Russia holds Baltic drills amid rising tensions with NATO

Russian troops serving in the Baltic fleet in Kaliningrad have staged military drills as the strategic region is becoming an increasingly contested space between Russia and NATO.

The servicemen held a security operation and demonstrated their martial arts’ training in front of military officials and civilians on Saturday, celebrating 316 years since the founding of the Baltic fleet.

The Baltic fleet, which has gained more importance recently due to Russia’s renewed claims to a large swathe of the nearby Arctic, is historically linked to the Victory of Russia’s Peter the Great fleet over Sweden in 1703.

The fleet was strengthened this year by a Karakurt-class corvette warship equipped with Kalibr missiles and Msta self-propelled howitzers added to its warships.

The reinforcement highlights the strategic importance of the Baltic, an economically important trading zone for 90 million people, still littered with mines from two world wars.

The region is drawing the biggest military presence, with a daily game of Cold War cat-and-mouse and eye-to-eye encounters of combat jets and reports of submarines ratcheting up tensions.

Moscow says NATO has dramatically increased reconnaissance flights near its borders.

Jets from NATO nations and non-NATO allies like Sweden often scramble to confront what Western officials deem as stepped-up probing flights and mock bomb runs near their borders by Russia.

Deeper and more clandestine rivalries are being played out under the Baltic Sea, a harsh and complex environment for underwater warfare.

Nearby, global warning and the rapid melting of the Arctic ice has opened up new shipping routes and access to natural mineral resources.

The five countries encircling the Arctic are Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the United States.

Exploitation of the territory’s mineral, oil and gas reserves hidden in this untapped region is the common goal.

Russia currently has the biggest geographical advantage in the Arctic, with Canada coming in second, and the United States third.

Last September, a Danish-flagged cargo ship successfully passed through the Russian Arctic on a one-off trial journey, potentially opening a new trade route from Europe to East Asia.

The new route, as industry experts say, could reduce the travel distance from East Asia to Europe from the 21,000 kilometers it takes to go via the Suez Canal to 12,800 kilometers. That would cut transit time by 10-15 days.

With more than half of all Arctic coastline along its northern shores, Russia says as much as $35 trillion worth of untapped oil and natural gas could be lurking.

Now China is pushing its way into the Arctic, announcing its ambitions to develop a “Polar Silk Road” through the region.

Finland, the United States and Canada have also proposed significant infrastructure investment within their respective Arctic zones.

In September 2018, the Russian military deployed anti-ship missiles in the Arctic, in a sign that if necessary, the nuclear power would protect its claims in the resource-rich region by force.

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