Experts agree that Russia’s recent decision to establish a helicopter base on Hogland island 55 kilometers from Estonia’s coast is meant as a demonstration of power.
The new military facility, which can handle five helicopters at a time, is said to be able to receive all types of transport and attack helicopters used in Russia’s western military region.
But Tallinn does not see any reason to be seriously concerned. “The Ministry of Defense experts are constantly observing the movement and relocation of military units in Estonia’s vicinity, including Hogland. There is no direct military threat to Estonia at present,” said the Ministry of Defense spokesman Andres Sang.
Vladimir Juškin, director of the Baltic Center of Russian Studies and retired general Ants Laaneots, Reform Party member of the parliamentary national defense committee, are also convinced that the new military base on the island close to both Estonia and Finland, poses no military threat.
“This is more like a Russian demonstration of power in the Baltic sea. We want to show that the Baltic is our inner sea and you will just look at what we are doing. I do not believe that this is preparation for something larger,” Juškin said.
He stressed that the Baltic sea, including the Gulf of Finland, is of strategic importance to Russia. Hogland plays an important role here as Moscow sees it as an outpost of St. Petersburg and Kronstadt, which serves as a base for the Russian navy units.
General (ret.) Ants Laaneots said that the Russian move should be viewed as primarily a desire to reinforce the defense and control of Russia’s security space adjacent to the Baltic Sea. “Just to watch what is going on at sea here,” Laaneots added, referring to the habit of large powers to observe each other across the borders.
But he does not rule out a big plan foreseeing a military conflict with the West.
“Just like they refuse to return those four unfortunate Kuril islands to Japan, fearing that they could be used to block the entire Russian Pacific Fleet, they lead the same policy with Hogland. The helicopter base can ensure that NATO surface ships and submarines or aircraft cannot get close to the strategically important St. Petersburg,” the expert explained.
Grigore-Kalev Stoicescu, a researcher of the Defense Studies Center, believes that the base on Hogland is a logical extension of the Eastern neighbor’s military ambitions.
Hogland’s location in the immediate vicinity of Estonia and Finland grants Russia a good opportunity to increase its attack capability in his opinion. Both attack and transport helicopters would be positions against the strategically important Tapa base – which hosts the NATO battle group – and the Ämari airfield, where allied aircraft are based.
Russia practiced last year a special operation on Hogland, which could demonstrate the nature of warfare in the region: special forces are airlifted to hostile territory, unmanned aircraft are used to gather intelligence, key sites and infrastructure would be knocked out before wider military activities would begin. Analysts in the West describe it as blinding the enemy.
According to the Tartu peace Treaty, Hogland belonged to Finland, but the Soviet Union gained it after World War Two with the Paris Peace Treaty.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin visited Hogland last month to study the wreck of the Soviet submarine Shtsh-308, which was lost in 1942.