Fragile Eastern Wing of NATO in the Eastern Side of the Baltic Sea

During the opening speech of the 56 Munich Security Conference Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany, with participation of heads from 40 states and over  100 Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs told that Russia turned…

During the opening speech of the 56 Munich Security Conference Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany, with participation of heads from 40 states and over  100 Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs told that Russia turned the military power and state lines that have been made by force in Europe into its own policy.   
In connection with this statement is not only a symbolic fact to the Baltic region that on the last day of January Warsaw informed about purchasing 32 5-th generation jet fighters F-35 Lightning that will replace the Russian . One of the biggest deals in the history of Polish Army is worth 4.6 billion US dollars. President Andrzej Duda called signing of this deal in the training centre of military forces in Dublin as important to security of this part of Europe and emphasized that his country, as a reliable partner of NATO, takes an obligation according to article 5 of the Alliance in regards to collective defence, seriously if any partner of the Alliance is attacked.
Poland is the biggest military power in Middle and Eastern Europe and the most important forpost in the eastern wing of NATO, since it secures an ally of the Alliance with the eastern Baltic States isolated in the military point of view. Only through its territory allies of NATO can reach the Baltic States by land, when on one side of this route we have Kaliningrad region, militarized by Russia and Belarus – on the other side.   
Last year in February Ministers of Defence of Lithuania and Poland signed treaties where they agreed to improve cooperation of the state armies that is intended for securing better security of so-called Suwalki Corridor (the only 90 km long land territory that links the Baltic States with members of NATO in Europe).  Treaties signed by Ministers are part of the declaration that was signed by then President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė and President of Poland A.Duda. It provides for joint operations so that deterrents of NATO and position in the Eastern Europe are not changed and seek a continuous staying of soldiers of the USA in the region.  As Raimundas Karoblis, former Minister of Defence of Lithuania indicated, again we have a conventional threat from the East and NATO has to adjust to the defence of the territory.
Besides Suwalki Corridor, a military reinforcement to the Baltic States can be sent only by sea that is very vulnerable. In case the ports are blocked and the Corridor is blocked, the Baltic States would become an isolated ‘island’. In case of a hypothetic military conflict Russia would try to protect Kaliningrad from isolation and probably by military actions will build a land bridge between Belarus and Kaliningrad. Russia tries such scenarios during training, too.    
Last year in October the American portal The Daily Beast was writing about practical training of Russian and Belarusian armies in September close to Suwalki Corridor, where 12,000 soldiers, 950 units of military equipment took part and where the Russian side was a senior partner. According to The Daily Beast in 2014-2015 a group of Californian experts RAND made a simulation of the Russian attack in Suwalki Corridor. According to it Russians would succeed to make fast mobilization of 25 battalions (about 10,000 soldiers) for the attack while NATO would immediately mobilize 17 battalions (about 6,800 soldiers). According to this model Russia would make a fast bridge between Belarus and Kaliningrad and isolate Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from NATO.         
The Kremlin carefully watched the voyage of Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State the USA in the post-Soviet area (Central Asia, Ukraine and Belarus) at the end of January-beginning of February and after his visit to Minsk on 1 February (the first visit of such a rang US officer to Belarus during the last quarter of the century) observed that he had been invited to mine the position of Russia in the post-Soviet area. In the background of the controversy of Moscow and Minsk regarding the prices of energy resources most experts do not exclude the option about the attempt of Russia to “usurp” the neighbour according to so-called concept of the ‘allied state’ by taking use of its dependence on the Russian oil and natural gas.   
Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political analyst, in 2014 spread a long-time used catch-phrase – a rhetoric guest ion on the public domain whether and how much NATO is ready to die for the Estonian town Narva that is populated with mostly Russians. The political analyst remembered it now, according to him, in the context of the most severe pressure of Moscow on Minsk. Occupation of Belarus is a part of the plan of the Kremlin that is seeking a geopolitical revenge for the loss of Soviets in World War III (The Cold War), the Baltic States will be the next states after Belarus where the Alliance should fulfil obligations undertaken in article 5 of NATO.
On one hand, it is not weird that right after M. Pompeo voyage in the post-Soviet area the largest within the last 50 years dislocation of the American military forces to Europe took place and according to this programme the rotational forces in Poland that now is made of 4,500 US soldiers shall be supplemented with 1,000 officers from Germany. A formulation of Kay Bailey Hutchison, Ambassador of the USA in NATO, in the press conference in Brussels on 11 February before the meeting of NATO Ministries of Defence, is also of a certain concern, who said that the Alliance is ready to cope with pressure of any ill-willer: nowadays it is terrorism and Russia, tomorrow it might be China. The diplomat purposely separated Moscow and Beijing and stated threats in a chronological order.      
Even France after statements of its leader Emmanuel Macron about NATO brain death after a meeting of Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania with his colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris on 10 February committed to send about 300 soldiers to Lithuania at the end of June, who will join NATO forces.    
The Baltic nations have had no illusions for long and according to the report announced by the Lithuanian military intelligence in February, Russia will establish a motor-rifle division in Kaliningrad region (usually it is formed from 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers), they will refresh the armament, for instance, the number of tanks might increase twice – up to one hundred. Besides, we should note that since 2016 Moscow has been deploying vessels in the Baltic sea that are capable to ship cruise missiles Kalibr that can be used to attacking objects in over 2 thousand kilometres distance. In 2019 a fourth vessel was deployed and the fifth should be deployed this year. According to the report, a mixed aviation division has been re-established in the region and two aviation regiments, a helicopter regiment was formed and multirole combat aircrafts Su-303M have been deployed.   
The report announced at the beginning of January by Estonian Foreign Intelligence starts with the statement that threat of Russia is still extremely high; the Kremlin resists the democratic order of the world in the most aggressive and active way. Although the probability of the military attack is still low, however any confrontation between Russia and the West soon would become a threat to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. According to the Estonian intelligence, Moscow deployed seven additional regiments of the army in 2018 along its western border. It is obvious that this was done not just for nothing but to make the Baltic region more ‘nervous’.     
Mart Helme, Minister of the Interior of Estonia, in his interview to the Finnish portal  (22 November 2019) admitted that the Baltic nations have foreseen an alternative plan just for the case if the phrase told by the President of France about NATO brain death seems to be true. It is worth to be careful – in 2016 Newt Gingrich, a member of Donald Trump’s election team, a former Chairman of the House of Representatives, told the CBS television about Estonia as a suburb of Saint Petersburg, so he would doubt whether it would be worth to start a nuclear war. Thus, he just ignored article 5 of NATO treaty.     
Surely we can say that this is rhetoric in the election campaign when it seems we can talk wet. Nonetheless, under current conditions, a phrase said by Edward Lucas, Vice-president of the Centre of European political analysis, senior editor of the British weekly The Economist seems reasonable, saying that we should worry more not about strength of enemies but about our weakness. 
In this case the purchase of Warsaw, same as particularly presence of mind of the assessment of the situation of the Baltic States gives us some comfort. Lithuania spends over 2 percent for defence for some time already despite the deficit budget, Estonians increased expenses for defence almost up to 2.2 percent of the GDP. In Latvia the budget of the Ministry of Defence increased by 60.3 million Euros (up to 637 million) compared to year 2018 and will exceed 2 percent of GDP this year.
Arūnas Spraunius

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