Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, far away countries about which we know nothing? Not really, more, democratic fully integrated members of the European Union, and NATO.
So what happens if another far away country, for example, Russia, was to aggress one or all of them? According to Article 5 of NATO’s constitution an attack on one member is an attack on all, and the all are committed to coming to the aid of the one, and that is how world wars can begin.
The Ukrainian separatists may have designs on more of Ukraine, which Russia will or won’t support depending on what happens next. However, Moscow values control of the Baltics far more.
The Baltic States were part of the Soviet Union. Moscow is alarmed that NATO’s borders now reach so far east, with a concurrent reach into the Baltic Sea. There are huge Russian speaking minorities in all three countries, political parties representing them, and back in Russia there is a new law requiring Moscow to go to the aid of ethnic Russians in need.
At a time of Putin’s choosing, levers can be pulled, and lo – there can be a crisis in the Baltics.
This is why the British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has today said that Russia poses a ‘very real and present danger’ to the Baltics.
The UK has joined other NATO states in bolstering the defence posture of the Baltic States, but these have to date been limited.
One senior source told thewhatandthewhy that the recent decision to double the size of a NATO emergency response force to 30,000 troops and within it create a 5,000 strong ‘super high readiness force’ was ‘so far on paper only’ and that if the UK military was involved in any action elsewhere, it would be unable to contribute to the force as it can now ‘only do one thing at a time’.
Hence Mr Fallon is ringing the alarm bells. He wants other NATO members to match Britain’s commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence and begin warning Moscow of the consequences of meddling in the Baltics. Currently only five of NATO’s 28 members meet the 2% spending requirement. Britain is one of them but defence experts are more than aware that there is no willingness to increase the defence budget despite what is becoming increasingly obvious – that war in Europe is again becoming a potential reality. Hence former Defence Secretary John Hutton’s intervention in Wednesday’s thewhatandthewhy.com.
This brings us to Washington D.C. where they spend more on defence than the other 27 NATO countries combined.
Amid the alarm bells ringing over Ukraine, Russia, and the Baltics, a very important confidente of President Putin has arrived in Washington almost unnoticed.
Alexander Bortnikov is director of Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB). He’s in Washington to take part in a conference on security and has no meetings scheduled with the administration, however, given that he was invited by the State Department it is almost certain that the two sides will meet in ‘the margins’ as diplomats call it when wanting to talk to someone, but not officially, and with plausible deniability for the media.
Like Putin, Bortnikov is one of those Russians who, when you look in their eyes, you see the letters KGB staring back at you which is one reason why the Russian president trusts him.
He is on an EU travel ban list due to sanctions, but the Americans have not followed suit which tells us they want him as a conduit to the top man and explains why he has been invited to this routine security conference.
The Russians are increasingly anxious that Obama’s ‘Strategic Patience’ will snap and American heavy weapons will be dispatched to the willing, eager, and indeed desperate hands of the Ukrainian military. Then the Russian troops who officially are not inside the Ukrainian rebel held areas, will find themselves in a real war and facing much bigger losses.
For all Merkel’s tireless efforts in Minsk, Washington is the place from where a ceasefire might emerge. Having taken Debaltseve Putin will be told, via Bortnikov “This far and no further”, and that applies to Ukraine, and the Baltics. Whether the Russians believe that NATO means business is another matter.