Eyes on the skies for Russia's Baltic missile show

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Civil aviation is being diverted and Latvia's military is keeping a wary eye on the situation as a three-day window begins April 4 during which Russia plans to fire missiles over parts of the Baltic Sea, including over Latvia's exclusive economic zone.

Following an announcement by the Russian military last week, airspace will be subject to restrictions for hours during April 4, 5 and 6 during the hours of 0600 to 1800 as countries bordering the sea wait to see exactly what sort of weapons will be fired and in which direction.  

Airspace up to an altitude of 18 kilometers in an area roughly 40 kilometers off the Latvian coast will be restricted. Two other areas of the Baltic Sea, near the Swedish and Polish coasts have been similarly restricted. 

Russia's central air traffic management center informed Latvian air traffic controllers last week that the Russian military will carry out missile tests between April 4 and 6 from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The need for testing missiles in such busy areas is questionable, suggesting the whole thing is probably a stunt designed to generate international media coverage and divert Russia's domestic opinion from other matters. It may also be another form of response to mass expulsions of Russian diplomats by Western nations last week.

Foreign Policy Expert Māris Cepurītis, a researcher at the Center for Eastern European Policy Studies, said in an interview with Latvian Radio April 4 that while every country has the right to organize such training, Russia has its own internal military zones where such drills could be organized and monitored much more easily and effectively.

Therefore the only reasonable conclusion is that in this instance the exercises are intended as a signal to other countries, demonstrating Russia's military capability and also a theoretical ability to cut off the Baltic states from assistance from NATO allies, Cepurītis said.

He also underlined the role of the rocket show in influencing the world's "information space", because it is an obvious topic about which to talk "and now we are talking about Russian military might," Cepuritis said. 

Speaking on LTV's One on One interview show April 3, Latvia's ambassador to Moscow Māris Riekstiņš described the missile tests as a "fairly provocative action, but not against international law."


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