Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired every single commander in Russia’s Baltic fleet who have refused to fight the West in an upcoming war.
Putin fired 50 officers of the fleet alongside Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk and his chief of staff Rear Admiral Sergei Popov in a shake-up designed to purge traitors in the Russian military.
Reports in Russia also suggested the purges followed an alleged cover-up of a submarine accident, flaws in recruitment and military construction projects.
It comes amid an undisclosed number of other senior officers of the fleets have been fired over serious flaws in combat training and their failure to take proper care of personnel.
The purges’ scope and publicity make them highly unusual for the Russian military, which usually removes senior officers in a more subtle way.
It is particularly unexpected as it follows Putin’s visit to the Baltic fleet last year in Kalingrad, during which he praised its performance.
However, there has been speculation the drastic measures were prompted after the US Navy ship the USS Donald Cook was ‘buzzed’ by Russian fighter bombers in April, which was meant to be part of a series of confrontations against Western ships in the Baltic.
But international affairs analyst Peter Coates told news.com.au: ‘But the Russian Baltic Fleet, however, refused to follow such dangerous orders – hence Putin’s retaliation against his own naval officers.
Meanwhile after news of the sackings were announced, the Moscow Times noted that ‘not since Stalin’s purges had so many officers been ousted at once.’
The Baltic fleet has become increasing significant to Russia recently with the break up of the Soviet Union and defection of states such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The only remaining Russian enclave on the Baltic coast is Kaliningrad, the most militarized plot of land in Europe — and one of the catalysts for a planned build-up of forces by the Western military alliance on its eastern flank.
Though small — about the size of Connecticut — Kaliningrad loomed large for leaders at the NATO Warsaw summit
NATO military and civilian leaders fear that Russia is using Kaliningrad to create what is known as an anti-access/area denial bubble, using systems like surface-to-air missile batteries to deny NATO access to certain areas in its own territory in the event of a conflict.
‘There was no reason to be very concerned five years ago when you could count on more or less peaceful behavior of the Russian side,’ said Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
‘Now it’s becoming more and more possible that these forces could be used, and this is reason for concern.’
Prior to the Second World War, Kaliningrad was Koenigsberg, a northern district of what was then East Prussia, home of the 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant, and a grain, dairy and meat supplier to the rest of Germany.
At the end of World War II the province fell to the Soviet Union; the 1.2 million Germans living there were expelled and the Baltic province was repopulated by Soviet citizens and became a garrison area and missile depot for the Red Army.