This blog was used for teaching purposes and formed part of a scenario exercise involving students from the MSc Geopolitics and Security programme at Royal Holloway University of London. The exercise took place on 28th February 2017 and comprised a military and a media team.
Starting point: Scenario
On 16 February 2017, a small fleet of Danish fishing vessels became embroiled in a dispute with a small flotilla of Russian fishing vessels in the Baltic Sea. The dispute is reported to have centred on access to the productive fishing grounds located close to the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm. Over the following days, the two fleets continued to disrupt one another. On 22 February 2017, a Russian-flagged trawler reported a malfunction in its propulsion system and became beached on Bornholm’s southwest coast, near the village of Dueodde. Local people offered aid and shelter to the stranded crew. The trawler, Dalniy Vostok, later caught fire for as yet undetermined reasons. Tragically, one Russian was killed as he purportedly tried to retrieve possessions from the vessel.
In response to the escalating maritime tensions, Russia increased military patrols in the Baltic Sea and sought, through diplomatic channels and at the United Nations, to have the beaching and destruction of the Dalniy Vostok formally recognised as a “hostile act”. Russia also insisted that its own military investigators be allowed access to the vessel for inspection and recovery operations and placed a deadline of Friday 24 February on the Government of Denmark to grant access.
The Government of Denmark refused to grant the requested permission, issuing a clear statement at 17.30 on Friday 24 February 2017 that any interference by the Russian military in this case would disrupt an ongoing investigation by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET). Russian protestations at the UN and to the EU secretariat failed to gain political traction.
At 2200 CET (2100 GMT) on Monday 27 February 2017 the JFC received intelligence reports from Bornholm of irregular maritime activity off the island’s coast. This was followed some time later by additional reports of overflights by aircraft with their flight-origin within Russia. Reports also received of increased flights and maritime activity in and around Kaliningrad Chkalovsk Naval Air Base (9 km north of Kaliningrad city).
What we know:
The Danish island of Bornholm has long been a stone in the shoe of the Kremlin’s strategic planners. Even after the end of the Cold War, Bornholm’s location within the Baltic Sea close to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the Kiel Canal and international shipping routes that serve Russia’s most important international trading posts – the, so called, “Big Port of St. Petersburg” – has vexed successive Russian administrations, and arguably none more so than that of Vladimir Putin.
There is evidence to suggest that in mid-June 2014, the Russian military rehearsed an attack and started scenario planning for an invasion-occupation of Bornholm. Intelligence suggests that Bornholm could be a potential bridgehead for a wider invasion of Scandinavia.