Russia to form new air army along western borders to counter NATO expansion

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Russia's Defense Ministry plans to deploy a new air army to fortify its western borders as a strategic response to NATO's growing presence in Europe, especially in light of Finland’s accession to the alliance and Sweden set to follow, Russia's Izvestia newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The new air force, which is expected to include several jet fighter and bomber regiments, an army aviation brigade, air defense forces, and radio engineering personnel, will be formed in what Russia labels as the “Western strategic direction.” The “Western strategic direction” encompasses the territory from the Arctic in the north, including the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea, all the way down to the Black Sea in the south. It includes the highly sensitive regions of the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.

The new air force may be part of either the Moscow military district or the Leningrad MD. The Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts are two critical components of the Russian military structure, responsible for significant parts of the country's defense strategy. The Moscow Military District encompasses Russia's capital city and serves as a central hub for the recruitment, training, and management of military personnel, while also housing substantial military equipment. On the other hand, the Leningrad Military District, named after the city now known as St. Petersburg, holds a key strategic position in Russia's western region, due to its proximity to several NATO member countries.

Former air defense commander Valery Gorbenko stressed that Finland’s NATO membership and the expected accession of Sweden to the alliance, necessitated an increased military presence. In anticipation of new NATO bases in the previously neutral countries, Gorbenko emphasized the importance of the establishment of a designated army, specifically an air force, to face them.

Military historian Dmitry Boltenkov eplaine that key personnel, aircraft, anti-aircraft missile systems, and radar systems are already available to facilitate the establishment of this new unit. Nevertheless, he also implied that Russia's defense sector will face increased demands and will need to ramp up its operations to support this expansion.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden made the decision to submit applications for NATO membership last year. This move signified a departure from their long-standing policy of military non-alignment. The severity of the tensions between Moscow and Western nations, the most intense since the conclusion of the Cold War, triggered this shift in stance.

Finland, with its extensive 1,300-km (810-mile) border adjoining Russia, effectively broadened NATO's boundary with Moscow to about twice its length prior to it joining. Although both Finland and Sweden have highly skilled military forces, their membership would result in NATO holding a dominant position over the Baltic Sea region – an outcome Russia perceives as a threat.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko had said in April that in response to Finland’s accession to NATO, Moscow planned to bolster military capabilities in the country's western and northwestern territories. He indicated that, should NATO member forces be stationed in Finland, Russia would undertake further measures to robustly safeguard its military security.

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