If history has a tendency to repeat itself, the Baltic States are rightfully on edge as Russia steadily increases their snap military drills. Over the last few months, not only has the frequency of these drills increased, but other military activity is being observed by Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The drills are also getting closer to Russia’s eastern European neighbors, drawing comparisons to the Russian invasion of Crimea last year.
Last week, Russia announced that their armed forces would not stop these snap military exercises according to this article in Newsweek. Defense expert Martin Hurt, the deputy director of Estonia’s International Centre for Defense and Security, is warning that these statements need to be taken very seriously, and could be a preamble to more military action or even a repeat of Crimea.
“My take would be that the Russian authorities want to raise the readiness of their forces and also make European nations more relaxed to a new norm where the Russian Air Force often conduct snap exercises,” Hurt told reporters. Hurt cautioned that this relaxed attitude could be disastrous for eastern European countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Russia has been conducting these snap military drills for quite some time now, but since December of last year, the frequency has greatly increased. According to this article in the International Business Times, the main purpose of these drills is to “subject the military forces and systems to their highest combat level.” The article goes on to explain that several of these drills, which were conducted last December, involved 9,000 soldiers, nearly 650 military vehicles, 55 warships, 100 artillery units, and 250 APCs and tanks.
More worrisome than the mere conducting of these exercises is the possibility that they could quickly escalate into actual invasions of eastern European countries. Hurt explained to Newsweek “A realistic scenario against the Baltics would be a ‘normal’ Russian snap exercise that without notice turns into a quick assault on one or several of the Baltic states’ capitals. Such an attack would have greater probability of success than the hybrid scenario we saw in Crimea.”
In addition to the increase in these military exercises, NATO forces have seen an exponential increase in other military activities around these Baltic states. Between January and October of last year, NATO forces performed more than 180 scrambles of Russian jets near Latvia and 132 in Lithuania. As a comparison, only 4 scrambles occurred back in 2010.
Although the Baltic states have been increasing their military budgets over the last few years to combat possible military actions from Russia, perhaps their biggest advantage is their membership in NATO. Hart told Newsweek “the real deterrence comes from the fact that all three nations belong to NATO.” However, Hart fears that there are not enough NATO forces stationed in the region to repel potential actions from Russia.
A spokesperson for the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense echoed Hurt’s statements, telling reporters “We have seen increased Russian military activity in the vicinity of the Alliance over the past months. Snap military drills are part of these activities together with frequent military overflights, naval exercises in the Baltic Sea and endless anti-NATO propaganda in the Russian state media.”
By Brett Gillin