It seems to me that any country that was part of the former Soviet Union and has a recognizable Russian population needs be worried for the Russians are coming.
It isn’t any wonder that angst is spreading across the Baltics as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania worry about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current adventure in Crimea.
Russian brinkmanship is, of course, nothing new. The brief Georgian war in 2008 set a precedent—and a lesson from which most Western democracies seemed to have learned little in the intervening years. Not so with the Baltics, however, for they have experienced Russian aggression.
Like Ukraine, the Baltics have a large Russian minority. About a quarter of the population in Latvia and Estonia consider themselves Russian, though, in Lithuania, only about 6 per cent do. So, given the size of the Russian diaspora in these small republics, their fates could very well be similar to Ukraine’s.
According to Britannica.com:
On the day that Paris fell, June 15, 1940, Joseph Stalin presented an ultimatum to Lithuania to admit an unlimited number of troops and to form a government acceptable to the U.S.S.R. Lithuania was occupied that day. … In the next two days, similar ultimatums were presented to Latvia and Estonia, both of which experienced similar fates.”
Germany attacked the USSR in 1941 and later took control of the region. After the Allies defeated Germany, however, the Soviets regained control and resumed the integration of the Baltics into the Soviet Empire.
There they remained firmly under Moscow’s thumb until 50 years later when Perestroika and Glasnost reforms and the collapse of the USSR in 1991 presented the opportunity for them to assert their independence. All three Baltic States then joined the EU and NATO in 2004—their way of sealing their otherwise tenuous independence.
So now the stage is set for what could be the first “real” test of Article Five of NATO’s charter? This being the key section of the treaty, which commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one state to be an armed attack against all states.
Article Five has only been invoked once before: by the United States after the 9/11 attacks. Since the U.S. forms the backbone of NATA, no one should be surprised that member states answered the Americans’ 2001 call to arms.
What happens, though, if Article Five is invoked by one or more small remote Baltic states over which Russia can claim historical links and populations in need of Russia’s protection? That’s the acid test.
NATO’s Article Four—consultation over military matters—has, apparently, already been invoke by Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in response to the current Crimean crisis. As a consequence, the U.S. is sending 12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland and has also agreed to send four F-15 jets to Lithuania. This is, of course, an encouraging sign, though, it may yet prove to be an empty gesture.
At least in the case of Lithuania, fear of Russian aggression seems justified by recent events. Russia’s President Putin has reportedly accused Lithuania of training the “extremists” who ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych. According to one report, Russian state television aired footage of a Lithuanian farm where it said the rebels stayed.
Is this Russia’s way of continuing to build its “case”—its rationalizations that foreshadow armed incursions into sovereign territory of breakaway elements of its former empire? It seems clear to me that it is.
Given the mettle of too many of the Western Democracies—or rather, the lack of it—as it applies to confronting Russia’s military aggression and the EU’s dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, I fear for the continued territorial integrity of the Baltic States.
I wouldn’t, in fact, bet that the rest of NATO will go to war—an all-out war—to protect any other state that was formerly in the Russian sphere of influence, i.e., the old Eastern Bloc. I don’t believe enough members of NATO have the stomach for it. I’m not at all sure that even Canada, as a NATO member, has the political will to go to the wall for Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania.
I believe NATO would still rally behind the original core members plus Germany and perhaps Greece and Turkey. But as to the rest? Well, let’s hope we never have to find that out.