Vladmir Putin will probably stir unrest in a Baltic NATO state to test the alliance’s resolve directly in the wake of his success in Ukraine, according to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Secretary-General of NATO. The Telegraph reports:
“This is not about Ukraine. Putin wants to restore Russia to its former position as a great power,” he told The Telegraph.
“There is a high probability that he will intervene in the Baltics to test Nato’s Article 5,” he said, referring to the solidarity clause that underpins collective security.
“Putin knows that if he crosses the red line and attacks a Nato ally, he will be defeated. Let us be quite clear about that. But he is a specialist in hybrid warfare,” he said.
Media attention this week has been focused on U.S.-European-Russian negotiations over Ukraine. But the West needs to be looking north and trying to get ahead of the next security crisis—in a way that it did decidedly did not with Ukraine.Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states are members of NATO. And as NATO members, they are guaranteed by Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty that an attack on one will be treated as an attack on all—and defended as such. But absent willpower, guarantees are just words on paper. If Putin approaches the Baltics the way he has Ukraine—inflaming local grievances, sending in Russian soldiers without insignia (“little green men”), maintaining a pretext of deniability—will the European members of NATO consider themselves obliged to respond? Will the U.S.? The risk of war with Russia must be balanced against the prospect of the whole Western alliance system, and the deterrence it carries, collapsing before the world’s eyes. The uncertainty regarding the American and Western European commitment to the Baltic states therefore makes the calculations for everyone involved more dangerous.Part of the problem, as Rasmussen noted, is that Europe’s militaries are in terrible shape:
“Nato countries have cut defence spending by 20pc in real terms over the last five years – and some by 40pc – while Russia has increased by 80pc. The aggression in Ukraine is a wake-up call,” he said.“We learned in the Libyan crisis that Europe is totally reliant on the Americans for air-refueling, drones, and communications intelligence. We don’t have air transport. It is really bad.”
So the lack of European resolve has more than a little to do with a lack of European capacity. This is where leadership from Washington is vitally necessary. NATO’s presence in Baltics needs to be much stronger both to deter Russian aggression and to demonstrate to the Russian public that the course Putin is on will not intimidate NATO.