December 9, 2014

The Baltic Countries' Experience in Counteracting the Aggression of the Russian Federation

The Russian military aggression against Ukraine, despite the Minsk agreements on a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement of the conflict, does not stop, causing great concern of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, who believe that they are potential targets for a similar invasion.

First of all, it concerns Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which are in a special account of geopolitical plans of Moscow, which treats them as “historical Russian territories” in the Baltic region. Besides, the Kremlin is against their membership in NATO and the EU, which can serve as an example of European and Euro-Atlantic integration for the countries of the former USSR.

The most complicated is the relationship between Russia and Lithuania. The latter consistently and fairly rigidly defends its interests, advocating for increased political and economic sanctions against Russia, and actively supports the European course of Ukraine and other former Soviet countries of democratic choice.

Russia, taking into considerations these circumstances, is already resorting to some elements of a “hybrid war” against the Baltic States. In particular, it is using a set of practices, mastered earlier in Ukraine. In particular, it is activating an information campaign of accusing Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia of “violation of rights of the Russian-speaking population” in their territory; it is forming a “fifth column” in these countries by supporting pro-Russian forces; it is preparing militants from young people of pro-Russian orientation; is carrying out reconnaissance and recruiting work.

NATO fighters intercepted a Russian spy plane IL-20 over Latvia.

Simultaneously, the Russian Federation is increasing grouping of troops/forces in the North-West direction, increasing provocative activities in the Baltic region, including with elements of demonstration of armed force (in particular, in the form of demonstration flights of Russian military aircrafts, violating the airspace of the Baltic countries as well as the invasion of Russian spy ships into the Baltic countries' exclusive economic maritime zones).

Governments of the Baltic countries believe, that all this directly threatens the security of the region, which V. Putin sees as a “testing ground” to check the unity of NATO. By the way, the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite thinks that eastern regions of the country (with the center in the town of Narva) may become a sort of “Lithuanian Crimea”, as the majority of the local population are ethnic Russians.

It is clear that the Baltic countries, in close cooperation with the USA and NATO, have to step up their efforts to counter threats from the Russian Federation. Not by chance it was one of the central topics at the NATO summit in Wales in September, where a decision was made on strengthening the military presence of the USA and NATO in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland (in each of these countries are being deployed tactical groups at the level of companies on rotational basis totaling up to 1 thousand military servicemen), as well as on activation of events of operational and combat training of the Joint Armed Forces of the Alliance in the region.

The deployment of US Armored Forces started in the Baltic countries
The deployment of US Armored Forces started in the Baltic countries

Since October 1, 2014, in Lithuania about 150 American military servicemen started performing their duties. There was sent heavy armored vehicles (in particular, eight armored fighting vehicles Stryker and eight infantry fighting vehicles Bradley) and vehicles. In Lithuania, there is also a group of German soldiers with combat equipment. Similar units are placed in other Baltic countries.

Is also being considered the possibility of strengthening NATO Mission with NATO's Air Police in the Baltic States in order to protect the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (this Police consists of fighter planes of member countries of the North Atlantic bloc, based on the Lithuanian Air Force Base Zokniai /Šiauliai/ on a rotating basis). Today aviation of the Alliance actively intercepts (follows) Russian aircrafts over the waters of the Baltic Sea, preventing their intrusion into the airspace of the Baltic countries.

Within the Baltic region has begun a series of joint military trainings of NATO member countries. Thus, in the period 3-15 November, in Lithuania took place multinational exercises “Iron Sword-2014”, in which participated at least 2.5 thousand of military servicemen of the Armed Forces of the USA, Germany, Canada, the UK, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Hungary. During the trainings were mastered questions of collective defense in case of external military aggression, measures for redeployment of NATO troops into Baltic countries and their logistics.

Command and Staff exercise of NATO “Trident Juncture”.

9-17 November this year, in Estonia were held Command and Staff exercise of NATO “Trident Juncture” where Staffs of different levels were operating in situation of a powerful enemy country's attack at a member of the North Atlantic bloc. For the first time in the trainings participated the Joint concept development center of combat use of the NATO Joint Armed Forces (Norway), the Staff of the Joint Commandment of Joint Armed Forces (Italy) and the Staff of Strategic Commandment of NATO's JAF's operations (Belgium), which shows that NATO's Commandment is paying greater attention to the questions of repulsing Russia's aggression.

According to the statement of the Commander of Allied Powers Europe, General Hans-Lothar Domröse such trainings will be held in the region on a regular basis, including involving Rapid Response Forces of NATO.

Considerable importance is given to the establishment of cooperation of the Baltic countries in the security sphere. For example, at the beginning of November 2014, the Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia met at the Latvian training area Adazhi. They discussed coordination of activities on military construction of the three countries in the light of the decisions of the Wales NATO summit. Special attention at that meeting was paid to deepening of trilateral cooperation within the framework of development projects and ensuring operation of the Baltic Naval Squadron BALTRON, Air Defense and Airspace system BALTNET, as well as the Baltic Battalion (in 2016 it will be delegated into the NATO Rapid Response Forces).

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, along with their partners, are also activating their efforts to counter Russia's special measures within the framework of “hybrid wars”. These issues were discussed during a special international conference on 4 November in Vilnius at the initiative of the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite. The conference heard the following reports: “Russia's non-conventional war: defense and attack”; “Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine”; “The Russian media campaign against Ukraine” and drew a conclusion about the increased threat from the Russian Federation.

