Russia is amplifying an already provocative move by increasing the size of the military drills that it started on Monday. The exercises will now include 80,000 troops and more than 200 aircraft, up from 38,000 troops and 110 aircraft, the BBC reports.Even more menacingly, and with greater implications for European stability beyond the duration of the exercise, the Kremlin is placing missiles in Kaliningrad, nestled neatly between Poland and Lithuania. The Jamestown Foundation has a good summary:
A “source in the defense ministry” told Russian state news agencies: “Baltic Fleet landing assault ships are tasked to deliver Iskander ballistic missiles for deployment in Kaliningrad.” During previous military exercises in 2014, Iskander missiles have been temporarily deployed in Kaliningrad, but this was announced after they were reportedly shipped out. The Iskander is capable of delivering a half-ton conventional or a nuclear warhead with high precision at a reported maximum range of 500 kilometers. The Iskanders from the Kaliningrad exclave can hit any target inside Poland, much of the Baltic states, and parts of Germany and the Czech and Slovak republics—all of them being NATO members.The announcement of Iskanders deployed in a forward position aimed at Europe and the deliberate ambiguity about the intention to keep them in Kaliningrad permanently or to withdraw after the end of the “sudden exercises” are intended, according to Russian commentators, as an “information attack” to intimidate Europeans.
Missile placement carries all sorts of strategic consequences, and depending on the location and type of missiles the calculus can look very different from where you are standing. The Iskanders, with their 500km range can’t menace Madrid in the same way that they can wipe out Warsaw. That makes this move a very good wedge to drive between countries with different priorities—which is why it was one of Russia’s favorite tactics during the Cold War for creating dissension and trouble within the Western alliance.Putin’s quest to fracture the West continues, unabated.