HELSINKI — Russia has the willingness and capacity to launch serial cyberattacks against Denmark and any neighboring Nordic or Baltic state that it regards as too close to NATO or an imminent threat, according to security intelligence aggregated by Danish defense intelligence services.
NATO's ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) is proving to be one immediate area of contention between Russia and Nordic NATO member states Denmark and Norway. Moscow has described the BMDS as a weapons system solely intended to target Russia, a claim refuted by NATO.
In 2014, Denmark offered to provide frigate capacity to NATO in support of the BMDS. The Danish initiative drew an immediate hostile response from the Kremlin, which cautioned Denmark and other neighboring NATO states against joining the BMDS. Russia said Denmark as well as any other Nordic-Baltic NATO states that joined the BMDS would be considered legitimate "targets" for attack.
For its part, Norway and the United States have formed a joint analysis expert group to examine the basis under which Norway might join the BMDS.
The expert group, backed by the US Missile Defense Agency and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, is expected to issue its recommendations by year-end 2017.
The Danish warnings about possible cyberthreats from state-backed Russian quarters are contained in a new long-term intelligence risk assessment report collated by the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (DDIS).
"Russia is conducting a military buildup and modernization in western Russia. The Baltic Sea region has become a major area of friction between Russia and NATO. Russia's distrust of NATO and its willingness to take risks increases the danger of misunderstandings and miscalculations," according to the DDIS report.
Although the Danish intelligence assessment noted that Russia has increased its "military options in the region," it concluded that Russia is unlikely to risk a direct military confrontation with NATO.
In response to the threat assessment, Denmark's defense minister, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, said the Defence Ministry is looking for extra government funding to scale up and strengthen the country's national security infrastructure and defensive cyberwarfare capabilities.
Cyberattacks against Denmark's security, power supply and medical center installations have materialized as a "serious" and ever-present threat, said Frederiksen.
There is also visible unease among both Nordic and Baltic-rim states to Russia's increasing unpredictability in the region, and Moscow's action to reinforce its missile strike capability from its Kaliningrad enclave.
US President Donald Trump's public criticism of NATO organization, funding and overall security role in Europe has the potential to destabilize security confidence in the High North and Baltic Sea regions, said Anniken Huitfeldt, a Labor Party member of Norway's parliament and chairperson of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs And Defence.
"We simply do not, at this point, know what role President Trump will play in the security of the region, or how he will cooperate with military organizations like NATO. This makes security matters in the High North and the Baltic Sea regions more unpredictable," Huitfeldt said.
The continued militarization of Kaliningrad has become an increasing concern for Nordic and Baltic states, including Poland. In particular, countries in the region are questioning Russia's decision to locate Bastion and Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave.
Geographically located between NATO-aligned states Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad is Russia's most significant strategic military base in the Baltic Sea area.
Bastion's Oniks cruise missiles have a range of up to 280 miles and can deploy against both ships and ground targets.
Carrying conventional or nuclear warheads, the Iskander high-precision missiles have a range of 310 miles and can strike targets in all NATO member states bordering the Baltic Sea.
"The new missiles being installed by Russia in Kalingrad have the ability to reach Danish cities like Copenhagen. The future threats we face are now both cyber- and missiles-based," Frederiksen said.
Russia contends that the militarization of Kaliningrad is linked to NATO's "encroachment" in the Baltic Sea area and the future threat of having the BMDS on its doorstep.
Both Denmark and Norway have dismissed Moscow's claim that the BMDS is designed as an offensive tool to give the US and NATO a nuclear "first strike" capability against Russia.
The deployment on a rotation basis of 300 US Marines in the northern region of Nord-Trondelag is also contributing to a cooling in political relations between Norway and Russia.
As part of the deployment, the US is upgrading the capacity of forward storage units across Norway. These are being modernized to house armored vehicles, heavy weapons systems and other combat military equipment. The objective is to deliver storage units capable of holding equipment to support a force of more than 16,000 Marines if needed.
Norway, along with other small nation states, are almost certainly too small to maintain their own national defense to the highest and most credible degree required, said Gen. Sverre Diesen, the former chief of defense of the Norwegian defense forces.
"Small nations like Norway must rely more on closer cooperation and shared capabilities with other NATO allies or non-aligned NATO states like Finland and Sweden," the general said.