In the first sign that, just in time for winter, the tentative European jawboning alliance against Russia is collapsing (since the "costs", sanctions and other economic means inflicted upon the Kremlin ended up backfiring and pushing Europe into a triple-dip recession instead), earlier today Poland announced that it will move thousands of troops toward its eastern borders, i.e., Ukraine, in what AP dubbed a "historic realignment of a military structure built in the Cold War."
Why is NATO-member Poland doing something which will clearly only send antagonizing signals to Putin, who previously has made it quite clear that any NATO expansion via the Polish corridor will be met with an appropriate response? Not surprisingly, defense minister Tomasz Siemoniak said the troops are needed in the east because of the conflict in neighboring Ukraine.
"The geopolitical situation has changed, we have the biggest crisis of security since the Cold War and we must draw conclusions from that," Siemoniak said.
If indeed Poland is going through with this military reallocation, it is the most serious military signal yet to evolve out of the Ukraine civil war, because for the first time there is more than merely hollow rhetoric and empty threats: this time one NATO member is strategically, not tactically, shifting its power focus in a way that the Kremlin will have no choice but to view the move as a threat, and will in turn have to respond in kind.
The Polish defense minister added that at least three military bases in the east will see their populations increase from the current 30 percent of capacity to almost 90 percent by 2017, and that more military hardware will be moved to those bases as well.
He said it was not some "nervous or radical move" but that because of this "situation of threat we would like those units in the east of Poland to be more efficient."
Although Poland joined NATO in 1999, most of Poland's 120,000-member army is based along the country's western border, as a relic of its former status as a Soviet Bloc member.
The units in the east, like the air defense unit in Siedlce, have only 30 percent of jobs filled in line with a plan that calls for 100 percent of troops "only in the case of war."
As a reminder, here is what happened the last Russia felt NATO, and Poland, were stretching a little too close to its borders in December 2013, just months before the Ukraine conflict escalated out of control with the assistance of Victoria Nuland et al.
"Russia will deploy Iskander missile systems in its enclave in Kaliningrad to neutralize, if necessary, the anti-ballistic missile system in Europe."
- Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president, November 2008 in his first presidential address to the Russian people
2013 was a year when Europe tried to reallign its primary source of natgas energy, from Gazpromia to Qatar, and failed. More importantly, it was a year in which Russia's Vladimir Putin undisputedly won every foreign relations conflict that involved Russian national interests, to the sheer humiliation of both John Kerry and Francois Hollande. However, it seems the former KGB spy had a Plan B in case things escalated out of control, one that fits with what we wrote a few days ago when we reported that "Russia casually announces it will use nukes if attacked." Namely, as Bloomberg reports citing Bild, Russia quietly stationed a double-digit number of SS-26 Stone, aka Iskander, tactical, nuclear-capable short-range missiles near the Polish border in a dramatic escalation to merely verbal threats issued as recently as a year ago.
The range of the Iskander rockets:
- Russia has stationed missiles with a range of about 500 kilometers in its Kaliningrad enclave and along its border with the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Germany’s Bild-Zeitung reports, citing defense officials it didn’t identify.
- Satellite images show a “double-digit” amount of mobile units identified as SS-26 Stone in NATO code
- Missiles were stationed within the past 12 months
- SS-26 can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads
In other words, Russia quietly has come through on its threat issued in April 2012, when it warned it would deploy Iskander missiles that could target US missile defense systems in Poland. From RIA at the time:
Moscow reiterated on Tuesday it may deploy Iskander theater ballistic missiles in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad that will be capable of effectively engaging elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland.
NATO members agreed to create a missile shield over Europe to protect it against ballistic missiles launched by so-called rogue states, for example Iran and North Korea, at a summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010.
The missile defense system in Poland does not jeopardize Russia’s nuclear forces, Army General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said.
“However, if it is modernized…it could affect our nuclear capability and in that case a political decision may be made to deploy Iskander systems in the Kaliningrad region,” he said in an interview with RT television.
“But that will be a political decision,” he stressed. “So far there is no such need.”
We anticipate that Russian retaliation this time will be roughly along the abovementioned, nuclear lines.