Relations between Russia and the Western countries have hit the lowest level since the end of the Cold War. Western countries have accused Russia of covertly invading eastern Ukraine, where separatists are fighting against the Ukrainian government forces. Russian air forces have also been harassing the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania that are active members of NATO.
NATO taking countermeasures against Russia
The United States has pledged to defend those countries. Earlier this year, the U.S. forces staged military exercises in Estonia, just 300 yards from the Russian border. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country needed to strengthen its military to fend off NATO threats. Western countries fear that Russia could provoke a conflict or use the threat of war to break NATO and its commitment to defend Eastern European countries.
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly threatened a nuclear war to drive NATO out of the Baltics, which Moscow claims falls under its sphere of influence. Fyodor Lukyanov, an expert on Russian foreign policy, told Max Fisher of Vox that during the Cold War, both sides understood the risk. So, they installed physical and political infrastructure to manage tensions and prevent accidental conflicts. That infrastructure has disappeared now, said Fyodor Lukyanov.
NATO has announced to set up six new headquarters in Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Estonia. The military alliance is also setting up a Joint Logistics Headquarters to enable rapid deployment of forces. Besides, NATO is considering upgrading its nuclear posture in Europe.
Russia was successful in annexing Crimea, most likely because Ukraine is not a member of NATO. But Baltic states are. An attack on one NATO member is an attack on all of them. A Russian invasion of any of the Baltic states would require the U.S. and most of the European powers to officially declare war on Russia.
Putin’s plan for the Baltics is far more sophisticated
Russian political analyst and Kremlin critic Andrei Piontkovsky believes that Vladimir Putin’s plan for the Baltic states was far more sophisticated than Western countries were expecting. Putin knows that the risk of Moscow’s aggression in the Baltics could be catastrophic, but the prize is enormous.
Piontkovsky says Putin may spark a conflict in the Baltic states to force European leaders into a difficult choice: Whether to defend the Baltics and counterattack, which may lead to a third World War over a tiny state that most European countries don’t care much about, or do nothing in response to Russian aggression in the Baltics.
The first option could be disastrous. And implications of the second choice would be much greater than one can think. It would expose NATO’s commitment of mutual defense as a lie. It may put an end to Europe’s security unification, allowing Putin to do what the Soviet Union leaders failed to do: defeat NATO, says Andrei Piontkovsky.