“You cannot ignore” the “risk of destabilization in the Baltic countries caused by a indirect and covert interference by Moscowwhich could favor disturbances provoked by demands (…) of the important Russian minority”. In that climate of destabilization “it would not be too difficult to stir the waters enough to make the presence of NATO forces uncomfortableamong which are the Spanish troops”.
This danger describes “Effects of the war in Ukraine on the Baltic republics”, a report written for the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (IEEE) by Army Lieutenant Colonel Andres Gonzalez Martin. The IEEE, a public body dependent on Defense, has reissued it in the current war panorama in Ukraine given the renewed validity of the analysis, written in July 2018, during the conflict in Donbas, a prelude to the current Russian invasion.
Among its contents, the warning that a “information warfare aimed at provoking internal tensions”, in which the Russian target “politically isolate Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania from their European partners weakening their democratic credibility, presenting these states as enemies of human rights”.
Military factors: missiles and a weak corridor
González Martín’s work becomes relevant this Tuesday, the day on which the president Pedro Sanchez visit to military leaders and installations at the Adazi base (Riga, Latvia). The work of the IEEE stops at the main detail of a military operational nature: the deployment by Russia -officially confirmed in February 2018- of Iskander M3 ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad strip. It is “a further step in the militarization of the area and provides offensive capabilities to Russia to conduct anti-access and area denial operations in the Baltic and Poland.”
In military terms, “area denial” wins those weapons and systems that prevent access, passage or stay in a place to an opposing force. Against the interpretation that the civil and military authorities of the Baltic countries make of this deployment, the author of the IEEE analysis considers that this distribution of missiles “in no case does it represent a direct risk more for other countries of the European Union”. But he does appreciate the interpretation of the General Staff of the Estonian army, in the sense that the Iskander are there to fulfill “the Russian purpose of controlling the Baltic Sea and its accesses”.
The study also stops at NATO’s main weak point in a possible conflict with Russia over the Baltic republics, ruling out the possibility of defending them using conventional forces: the Suwalki gap, a corridor of only 104 kilometers connecting Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia by land with the rest of the NATO and EU countries. The corridor, on the border with Poland, is of “a unique vulnerability to sustain the conventional defense of the three Baltic states”.
In this sense, Lieutenant Colonel González Martín recalls that the Russian and Belarusian maneuvers Zapad 2017 were interpreted as “the preparation of a future breach assault of Suwalki”.
Russian “strategic angst”
The work of the IEEE observes the Russian frustration over the invitations of the EU and the Atlantic alliance to countries in the east, the “indefiniteness of the open door policy of NATO and in parallel of the EU in the east”. Russia, says the analyst, “perceives as a threat to its own security or prosperity the integration of its neighbors into military alliances or economic associations that it cannot access,” and abounds with a self-critical Western perspective: “The exclusionary and exclusive nature of alliances and associations is the origin of the problem”. Also remember Putin’s warnings about “if you compress the spring to its limit”.
former ukrainian president Petro Poroshenkodeclaring in 2018 his plan to join NATO in ten years, stressed that “Ukraine’s experience would be very useful for NATO to be able to learn how to resist Russia”. The Russian perception of this type of initiative as a threat “activates a strategic distress” and “an escalating spiral”.
“I believe -says the author- that the Baltic republics should understand that their security and stability are related to the intentions that the West has of influence the future of Ukraine“, where “there is a war that affects Russian national interests and that Russia does not want to lose.”
Gas at different prices to divide Europe
The analysis also focuses on Russia’s use of gas supplies to Europe, and how, while guaranteeing Western countries price stability, it has threatened and punished Eastern countries with cuts and sudden increases. “Establishing two isolated supply blocs is a powerful weapon in the hands of Moscow,” she concludes.
In this sense, it frames the suspended gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 -the Gazprom company’s direct pipeline between Russia and Germany- as part of that strategy. The tube through the bottom of the Baltic Sea would guarantee “a differential and direct relationship between Russia and the countries of the West through Germany, which harms the countries that have been in transit until now, which lose weight in their negotiations with Russia.”
This is a risk that is perceived by Western governments. “By disconnecting the interests of guarantee of supply at reasonable prices of the different countries of the Union the strength of the Union weakens in its relationship with Russia.
The spark: Russians discriminated against
However, the strategic element more volatile, is today the sociopolitical. In the country that Pedro Sánchez is visiting, there are important population blocks of Russian-Soviet origin with diminished rights, in clear contradiction with the spirit of the EU. And that is a danger.
“In Estonia and Latvia, ethnic minorities are required to pass tests that prove sufficient knowledge of the country’s history, laws and language to be able to aspire to recognition of their citizenship.” That keeps “a significant number of inhabitants outside the political system”. These people “are identified by the State as non-citizens, they do not have political rights and they cannot access positions in the administration.”
In Latvia, according to the UN, there are 252,195 people -6% of the population-, 85,301 in Estonia. It is a fringe of “important Russian minorities whose rights have not been fully recognized”, a “easy target for disinformation campaigns promoted by nationalist currents or directly by Moscow”.
If the Russian aggression against Ukraine spreads to the north, it will be inflaming that layer of discontent, if Putin manages to apply the spark of hatred or fear of the West.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.