As The Telegraph reported, according to the UK Secretary of Defence, danger for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is “real and present” Michael Fallon is afraid that the Kremlin authorities will try to test the quick reaction capabilities of NATO against the potential Russian threat.
In the eyes of the head of the British MoD, attack on the Baltic states may involve unconventional warfare, such as cyber-attacks, provoking ethnic tensions or introducing forces, without any national designation, into the endangered territories. Similar worries had also been expressed by the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who claimed that there is “a high probability” that Russia will start hybrid operations aimed at destabilizing the Baltic states.
The opinionmakers stress the fact that the Baltic states are particularly prone to Russia creating civil unrest among the ethnic minorities. What is more, the defensive capabilities of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are significantly limited, even though Vilnius and Riga have declared that they will boost the defence spending. Defence budgets of both countries are still shaped at a relatively low level in relation to their GDP. On the other hand, preparations to act against any hybrid threat are also being made. Lithuania has formed quick reaction forces within its military structure.
One cannot disregard a situation, in which Moscow would decide to start a military operation within the Baltic states, e.g. in order to defend the ethnic minorities. It is worth to recall the fact that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are currently using Euros as their currency. Should any unrest happen in the area, this may mean problems for the EU economy. Potential conflict would have very serious consequences for the global security, due to the threat of escalation, e.g. in case when the Russians would launch a full-scale attack in an event of NATO intervention.
In the light of the Ukrainian crisis, NATO has decided to bolster the Baltic Air Policing operation and to maintain rotational presence of small land forces elements in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. However, no decisions have been made, according to which significant forces would be stationed permanently in the territory of these states. Nonetheless, we know that the Lithuanian authorities are trying to get NATO convinced, to deploy a battalion-sized unit in the territory of Lithuania. Estonia also declared its readiness to accept more NATO forces, within its grounds.
The United Kingdom is involved in the NATO operational activities in the Mid-Eastern Europe, inter alia within the scope of the Baltic Air Policing operation, and land-based exercises, both in Poland, as well as in the Baltic states. It seems though that currently, a more significant marking the NATO presence in the Mid-Eastern Europe is required, and the related steps need to be decisive, also involving the European nations. This would make it possible to realistically improve the defensive capabilities, and to increase the deterrence capabilities against the potential aggression.