The largely unobservant public had previously been under the impression that the Baltic Sea was a zone of peace and stability, thinking that all the region’s states lived in harmony with one another. This may have been the case prior to 1991, but immediately afterwards, NATO’s expansion into the Baltic basin seriously upset the balance of power, as the incorporation of Poland and the former Soviet Baltic States in 1999 and 2004 attests. Through this manner, NATO was able to surround Kaliningrad and directly push up against part of Russia’s western border.
The military tension remained just below the surface (literally), until Shadow NATO states Sweden and Finland started initiating highly publicized ‘Russian sub’ scares, designed with the sole intent of scaring their publics into formal NATO membership and opening up an additional front in the New Cold War. Taking it further, this is all part of NATO’s new policy of regional blocs, as Brussels hopes to see the formation of a ‘Viking Bloc’ that would apply pressure against Russia in the Arctic. The most dangerous development, however, is with Finland, which is capitalizing off of the sea scare to call up nearly one million reservists (1/5 of the total population) in the event of a “crisis situation”, thereby presenting a dangerous test run in conflict escalation that might be applied all over Europe in the future.
To put everything into focus, it’s best to begin by documenting the latest hysteria stemming from supposed ‘Russian sub’ sightings. Sweden started the trend when it claimed to be hunting a believed-to-be Russian sub back in October, and when nothing came out of the stunt except for a scared public and a couple million dollars spent, Stockholm continued to insist that it had evidence that a foreign sub did trespass through its waters, but curiously kept the details to itself. Be that as it may, it didn’t stop legislators from increasing the defense budget by a whopping $1.18 billion for the period 2016-2020, earmarking an additional $945 million for the future purchase of two subs, and announcing plans to reopen a military base on the Baltic island of Gottland. The ultimate irony is that there was never a ‘Russian sub’ to begin with, and that it was eventually revealed that the whole scandal started over a simple workboat, thus making it seem like Sweden exaggerated the situation simply to push through more defense funding and militarize its society against Russia.
Being the regional leader that it is, it appears as though Sweden’s spectacle of the phantom Russian sub rubbed off on Finland, which soon after its latest elections began detonating underwater charges against its own suspected ‘Russian sub’. Finnish political analyst Jon Hellevig assessed that this was simply Helsinki’s application of Stockholm’s decades-long tactic of using phantom Russian subs to increase the population’s acceptance of future NATO membership. While Finland isn’t a de-jure member of the alliance, both it and Scandinavian military hegemon Sweden signed a NATO host nation agreement last fall to intensify their relations with the bloc, essentially making them Shadow NATO members in an even deeper capacity than Ukraine has become (the latter of which has been the bone of contention sparking the New Cold War in the first place).
Given such a relationship, it may not even be needed for either state to formally join NATO at this point, since the alliance can already reap the resultant military advantages of their territory in any possible anti-Russian crisis scenario. However, putting the provocative issue up for a referendum vote or making a unilateral government decision in this regard might be a forthcoming tactic towards creating the aforementioned crisis needed to ‘justify’ the indefinite hosting of NATO troops in those countries. It’s quite clear that Sweden is already de-facto participating in NATO, since they just partook in the group’s “Dynamic Mongoose” anti-submarine drills off the Norwegian coast. This would have obviously raised eyebrows among its domestic citizenry had it not been for the earlier ‘Russian sub’ scare that created the social pretext for its acceptance, showing how such false crises can be manipulated by the media for predetermined military gain.
The Viking Bloc
Everything going on in Scandinavia right now, from the phantom ‘Russian sub’ scares to the de-facto NATO-ization of the region’s last formal holdouts, is designed to create the northern component of NATO’s regional bloc strategy. In sum, the alliance is reverting to history and using Polish interwar leader Josef Pilsudski’s Intermarum concept to establish a Baltic-to-Black-Sea coalition of anti-Russian states to which it can more efficiently outsource its military prerogatives, all per the Lead From Behind strategy. The ‘Viking Bloc’ which consists of the Greater Scandinavian states of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland (centered on Sweden, possibly incorporating Estonia and Latvia as well) is envisioned to complement the emerging Commonwealth Bloc of Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine (centered on Poland), and the forthcoming Black Sea Bloc of Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova (centered on Romania, possibly even expanded to Georgia).
Focusing more specifically on the characteristics of the Viking Bloc, its members have a maritime identity, so it’s predicted that they’ll focus their activity on the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and Arctic Ocean, accordingly making them all one large naval base. Sweden’s demographic and economic strength makes it the obvious leader amongst the identified members and the control node of its activity, while wealthy Norway can provide the natural resources needed to keep it running. Denmark controls the entrance to and from the Baltic Sea, and together with its colony country of Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, the three can patrol the North Sea and Arctic Ocean in hunting ‘Russian subs’. It’s also not a coincidence that all of these states are members of the Arctic Council, meaning that this dialogue configuration has essentially become one of confrontation between North America & the Viking Bloc on one side and Russia on the other. The odd member out of this naval configuration is Finland (also a member of the Arctic Council), which has recklessly adapted a land-based anti-Russian policy that’s bound to ratchet up tension with its neighbor. One should also note that the Viking Bloc’s members signed a multilateral defense cooperation agreement in April that basically institutionalized the organization as an official regional bloc.
The Finnish Amphibian
The most dangerous sub-bloc strategy being adopted by NATO is its Finnish affiliate’s advance preparation of 900,000 reservists in the event of a “crisis situation”, which obviously could only refer to a military conflict with Russia. The Finnish government is trying to account for all of its former reservists aged 20-60 in order to inform them of what their “crisis situation” role would be, as well as to collect updated information about them. This dramatic movement of anti-Russian initiatives from sea onto land represents an amphibious strategy that’s likely only in its initial test-run phase. NATO wants to gauge Russia’s reaction and monitor its response in order to fine-tune this template for eventually export throughout the bloc as a whole.
The Finnish Amphibian is a very simple strategy. All that the practicing states or regional blocs have to do is report on a phantom ‘Russian sub’ sighting, preferably with as much media paranoia as possible but providing no proof whatsoever, and then use the subsequent buzz to justify the potential mobilization of a massive land-based reservist force. This leads to the militarization of society within the targeted state and initiates a siege mentality that makes its citizens feel as though they’re constantly under some type of Russian attack. None of the accusations have to be proven, let alone even seen by the citizens themselves, so long as the media and supportive political figures repeat the chorus of conflict enough to make it believable. An added touch would be to implement Sweden’s strategy of publicly accusing 1/3 of all Russian diplomats there as being spies, which when coupled with the existing paranoia about phantom ‘Russian subs’, sends the populace’s paranoia into overdrive and all but assures that they’ll support whichever military or surveillance solutions their government or NATO suggests.
NATO’s northernmost regional fighting group, the Viking Bloc, owes its speedy creation to the utilization of phantom ‘Russian sub’ scare tactics to galvanize support for this new initiative. Greater Scandinavia is rapidly being transformed into one giant NATO naval base that’s meant to confront Russia on the neighboring high seas. As destabilizing as that is, it moves into the realm of flashpoint danger with the fact that Finland is preparing to mobilize 1/5 of its population against Russia, thus presenting an amphibious land-based component to the majority sea-focused strategy. Even worse, the template of using false sea-based scares to ‘justify’ massive land-based mobilizations could likely be applied elsewhere in Europe, thereby serving as an ideal model of militarization all throughout NATO. It’s this hybrid of media-military strategic collaboration that may eventually prove to be more destabilizing than the unveiling of the Viking Bloc itself.
Andrew Korybko is the political analyst and journalist for Sputnik who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.