Russia Announces Missile Tests In Latvia’s Baltic Sea Exclusive Economic Zone
The Russian Federation has announced plans to test naval-launched missiles in the Republic of Latvia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Baltic Sea. The “sudden” announcement by Moscow on Mar. 29, 2018, has drawn protest from the highest levels of Latvia’s government, with President of Latvia Raimonds Vejonis calling the move likely to “worsen the security situation in the region.”
Under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which all countries around the Baltic Sea (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and Sweden) are parties, countries may claim up to 200 nautical miles of waters adjacent to their lands as an “exclusive economic zone,” which grants the nation “sovereign rights” to economically exploit and to explore the claimed waters. In general practice, states inform the claimant of the EEZ when ships and aircrafts under their flags are passing through the EEZ — which is different from the treatment of foreign ships and aircraft in territorial waters, the 12 nautical miles from the shoreline over which the claimant state has full sovereignty.
Owing to simple geography, the entire Baltic Sea falls under either the territorial waters or EEZ claimed by the states surrounding the Sea. Russia is the only non-European Union member-state to border the Baltic Sea, with its coasts in the St. Petersburg area and the enclave of Kaliningrad providing Moscow access.
Latvia’s Defense Ministry reported that the Latvian Civil Aviation Agency (CAA) was called upon by Russia’s Chief Air Traffic Control Center to close airspace up to a height of 18 kilometers (11.2 miles or 59,000 feet) in an area approximately 40 kilometers (24.9 miles) off the coast of Latvia due to Russian Navy plans “to conduct missile launches from 06:00 to 18:00 April 4 to 6 in the airspace above Latvia’s exclusive economic zone in the Baltic Sea.”
The Latvian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Kaspars Galkins, told Latvian media that Moscow had not informed the Latvian government about the types of weapons that would be used in the exercise. Furthermore, Galkins stressed that the the proposed 36-hour closure of the Baltic Sea would cause economic disruption and safety hazards. Thus, Galkins stated that the Defense Ministry had already summoned the Russian military attache in Riga to express its discontent and to seek clarification over details of the missile tests.
Latvian news agency LETA separately reported on Mar. 29 that Sweden and Poland were also requested by Russia to close parts of their airspace for the missile tests, with Latvian Defense Ministry State Secretary Janis Garisons telling LETA that the vagueness of the details surrounding the proposed drill, combined with the fact that “Russia has shooting grounds in its territory where such firing exercises are held on a regular basis,” makes the Russian drill in Latvia’s EEZ “strange.” However, Garisons agreed with the assessment of Latvia’s CAA that Russia was not violating international law with the drill.
Director of Latvia’s CAA Maris Gorodcovs announced that Latvia would comply with the Russian request, albeit with changed coordinates after the CAA managed to persuade Russia to move the firing area away from the initially proposed area — one that has a high rate of civilian traffic.
Latvia’s southern neighbor, Lithuania, issued a statement on Mar. 31 calling the Russian plans an “aggressive demonstration of Russia’s military power in the Baltic Sea” and stating Lithuania’s support for the Latvian Defense Ministry’s characterization of the missile tests as “provocative.” Lithuania cited prior incidents where Russian forces limited civilian shipping in the Lithuanian EEZ and stalled construction of undersea electrical cables with military drills in the Baltic Sea.
Latvia’s Foreign Ministry, on Apr. 1, instructed its representatives to formally inform the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe about the lack of “comprehensive information” from Moscow over the proposed drills. The Latvian Defense Ministry has announced that the Latvian National Armed Forces will be closely following the Russian exercises and maintaining a vigilant presence on Latvia’s borders.