Russia is beefing up its forces in its Kaliningrad exclave and has already formed a full motorized rifle division that includes a regiment of tanks, a naval admiral said on Monday, citing the need to respond to what he said was a NATO build-up nearby.
Kaliningrad, already heavily militarized, is a Russian region that lies on the Baltic Sea between EU members Lithuania and Poland. Moscow captured the region from Germany towards the end of World War Two.
It is home to the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, and Russian and NATO military aircraft often intercept each other in a game of cat and mouse over the waters of the Baltic Sea.
The Baltic Fleet’s Admiral Alexander Nosatov told the army’s Red Star newspaper that the military reinforcement was a response to NATO, accusing the Western military alliance of deploying an armored tank unit and several multinational tactical and other strike units nearby.
“In response to this threat, the leadership of the armed forces was obliged to take reciprocal measures. One of them was the formation of a fully-fledged motorized rifle division, which has joined the army corps of the Baltic Fleet,” he said.
“The new unit includes motorized rifle, artillery and separate tank regiments,” said Nosatov.
Nosatov spoke of the exclave taking delivery of 30 new T-72B3M tanks, a naval corvette armed with cruise missiles, and an undisclosed number of Sukhoi SU-30SM fighter jets.
He said the reinforcement would continue apace next year.
The deployment comes as ties between Russia and the West languish at post-Cold War lows, strained by everything from Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea to allegations of hacking US elections and Syria.