Through much of the end of June, Lithuania has been embroiled in a row with Russia over the implementation of EU sanctions on certain kinds of goods in transit between Russia and its Kaliningrad exclave. Russia has claimed that Lithuania’s actions are a “violation of everything,” and has promised a response that is “not diplomatic.” In turn, Lithuania has argued that it is simply putting into practice the EU sanctions regime agreed upon as early as March, and that contrary to Russian claims, its actions will not halt all transit between Russia and Kaliningrad; rather, it will only stop the flow of sanctioned goods.
Russia will invade Ukraine. It is no longer a matter of if, but when. Some pundits have been quick to point out that Russia already invaded Ukraine in 2014 and has been an occupier since then. This is true, but short of inventing some other barbarically cumbersome turn of phrase or vague milquetoast nonsense that fails to capture the urgency of the situation, an invasion is perhaps the best word available to describe what is on the horizon.
From the Baltics, to Poland, to Ukraine, and even outer space, Russia has recently been testing Western resolve on numerous fronts. Perhaps most pressing of the myriad issues in recent news are the recent Russian military buildup around Ukraine and Belarus’ exploitation (with at least tacit Russian support) of migrants from the Middle East to wage hybrid war on Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Moving forward, how the West responds to these issues will play a major role in Russia’s course of action.
Earlier this month, the Estonian Center for Defense Investment (ECDI) announced the purchase of Blue Spear 5G SSM land-to-sea missile systems from Israel. With a maximum range of 290 kilometers (approximately 180.2 miles), the Blue Spear missile system can reach targets across both the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, and can also be used to strike both moving and stationary targets at sea in all weather conditions, day or night.
For international observers, military exercises are a key litmus test of a country’s strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, they reflect that country’s view to the strategies of its supposed opponents. In that sense, this year’s Zapad (“West”) exercises conducted in Russia and Belarus were no different. They revealed Russia’s perceptions of the way the NATO will fight, given the still relatively unlikely event of war between the two. Likewise, the exercises remained highly scripted as in the past, and the scenarios involved were largely the same.
For about the last two months, Lithuania has been in the throes of a migration crisis like it has never seen before. In retaliation to the sanctions placed on his regime following the forced grounding of a passenger airliner to arrest journalist Roman Protasevich, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka promised to force Europe (and in particular, Lithuania) to deal with drug smuggling and migrant flows on their own. Aside from Lukashenka’s claim to have been stopping migrants and smugglers in the past, the statement gives clear indication of intent to weaponize migration and the flow of contraband.
On June 14, heads of state from all NATO members met in Brussels for the 2021 NATO summit. This occurred smack in the middle of U.S. President Biden’s much touted trip to Europe, and overall received little media attention. A Google search of the summit produces primarily NATO press releases, the odd news article here or there (but only from mainstream yet highly partisan sources, fringe outlets, and little else), few analyses, and a preponderance of pre-summit anticipatory articles from news sources and think tanks alike.
This month, Lithuania announced the arrival of a 164-tonne transformer as part of the ongoing process for synchronization with the Continental European power grid. This step is considered crucial for successfully exiting the Soviet era BRELL agreement, in which the Baltics’ power grids are controlled by Moscow. Exiting BRELL is a major component of the Baltics’ overall strategy not only for energy security, but for their national security broadly. Under the BRELL agreement, the Baltics have been synchronously connected to the Integrated Power System/United Power System (IPS/UPS) grid with Russia and Belarus since the end of the Soviet period.
Once again, Ukraine faces the threat of Russian aggression. Surrounded on nearly all sides, it faces a potential crisis of existence, as Moscow sees an opportunity to take on yet more ambitious objectives against its hapless neighbor. Unfortunately for Ukraine, nothing guarantees its security, and it is grossly, obscenely outmatched by its adversary. What exactly Russia intends to do remains a mystery, but one thing is clear: Russia plans to attack Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden has claimed that Nord Stream 2, the controversial Russo-German pipeline project, is a “bad deal for Europe” and has stated his administration’s opposition to the project. At face value, that would appear to be a rare continuity with the previous administration, but a deeper dive into the various perspectives in Washington reveals a much more complicated position. Despite spoken commitments to the bipartisan sanctions regime instituted by the Trump administration, it appears that the Biden administration is ready to wash its hands of the issue and move on.