Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is the Soviet Threat Moving North?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is the Soviet Threat Moving North?

Article excerpt

IN Central Europe it is generally accepted that the cold war is over and that it is only a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a few arms treaties.

But the brutal crackdown in Lithuania underscores the supreme strategic interest that the Baltic Sea still holds for the Soviets. Therefore is the cold war simply shifting to colder climes?

The Nordic/Baltic region has not yet benefited directly from the dramatic political and military developments of the past year. If anything, Soviet strategic attentions paid to this area should increase rather then diminish:

- With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the loss of its buffer zone in Eastern Europe, the Baltic - once far behind Soviet defensive frontiers - is quickly shaping up to be part of the Soviet Union's front line of defense.

- Although rapidly receding as a superpower, the Soviet Union still has the ability to project power westward in a few regions. One of the most important of those is the Baltic. Any future conflict in Europe, however remote, would see the Baltic serving as a major Soviet staging area.

- There is also the possibility of a renewed German-Soviet competition in the Baltic. Germany has historically seen the Baltic as a "German lake," and, in the wake of German reunification, this region could find itself caught between competing German and Soviet interests.

For all these reasons, therefore, the Baltic could become the next flashpoint for Soviet-Western confrontations - especially if there is a conservative backlash in the Soviet Union. It is also easy to see why the idea of Baltic independence is unacceptable to the Soviet military and communist hardliners.

As a result of the Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe, the Soviet presence in the Baltic and Nordic region has grown, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The Soviets are in the process of removing half a million men from East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary; many of these troops are being restationed around the Baltic and in the Kola Peninsula adjacent to Scandinavia. Modern T-72 and T-80 tanks are replacing vintage T-55s.

Several squadrons of combat aircraft have also been redeployed to the Baltic or the Kola, including Su-24s from East Germany and MiG-27 fighter-bombers from Hungary. …

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