News2023.03.09 14:20

Russia was preparing for possible Kaliningrad blockade, says Lithuanian intelligence report

The war in Ukraine weakened Russia’s military capabilities in its Kaliningrad region, wedged between Lithuania and Poland, only to some extent, according to Lithuania’s intelligence yearly report on national security threats.

“Russian military capabilities in the Kaliningrad region were weakened due to their involvement and losses in the war against Ukraine, but Russian military threat in the Baltic Sea Region were diminished only to a certain extent,” according to the 2023 National Threat Assessment report released by Lithuania’s State Security Department and the Second Investigation Department Under the Ministry of Defence.

Deployment to occupied Ukrainian territories mostly affected the ground component, while air and naval forces remained practically untouched, the document, released on Thursday, reads.

Back in January 2022, three landing ships with personnel and combat equipment left the Kaliningrad Region for the Black Sea. Additionally, four multi-role fighters SU-30SM/Flanker-H were deployed to Crimea but they were later replaced by more modern fighter jets.

“However, other capabilities have been left in the exclave and are still performing their routine functions,” according to the report.

Lithuanian officials claimed earlier that military capabilities in Kaliningrad had been significantly diminished due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

According to the intelligence report, the existing capabilities are sufficient to perform their critical function, the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) effect: to obstruct deployment of necessary defence capabilities to the Baltic sea region and disrupt the freedom of manoeuvre for opposing forces, thus attempting to gain an advantage in the initial phase of a conflict.

According to intelligence estimates, “the decrease in Russian military threat in the Baltic sea region will only be temporary”.

“Russia will attempt to replenish ground component losses incurred in Ukraine as quickly as possible. […] These developments will highly depend on the duration and outcome of the war in Ukraine – the longer and more costly the war, the more time this modernisation will take,” the report reads.

The Kremlin is also trying to prepare the Kaliningrad region for “complete isolation and [to] ensure that its energy system is capable of functioning independently”.

Before starting its aggression against Ukraine, Russia began preparations to secure Kaliningrad’s provision with necessary supplies and ensure that the region’s infrastructure was operational in the isolation mode. It provided additional ferries and cargo ships for transportation of goods to the region by sea, strengthened Kaliningrad’s capability to secure the supply of energy resources without relying on transit via Lithuania, the report states.

Lithuanian officials were concerned much before the invasion of Ukraine over the arrival of the FSRU Marshal Vasilevskiy. However, the LNG shipment was not used until November.

“It is highly likely that the decision to start the operation of the Marshal Vasilevskiy […] was made to strengthen the energy independence of the Kaliningrad region,” according to the document.

Kaliningrad currently receives gas through a pipeline that passes through Lithuania’s territory. The region has also carried out three publicly known isolated operation tests of its power system – in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

According to Lithuania’s intelligence, regional authorities and businesses in Kaliningrad are concerned about economic problems and are keen on maintaining transit of goods and energy resources via Lithuania.

Lithuania suspended the transit of sanctioned goods to Kaliningrad in June, citing a clarification from the European Commission. However, the transit was resumed under tighter rules several weeks later after the EC issued guidance over the transit.

Russia called the transit suspension a blockade of Kaliningrad and sparked concern in the West over possible escalation of hostilities.

According to Lithuania’s intelligence, the Kremlin is likely to continue increasing tensions in the region in order to achieve at least symbolic concessions, if Kaliningrad’s transit conditions are not satisfactory or if the economic problems in the area deepen.

According to the intelligence report, the reaction of Kaliningrad population to the war has shown that despite the region’s relatively more active contacts with the West, Kaliningrad is no different from the rest of the Russian Federation.

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