Just about done with my business trip, and feel like sharing some things to help make them clearer if you haven’t been paying attention to eastern European security concerns.
The Baltic States; Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, are essentially low lying coastal forest and plains that share huge borders with Russia. The border with Russia is simply not defensible by any current military strategy with the resources available to the Baltic states, or even to NATO as a whole. The Baltic states hold little in the way of “key terrain” as far as strategic or even operational value. The shorelines to the Baltic Sea would simply give Russia more access to the highly restricted waterways leading between Sweden and Denmark, and yet the focus of NATO protective measures have included a large portion of effort assigned to the Baltics.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, largely through economic reasons and not through military confrontation, the “Warsaw Pact” nations all voted for independence from Russia. The Red Army was rightly viewed as a foreign occupying force, and the Russian civilians who were forcefully emigrated by the Soviets were seen as foreigners. Most of the former Warsaw pact nations have made their native language the official language for government business, and for teaching in public schools. This seems only natural if you view the “ethnic Russians” as foreigners who are living in your country, they really should learn the native language in public school; http://europe.newsweek.com/latvia-russia-latvian-schools-latvian-teacher-ussr-russian-language-tv-rain-285457?rm=eu
Now, those ethnic Russians (and what exactly is an ethnic Russian is a very interesting subject that other bloggers have tackled as it is darn near a very long series of posts in itself) who were left behind in Poland, Romania, and the Baltics have been seeing Russian speaking public school teachers dwindle, and citizenship in Estonia (for example) denied because they don’t speak Estonian, is a sore spot. This sort of “oppression” is something that Russian Leaders have promised they won’t let slide: http://ria.ru/world/20160604/1442892185.html (you’ll need to translate if you don’t read Russian).
That sore spot is a weakness that Russia can exploit, and has exploited. But first, more history. In 1994 Ukraine, the US, and Russia all came to the “Budapest Agreement” that Ukraine would transfer its nuclear weapons to Russia in return Russia would recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity. (more on this can be found here: http://www.npr.org/2014/03/09/288298641/the-role-of-1994-nuclear-agreement-in-ukraines-current-state )
And then Crimea happened. What shook the world, and NATO member states specifically, was how quickly the Little Green Men got into position, how quickly the Russian military occupied, and how the naked land grab, in violation of the 1994 agreement was quickly sold to the public as Russia simply righting a “historical wrong.”
And this gives Europeans pause. The borders of modern day Europe are simply frozen history. There are towns in Poland that were German up until the end of WWI. Changing borders to “right a historical mistake” leaves Russia open to gobble up Daugavpils (which is 90% ethnic Russian) or Narva (also vastly an ethnic Russian minority).
In order to sell this idea, the Kremlin began a comprehensive wave of information operations selling the idea that Ukraine was the birthplace of modern Russia, that Kiev was the original heart of Russia. It smelled liked bullshit then, and smells like bullshit now, but enough people looked back into history and saw the ties of royalty and the borders of past empires and said, “huh, I guess that makes some sort of sense.”
The sad part is, that every nation in Europe can do this. It can point back to some place in time where it was bigger than it is today. The Austrians and Hungarians alike could lay claim to the Austrian-Hungarian empire. The Poles and the Germans could both lay claim to the Prussian empire. To say, to Europeans, that military intervention is necessary to “right a historical wrong” is to say “Fuck you, your modern borders are meaningless.”
And that is why people in the Baltics are calling for a permanent NATO presence. A token force of a few Battalions to serve as a NATO tripwire which in the face of Russian aggression would invoke Article 5, and ensure World War Three comes about with maximum participation right from the get go.
In essence, the Baltics are hoping the Russians love their children too, and hoping the memories of the massive numbers of dead Russians from World War Two will be enough to keep the peace, and their independence, intact.