The Baltic states are becoming increasingly unnerved by the growing number of Russian military drills close to their borders, Damien Sharkov of Newsweek reports,
Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia has been staging military drills close to the Baltic regions at an increasingly common pace.
Martin Hurt, the deputy director of Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security, believes that the increased frequency of the drills is meant to lull Europe into a false sense of security as the exercises become increasingly normal.
“My take would be that the Russian authorities want to raise the readiness of their forces and also make European nations more relaxed to a new norm where the Russian Air Force often conduct snap exercises,” Hurt told Newsweek.
“A realistic scenario against the Baltics would be a ‘normal’ Russian snap exercise that without notice turns into a quick assault on one or several of the Baltic states’ capitals,” Hurt continued. “Such an attack would have greater probability of success than the hybrid scenario we saw in Crimea.”
A Russian invasion of the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would either lead to a continent wide war as NATO would be forced to respond to Russia’s attack, or, in the absence of a NATO response, a Russian invasion would shatter the defensive alliance.
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 lead to 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.”
The Baltics are not alone in fearing the potential of Russian aggression beyond Ukraine. Sweden and Finland, neither of which are members of NATO, are also planning on expanding their defence cooperation against the backdrop of Russian tensions, Reuters reports.
Aside from snap military drills, Russia has taken to provocative military demonstrations against NATO countries throughout Europe and North America. Most recently, Russian bombers flew close enough to British airspace to necessitate the scrambling of two British Typhoon fighters.
Newsweek notes that “in the first ten months of 2014, 40 Russian military vessels had been spotted near Latvian waters, compared to only one in 2010.”
The provocations, according to Tom Nichols, a professor at the US Naval War College and a senior associate at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, are “not normal, it is not typical even of Soviet actions during the Cold War … [I]t clearly comes from the very top as an expression of Putin’s foreign policy.”
As a best case scenario, the continuation of Russian provocation and snap military exercises could prove to be nothing more than bluster to distract from Moscow’s activities in Ukraine. At its worst, the provocations and drills could be an ongoing strategy to inure the West to Russian militarism in order to cloak a future invasion of the Baltics.
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