The three Baltic States are fearful of a possible Russian invasion, although Lithuania may have particular reason for concern.
Wedged between Russian ally Belarus and the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, Lithuania is worried that it could be the next target of Russian aggression following invasions in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea and eastern Ukraine last year.
Lithuania’s is Moscow’s biggest obstacle in developing a a land bridge between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia.
“They [the Kremlin] need a corridor from Kaliningrad to mainland Russia,” Marius Laurinavicius, a senior Lithuanian analyst at the Eastern Europe studies center in Vilnius, told Reuters. “Just like they need one from Crimea to Donbas [in eastern Ukraine].”
The fear over a Russian invasion runs deep through Lithuania, which suffered under Soviet Rule from World War II until 1991. In January, Vilnius published a manual advising its citizens how to best respond to an invasion and occupation.
“The examples of Georgia and Ukraine, which both lost a part of their territory, show us that we cannot rule out a similar kind of situation here, and that we should be ready,” Defence Minister Juozas Olekas told Reuters.
Vilnius is so concerned over possible Russian aggression that the state is currently voting on a bill to reinstate military conscription. The move would introduce approximately 3,000 new soldiers into the Lithuania military.
Concern over Russia invading Lithuania from Kaliningrad has increased since the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Since then, Moscow has increased the scope and number of snap military exercises along the Russian border with the Baltic States.
The Telegraph reported on February 20 that General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of NATO forces in Europe and one of Britain’s most senior generals, warned that Russian snap exercises could serve as cover for a possible invasion of NATO territory.
Bradshaw warned that the drills could be used “not only for intimidation and coercion but potentially to seize NATO territory, after which the threat of escalation might be used to prevent re-establishment of territorial integrity.”
In May 2014, Russia unilaterally suspended a 2001 agreement with Lithuania that allowed Lithuania to inspect all of Russia’s forces in Kaliningrad in exchange for Russian inspections of military sites in Lithuania.
“Such a move by Russia demonstrates Russia’s unwillingness to ensure mutual trust and can be deemed another move towards the destruction of the mutual trust and security system in Europe,” a statement from Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defence noted after the treaty was suspended.
Lithuania is a part of NATO and any attack on the country would trigger NATO’s mutual defence alliance.But Moscow could rely on the belief that NATO would not risk a full-scale continent wide war for a small Baltic nation.
“Putin,” Laurinavicius told Reuters, “does not believe NATO will defend such, in his view, unimportant countries, risking nuclear confrontation.”
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