This week, NATO’s throwing a week-long dress rehearsal for a possible invasion of Estonia, in what could be an attempt to send a newly-aggressive Russia a message about the alliance’s commitment to defending its most vulnerable members. Exercise Steadfast Javelin 1 includes 6,000 troops from nine NATO countries, and according to Stars and Stripes, “infantry and reconnaissance forces, engineers, fighter jets as well as anti-aircraft teams and a cybersecurity team” are participating.
In 2007, Estonia’s web infrastructure was hit with a massive wave of probably Russian-sponsored denial-of-service attacks, and Russian cyber-attacks preceded the country’s invasion of Georgia the next year. The exercise’s cyber-security aspect suggests that NATO planners have a particular and already-familiar invasion scenario in mind.
Russia’s aggressive moves in eastern Ukraine are an open challenge to a post-Cold War European order based on bringing former Soviet bloc states into the world’s premier security alliance. The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were added to NATO in 2004, but they all have substantial Russian minorities and only became independent states during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
NATO is based on a commitment to mutual defence: if one country is attacked, the others are obligated to come to its aid. It’s in small, embattled, or otherwise weak frontline states that thisprinciple is most at risk.
Ukraine and Georgia were both potential candidates for NATO membership before Russia succeeded in annexing parts of both countries — what kind of a defence would the alliance mount if Russian tanks started streaming into one of the Baltics?
Until it actually happens, it’s impossible to know whether NATO would survive a full-on Russian invasion of the one of the alliance’s Baltic members.
But NATO air patrols over Baltic airspace have tripled since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis. And while this may or may not provide any additional reassurance to the Baltics, Steadfast Javelin has included one of the most high-profile military officers on the planet: England’s Prince Harry, who is a captain in the British armed forces.
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