Baltic countries are strengthening their own security at the national level too. In March of this year the Lithuanian Parliament decided to increase defense spending to 2 % of GDP (by the standards of NATO), and in October it approved a package of amendments relating to the basic law acts in the field of security and defense of the country. Including the laws of the Republic of Lithuania “On the rules and conditions of use of the Armed Forces”, “On defence of Lithuania from an armed attack” and “On the Lithuanian Riflemen's Union”, as well as the Administrative law and the Provisions of the Civil Service of National Defence.

Since November 1, 2014, in the Armed Forces of Lithuania has appeared Rapid Reaction Force
Since November 1, 2014, in the Armed Forces of Lithuania has appeared Rapid Reaction Force, consisting of two combat tactical groups of battalion level

In accordance with these legislative acts, since November 1, 2014, in the Armed Forces of Lithuania has appeared a new functional component of high alert — Rapid Reaction Force. The main task of the RRF is an immediate action against external aggression (time of operational readiness is from 2 to 24 hours), including constraints fighting in the initial period of the war until the deployment of the main groupings of national troops of NATO allies. The RRF includes two combat tactical groups of battalion level as well as certain units of Air Force, Special Forces and logistics. The total number is 2.5 thousand people.

Lithuanian President, for more effective and efficient countering measures of “hybrid war” on the part of the Russian Federation, has received the right to order to use the Armed Forces in the Lithuanian territory (including in peacetime), and military units are endowed with police functions.

Expenditures to ensure the activity of special services of Lithuania, in particular, of the Department of State Security of the country, have also grown. First of all, additional funds will be allocated for the purchase of technical means of intelligence and counterintelligence.

Active measures to strengthen national defense capabilities are being undertaken in Latvia. November 5 this year, leaders of the ruling coalition in the Parliament signed a joint Declaration on the Program of Action of the Latvian government in the defense sector in the next four years. In particular, it provides for a consistent increase in military spending to 2 % of GDP on technical re-equipment of the National Armed Forces (NAF) and their transition to a professional basis, improvement of the system to mobilization and strengthening of territorial defense, improvement of the protection of cyberspace of the country and improvement of the quality of patriotic education of youth.

Priorities have been determined in buying weapons and military equipment: rearmament of the Infantry Brigade of NAF (supposedly will be bought up to 120 modernized combat reconnaissance tracked vehicles “Combat Vehicles Reconnaissance” of British make); equipping the Latvian Army with modern means of Air Defense systems, airspace surveillance and technical intelligence systems (including UAVs); increase in antitank weapons in military units.

Floating terminal for the adoption and regasification of liquefied natural gas in Klaipeda
Floating terminal for the adoption and regasification of liquefied natural gas in Klaipeda

Leaders of the Baltic States are seeking to reduce their countries' energy dependence on Russia. For this, in October this year in the Lithuanian Klaipeda was completed construction of a floating terminal for the adoption and regasification of liquefied natural gas. Since the beginning of the terminal's operation (scheduled for January 2015) Lithuania will not just get rid of the Russian gas monopoly, but will also get direct access to the global gas market. In the future, the Lithuanian terminal will supply gas also to other Baltic countries.

In its turn, the Estonian government is trying to resume control of the national gas distribution network. To do this, it plans to acquire a controlling stake in the operator of this network — the company EG Vorguteenus, in fact, owned by the Russian “Gazprom”.

Baltic countries' governments pay great attention to issues of counteracting Russian influence in the information sphere. This is one of the main tools of “hybrid war” of the Russian Federation. Therefore, in the territory of Lithuania broadcast of Russian TV channels (РТР, ОРТ, НТВ) is forbidden, more tightly is controlled the activity of Lithuanian media of pro-Russian orientation (weekly “Lithuanian Courier”, “Obzor”, “Express-Week” and TV “Baltic Channel” — a subsidiary of the OРТ in the Baltic States).

It should be noted that Lithuania has in fact abandoned the development of relations with Russia in the cultural-humanitarian sphere. For example, the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture avoids signing a program of cooperation with Russia in the above-mentioned sphere for 2014-2015, as well as the plan for the implementation of joint projects with the Russian Federal Agency “Rossotrudnichestvo”, which openly sticks to the imperial neo-policy of the Russian Federation. According to the State Security Department of Lithuania, “Rossotrudnichestvo” is used for recruitment of Lithuanian Russian-speaking youth to study in Russia, advertising training in various paramilitary camps (with ideological anti-Lithuanian brainwash). Such facts are the subject to special investigation by the General Prosecutor's Office and the State Security Department of Lithuania.

The control over the Russian media in Latvia has become stricter. A month ago, the National Council of Latvia on electronic media fined the “Baltic Channel” for biased coverage of events in Ukraine and inciting ethnic hatred. Besides, there is a decision to limit the broadcast of the channel “Россия РТР” in the Latvian territory.

In order to prevent strengthening of Russian influence in Latvia, the entry of Russian citizens into the country is limited. At the end of October this year, the Latvian Parliament adopted amendments to the Immigration Law, which provide for the suspension of giving Exceptional Leave to Remain to the citizens of the Russian Federation for temporary living on the acquisition of real estate in the Latvian territory.

According to experts, all the above-mentioned and those that are being implemented by Baltic countries measures to counteract the aggression on the part of the Russian Federation, including tactics of “hybrid wars” and methods of “soft power”. At this, the most important factor in ensuring security of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is called their membership in NATO and the EU that will deter Russia's military expansion in the said region. As commented by the former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, “Had the Baltic countries not joined NATO and the EU, they would have been swallowed by Russia.”