Vladimir Putin sees Russia and the West as being locked in “an existential struggle,” reports USNI News, citing an expert at a Heritage Foundation event on Tuesday.
Eugene Rumer, the director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Russia and Eurasia Program, told the audience at the event that the rising tensions between Russia and the NATO-orientated West was a cause for concern. Particularly at stake in any ramping up of hostilities are the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
Both Latvia and Estonia have large ethnic Russian populations which Rumer believes Putin “is not adverse to using … to make domestic trouble.”
If Putin starts using ethnic Russians to stir up trouble in those countries as he has done in Ukraine, then war just may be NATO’s only possible response, predicted Rumer. As Moscow becomes more assertive, this likelihood increases.
Russia “is more prone than before to look less kindly on engagement with the West,” Rumer said at the event.
This is especially true given the Russian military’s new doctrine. Signed into practice on December 26, 2014, it lists the expansion of NATO as the main external threat facing the stability and territorial integrity of Russia.
In a translation of the doctrine by Defence News, Russia states that NATO is “undermining global stability and violating the balance of power in the nuclear-missile sphere.”
To counter NATO’s influence, Russia’s military doctrine envisions the expansion of bilateral alliances between Moscow and potentially friendly countries such as China and Brazil, as well as the military reinforcement of three areas that Russia sees as geopolitical front lines — the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, the Crimean peninsula, and the Arctic.
Each of these regions can serve as a buffer against what Russia portrays as NATO’s aggressive expansion, while also functioning as a potential launching pad for Moscow-directed military excursions. NATO’s supreme commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, warned at the beginning of March that Russia was already in the process of turning Crimea into a forward operating base against the alliance.
Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has been holding snap military drills along its borders with the Baltic States at an increasing pace raising concerns that the exercises could one day be used as a cover to launch a quick invasion of the Baltics.
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.”
If such an invasion were to occur, NATO would either be forced to respond — leading to an unpredictable military conflict in Europe — or the alliance would not respond and NATO would cease to function as a treaty-bound entity.