive wastes from the environment. However, its most important quality in this application is the way salt rock seals all fractures and naturally closes all openings,” informs the US Department of Energy, which is in charge of storing the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Russia's FSB Reportedly Screens Refugees Entering Finland

One can debate the degree to which Russia’s pro-Assad bombing campaign has ramped up Europe’s refugee crisis. But several days ago, a Russian border guard at the Finnish border lifted the veil on an ominous kind of involvement: the FSB, he said, decides which refugees are allowed to approach the Finnish border.

With Eyes on Russia, Nordic Countries Share Defense

“Why can’t friendly countries share defense equipment?” a friend asked me the other day. “It would be much cheaper and more efficient.” Dream on, I thought. As every dorm kitchen shows, pooling resources ends with some taking advantage of others’ possessions.

But on January 14, Denmark and Sweden took a small step towards military burden-sharing. The two neighbors signed a military cooperation treaty that will allow them to share information as well as military infrastructure such as airports. While that may not seem like a lot of sharing, it’s a significant step for Sweden in particular. “The treaty is more important for Sweden than for Denmark, since Sweden has maintained its neutrality policy for such a long time,” Johannes Riber Nordby, deputy director of the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Defense College, told me.

The Baltic States' Vital Step Toward Energy Independence

The Baltic states may have declared independence a quarter-century ago, but Monday marked independence of a different kind. With the inauguration of its NordBalt electricity connector with Sweden and its LitPol Link with Poland, Lithuania has permanent energy links going westward, and several other links are planned. The Baltic states’ quest for energy independence, especially their desire to break away from the region’s Moscow-run electricity grid, isn’t sitting well with Russia.

Construction of the NordBalt energy connector, between the Lithuanian town of Klaipeda and Nybro, in southeast Sweden, began two years ago; LitPol Link construction began last year. Given Russia’s willingness to cut energy exports to countries it considers rebellious, Lithuania’s haste is understandable. Lithuania, with a population of 2.9 million, imports 72 percent of its energy, of which 48 percent is bought from Russia.

Syria’s Unfriendly Skies

There’s no doubt as to the sequence of events on November 24th: A Russian fighter plane crossed into Turkish airspace and the Turkish military shot it down. It’s not clear, however, that the pilots of the Su-24 intended to violate Turkish territory. Russian pilots rely heavily on instructions from their own ground control and don’t have access to the same modern positioning equipment as their Western peers. In the Middle East’s crowded skies, that can lead to more disasters.

“The Russian Air Force uses ground control instructions to the pilots more than other developed countries do,” explains Anton Lavrov, a Russian armed forces analyst affiliated with a Moscow-based defense think tank, the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. “It’s a legacy of the Soviet era, when military planes were guided from the ground because of their rudimentary navigation systems and weak radars.”

Spying on Friends

“Friends don’t spy on one another,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel two years ago, when new NSA leaks revealed that the US signals intelligence agency had snooped on her and other German politicians’ mobile phones. Around the same time it had been revealed that the NSA had targeted leading French politicians, including Presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, and François Hollande, as well. 

European Solidarity Under Stress

On a recent day this month, a total of eight asylum-seekers arrived in Hungary. On other days, too, the figure has remained at 10 or lower. That’s a dramatic drop for a country that received nearly 33,000 asylum applications during the second quarter of this year, and in September sometimes received 10,000 asylum-seekers per day.

What has changed? A fence has been built.

US Upgrades Security at Nuclear Bases Near Syria

The United States has upgraded the security at its two largest overseas nuclear weapons bases, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and Aviano Air Base in Italy. Incirlik is undergoing a particularly extensive upgrade, a move connected to its vulnerable location close to the Syrian border.

Recent satellite images from Incirlik and Aviano show double-fence security perimeters—a sealed-off area where intruders can be shot—being built around the nuclear weapons storage areas. At Incirlik the garage holding the trucks that service the warheads is also being improved, along with the trucks themselves. Incirlik’s newly upgraded area contains 21 vaults, each holding two to three warheads, and will be equipped with lighting, cameras, and intrusion-detection devices. In addition to soldiers already guarding the enclosure, manned vehicles will also patrol space between the two fences around the clock.

Estonia’s Defense Contractor Startups

Like any trade fair, London’s annual DSEI show allows participants so inclined to salivate over their industry’s latest innovations. But DSEI—the acronym stands for Defense and Security Equipment International—showcases the latest in military equipment. This year participants could, for example, admire BAE Systems Hägglunds’s 360 Battleview, a tank with technology that allows its commander and crew to “see” through the heavy metal. No need for a soldier to stick his head up, risking his life to survey enemy activity.

The Baltic Defense Bubble

Last week, General Philip Breedlove—the supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe, and thus NATO’s top military officer—warned that Russia is building up a defensive bubble in the Mediterranean. Breedlove’s statement got plenty of attention, but what’s more worrisome is news that has received close to no attention: Russia is building a defensive bubble in the Baltic Sea as well.

A defensive bubble—A2/AD in military speak, which stands for anti-access/area denial—is a combination of long-range missiles and sensors that makes it hard or even impossible for enemy airplanes and ships to approach their target. With the sensors and missiles having a range of up to 2,500 kilometers from the coast where they’re based, the equipment is very long-range indeed.

As the Swedish Defense Research Agency, FOI, points out in a new report, China is actively improving its A2/AD capabilities, which—considering the equipment’s long range—poses serious challenges for the United States in Southeast Asia, in addition to raising concerns about Chinese sales of bubble components to rogue nations. Even rudimentary bubbles would make a quick air war like the Gulf War much harder.

Submarine Intruders on Sweden’s Coastline

The Kremlin had ridiculed the Swedish Navy’s futile efforts trying to locate a suspected submarine off the coast of Stockholm, the capital, last fall. Last week the long-anticipated report on the intruder arrived: “beyond every reasonable doubt” it was a submarine, the Swedish Armed Forces reported.

Moscow’s Info War in Sweden

Last week brought the news of a most alarming discovery off the Swedish coast: a sunken Russian submarine. Given the Swedish Navy’s unsuccessful hunt for a suspected Russian submarine last fall, it was perhaps inevitable that the discovery—made by a private diving company and first reported by the tabloid Expressen—should generate massive international headlines.

The Swedish Navy soon declared that the vessel was an imperial Russian submarine that had sunk off the Swedish coast in 1916, but by that time, Russian media had a field day with the discovery. “Sweden finally gets their Russian sub (but it’s 100 years old) [sic],” declared Sputnik. “Ghosts of Russian submarines continue to haunt Sweden,” reported RT.

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