Russia has exercised hundreds of thousands of troops in the region near the Baltic states in the last few years. The Russian President is on record as saying the Baltic states, are “not real countries,” and Russian-speaking populations have been used several times recently as a causus belli by Russia in its invasions or annexations of Transnitria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea, and the Donbass. The Russian President is a Russian imperialist, who regards the breakup of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th Century”, and regards NATO as “aggressively” surrounding Russia by extending the Security Guarantee to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2004. Russia has been very quiet in that part of the world of late. Perhaps they are distracted by Ukraine, the most recent country to have been invaded by Russia in the last decade. Or is ‘Ivan’ planning something?
Let’s assume that Putin is serious when he talks like this about NATO and his aims. It’s also increasingly safe to assume that Russia put enormous effort behind Scots independence, Brexit, the election of Trump and Le Pen. Why now? Let’s also assume that Trump is indeed what he appears, a Russian asset who has been bankrolled by Putin for a decade. It’s probable Putin has some serious dirt on the American President, and could easily procure Trump’s impeachment, at will.
So, Next spring with the decision-making apparatus of the USA crippled by impeachment, and that of the UK crippled by Brexit, if you were minded to take back the Baltic states, and thereby break NATO’s ‘article V’ guarantee, when would you go?
The NATO deployment to the Baltic states numbers in the 1000’s. The UK has 800 men in theatre at the moment, the core of a battle-group in Estonia, with similar sized formations from many NATO countries. Moscow, by way of comparison could send a quarter of a million men, and overrun all three countries in a matter of days, and present the world with a fait accompli. NATO then faces a dilemma. Do you go to war with a nuclear-armed bear to get these small nations back? Does America have the stomach for the fight? Europe probably has the stomach, but not yet the arms for it.
Do I think war in the Baltic is likely? No. I think the presence of Core NATO “tripwire” troops in theatre will mean Russians will be shooting at, and killing Yanks, Limeys, Krauts, Poles, Cloggies, Cannucks and Danes from day one, making it much more likely the USA and its allies will respond with overwhelming force, against which there’s not a lot Russia could do (apart from going nuclear, but I don’t think Putin is mad: NATO enjoys overwhelming superiority in this regard too). I suspect Putin’s motives are about mainly reaching 2024, and standing down to enjoy his loot, without being dragged through the streets of Moscow and hanged from a lamppost with cheese wire. Invading Ukraine is one thing. But taking on an Article V NATO country is quite another. This is why Georgia and Ukraine want NATO membership so badly. However, intelligence agencies in the west have no eyes in the Kremlin, and we don’t, unlike during the cold war, know.