NATO’s frontline allies face an unconventional Russian threat that is close to war but still quite dangerous

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  • The Baltic countries face increasing Russian hybrid war threats.

  • Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are strong supporters of Ukraine.

  • Officials in these countries have repeatedly expressed concerns about Russian hybrid war operations.

The three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have been at the forefront of the conflict between the West and Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

They are loyal supporters of Ukraine – together with Denmark – provided the most help to Kiev in proportion to their GDP and have pushed for strict sanctions against Moscow.

Despite being members of NATO and the EU, the Baltic states are in a precarious position. They border Russia or its ally Belarus, are small and were part of the Soviet Union until its collapse. Moreover, more than 20% of the populations of Estonia and Latvia and 5% of Lithuania are ethnically Russian.

All this has put them in Moscow’s sights. Russia appears to be using unconventional methods against them that blur the lines between war and peace and land them in what is called the “gray zone.”

In July 2023, Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna spoke expressed his concern about the possibility of such Russian attacks. “There are hybrid threats. But we never know what kind of hybrid situation could arise. We’ve seen them before,” he said.

NATO has also warned against intensifying Russian hybrid warfare in the region and in the rest of Europe, which could include “disinformation, sabotage, acts of violence, cyber and electronic interference and other hybrid operations.”

Focused on the Baltic states

A year later, in May 2024, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blamed the Baltic states for cutting most of their ties with Russia. add“We will also respond to the hostile actions of the Baltic states with asymmetric measures, especially in economic and transit areas.”

Moscow is suspected of following through on its threats.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi (R) accepts congratulations from Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda (L) during an event dedicated to the Independence Day of Ukraine on August 24, 2023 in Kiev, Ukraine.President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi (R) accepts congratulations from Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda (L) during an event dedicated to the Independence Day of Ukraine on August 24, 2023 in Kiev, Ukraine.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi (R) accepts congratulations from Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda (L) during an event dedicated to the Independence Day of Ukraine on August 24, 2023 in Kiev, Ukraine.Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

In May, a leaked Russian proposal outlined plans to redraw Russia’s territorial waters with Estonia, Lithuania and Finland. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Petrov said the proposal was not politically motivated but suggested it was necessary to guarantee Russian security amid escalating regional tensions.

Although the proposal was removed a day after it was leaked, the next day several buoys demarcating the territorial waters between Russia and Estonia on the Narva River were removed by the Russian Coast Guard.

Senior Estonian officials urged calm, but Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis was sharper: “Another Russian hybrid operation is underway, this time in an attempt to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt about their intentions in the Baltic Sea .” said in answer.

In addition, there has recently been increasing interference with the satellite navigation systems of commercial aircraft in the region, which appears to be happening originating from within Russian territory. While it is not clear whether the disruption is intentional, Tallinn and Vilnius have accused Moscow.

Russia and Belarus have been too accused by EU officials pushing migrants to the border of Lithuania and neighboring Poland and using them as hybrid weapons. Lithuania in response temporarily closed some of its border crossings with Belarus, and Poland sent troops to the border. The Baltic states and Poland are prepared to do so close their borders in the event of a large flow of migrants from Belarus.

All three Baltic countries have been targeted influence operations. Estonia has seen an increase in sabotage damage to a submarine gas pipeline and telecommunications cables between Finland and Finland. Espionage, cyber attacks and election tampering are also a concern in Estonia after arresting most of the Russian agents per capita in the EU.

Destabilization is the point

Hybrid warfare can use a variety of tools – including military, informational, economic, civilian and others – but falls short of overt military action.

Its purpose is to destabilize a country’s government, institutions or population, while often avoiding attribution to the perpetrator – occasionally a deliberate and targeted action can even seem like a random event.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the military parade at the 76th Guards Air Assault Division in Pskov, Russia, March 1, 2020.Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the military parade at the 76th Guards Air Assault Division in Pskov, Russia, March 1, 2020.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the military parade at the 76th Guards Air Assault Division in Pskov, Russia, March 1, 2020.Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

While hybrid warfare is not a new strategy, nor one employed exclusively by Russia and its allies, it has received increased attention following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, when Moscow deployed a variety of military and non-military used instruments that were described as hybrid. to conquer the peninsula without meaningful Ukrainian resistance.

The murky nature of hybrid warfare can make it difficult to identify and address potential threats. Yet the Baltic countries are prioritizing hybrid threats and strengthening their institutions in response.

Significantly, in its 2016 National Defense Concept – the country’s overarching defense strategy – Latvia hybrid threats and Russia identified for the first time as the main threat to its security.

And last week, Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs wrote together with his Polish and Czech colleagues expressed “deep concern” about Russian hybrid threats.

“We will act individually and collectively to address these actions, increase our resilience and continue to coordinate closely to ensure that the Alliance and Allies are prepared to deter and defend against any hybrid actions or attacks” , he said.

Read the original article Business insider

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