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.
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.
In August, Latvia marked the 100th anniversary of the Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty, otherwise known as the Treaty of Rīga, which ended Latvia’s War for Independence and marked the beginning of the interwar period for the new Latvian Republic. The treaty established Latvia’s sovereignty and Soviet Russia recognized Latvia’s independence as “inviolable” for all time. But the Soviet Union did not honor this treaty, nor its treaties with Estonia and Lithuania. Between these treaties and other, more modern treaties such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, we can see that Russia only abides by the treaties it signs for as long as it is convenient, then breaks them when it seems it can get away with doing so.
For eight or nine days beginning on April 20th, around the same time that NATO and Estonian forces were holding the Spring Storm Exercises, Russia held exercises of its own in the Kaliningrad Oblast’. Though not as grandiose in scale as a May 3rd article in Izvestia would suggest, the exercises do demonstrate that Russia is working to practice its maritime capabilities. The main events of the exercises centered around what may have been two amphibious landing drills and also featured anti-aircraft and anti-submarine drills, simulated naval missile attacks, simulated aerial attacks on naval vessels, and mine-laying and mine-clearing exercises.
Each year, Estonia hosts Spring Storm (Kevadtorm), bringing together forces from all across NATO to conduct field and live-fire exercises. Though smaller in scale and participation due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s exercises concluded successfully last week. Spring Storm demonstrates Estonia and its allies’ commitment to ensuring readiness in case of attack, contributing to the credibility of NATO’s deterrence posture on the Eastern Flank. Military exercises are crucial for training and readiness purposes, as new conscripts/recruits and reservists have an opportunity to train alongside active duty personnel.
At the beginning of this month, the U.S. delivered 128 javelin anti-tank missiles to Estonia, part of ongoing cooperation between the two countries. This will provide another moderate boost to the credibility of Estonia’s deterrent posture. These kinds of smaller procurements are an important part of the broader effort to build up a credible defense in case of Russian aggression and to signal that the risk outweighs the reward for attacking the Baltic States.
Last week, Finland and Sweden conducted naval cooperation exercises in the Baltic Sea. Given that these two countries have a long tradition of close cooperation in military affairs, this seems fairly mundane. But these exercises were highly unusual, as Finland’s FNS Uusimaa took orders from Swedish naval command, and Sweden’s HMS Helsingborg received orders from Finland’s command center in Turku. This was the first time in the history of Finnish-Swedish naval cooperation that ships took orders from the opposite country’s command.