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Adrienne Warren

‘Not Just For the Fun of It’? Russia and Belarus Start Military Activity on Baltic Border

 Last week, Russia and Belarus began large-scale military exercises on Baltic borders in western Belarus, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, and in the Baltic Sea. According to Russian officials, the surge in activity is to “liquidate illegal military groups and stabilize the situation in the responsible territory.” However, rumor has it, that the exercises will simulate an invasion of the Baltics.  A trial run which is obviously sparking a large-scale backlash to match…

Abandoned Russian Military Building. author: jonasginter. source: Flickr

Abandoned Russian Military Building. author: jonasginter. source: Flickr


Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves spoke out about the military exercise, dubbed  Zapad 2013, saying:

“Generally, we see the incident as a wake-up call for the whole Baltic Sea region. Complacency with the security situation has emerged here. But we do not live in a world of eternal peace. Now, we have the Zapad 2013 exercise ahead of us, where Russia will practice conquering the Baltic States.” 

However, Ilves stressed that anyone who attacks a Baltic State must be prepared to face all of NATO as a consequence, and praised the NATO Danish fighter planes based in Lithuania who responded first to Russian bomber planes practicing an attack on Sweden at night:

“I am proud that the NATO Danish fighter planes were the only ones to react. They were far from the Russians, but they still reacted,” Ilves explained.

Meanwhile,  Latvia’s defense minister, Artis Pabriks, has slammed frequent flights by Russian warplanes near the country’s airspace:

“We cannot treat this lightly,” he said. “Obviously, they are not flying there just for the fun of it – because they have nothing better to do.”

Since March 2004, after the Baltic States joined NATO, a 24-7 mission to police Baltic airspace has been conducted on a three to four-month rotation basis. The mission is based at Lithuania’s First Air Base in Zokniai. Last week the NATO fighters responsible for policing Baltic airspace identified eight Russian warplanes flying close to the border of Latvia’s territorial waters, one Il-70 transport aircraft, two Su-24 fighter jets and five Su-34 fighters. On Friday, NATO jets spotted a Russian Il-20 aircraft near the Latvian border.

Tensions are rising, but in spite of this, there has still been no official response from the Russian Defense Ministry. However, while Russia refers to the escalation in military maneuvers an “anti-terrorism exercise”, such activities suggest an preparation for “a conflict with NATO member countries. As Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu explained: “An exercise of this nature is certainly negatively affecting the security environment in the region.”

Lithuanian Defense Minster Juozas Olekas has said that Russia should provide its neighbors with more information on drills of this kind, as NATO does about its own regional military operations:

“Calling this an anti-terror operation sounds a bit strange, as they’re using tanks and heavy aviation,”  Olekas said, “We’re closely watching what’s going on.”  

It is a sentiment not shared by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last week explained that NATO had broken promises to previous leader Mihkail Gorbachev not to expand beyond the eastern border of the former West Germany:

“There sure was talk of it — Gorbachev was directly promised it, although it was never documented anywhere.And where is NATO now? Where is its border? We were fooled, that was it.”

The tentative relationship between Russia and the Baltics has been increasingly catching the headlines. As earlier this month Russian political scientist, Mikhail Aleksandrov, caused waves after airing his suggestions for retaliation should NATO decide to attack Syria:

“Previously I have suggested that if NATO attacks Syria, we need to more our military forces to the Caucasus region. However, now the situation has changed, Russia has to impact there, where it will have a clear strategic advantage, i.e. the Baltic States.”

Aleksandrov continued:

“Russia must clearly show to the West that for the aggression against Syria, they will have to pay dearly. So, Russia has to impact there, where it has a clear strategic advantage, i.e. the Baltic States. As in the Caribbean crisis, Russia has to raise the dilemma for the West: if you are attacking Syria in violation of the international law, we occupy the Baltic States.”

According to Aleksandrov, re-occupying the Baltic States would likely prove to be a relatively easy task:

“I think that the Russian forces could enter the Baltic States with minimal damages or perhaps even without damages. Unless someone by his own stupidity would fall under the tanks, as it was in 1991. Moreover, I think that half of Estonia’s and Latvia’s population would meet the Russian military with the flowers, as it was in 1940.”

Meanwhile…

Last month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev openly stated that Russia does not like the fact that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are members of NATO. In an interview on Georgian tv channel Rustavi 2, Medvedev commented on the Baltic States’ membership to the alliance, saying, ““You don’t think that we are comfortable with the fact that they are NATO members, do you? To be sure, we are not.”

 

Sources: Baltic Times, RIANovosti 

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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