Fearing Trump’s desertion, Baltics bolstering defenses – Asia Times

Fearing Trump's desertion, Baltics bolstering defenses - Asia Times

With Donald Trump leading in many of the elections for the upcoming US presidential election, his comments about global surveillance and international policy have to be taken seriously.

In February, Trump cavalierly remarked that he would inspire Russia to do whatever it wanted to NATO state that failed to pay their expenses. In a follow- up meeting on GB News this year he warned allies” never to get benefits” of the US.

Nothing is this causing more problem than for the states in the European state – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Not only does Trump, often, say that he wants to end all US military aid to Ukraine, but Trump wants to devalue Article 5 of NATO’s agreement – the theory of social defense– something that has become extremely significant in the wake of Russia’s aggression.

American military sources are worried that Trump’s remarks may develop Putin’s fix over Ukraine, and could result in his advancing on even more place.

Even before Trump emerged on the US social landscape, the European nations had been particularly concerned about Russia’s growing passions. They have, after all, been invaded and occupied by Russia when, in 1940, and therefore forced to be part of the Soviet Union. There are plenty of folks who can still recall living in the Soviet Union.

Communist troops occupy Riga, Latvia, in 1940. Photo: Wikipedia

Since Russia‘s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the European state have been the loudest accents sounding the alarm about the existential threat posed by Russia. All three countries increased their military spending to more than 2 % of their GDP, and recently agreed to raise it to 3 %.

Building shared mechanisms

Amid growing safety issues, the defence ministers in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia also agreed in January to set up a typical European defence area on their borders with Russia and Belarus. This may consist of building real defense structures such as bunkers.

Estonia will start development of 600 tanks in early 2025. The governments may also engage in developing weapon artillery, and ensuring that their products, weapons and labor are updated.

Estonia has also doubled the size of its territorial defense force to 20, 000 people, while Latvia reintroduced conscription in 2023 after becoming the only Baltic state to stop mandatory military service in 2006.

Latvia also plans to double the size of its armed forces to 61, 000 by the year 2032. Meanwhile, Lithuania has made an agreement with Germany to allow a permanent brigade of 4, 800 German troops to be combat- ready on the Russian border by 2027.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius ( right ) and Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas sign an agreement for further deployment of thousands of German troops to the Baltic country in Vilnius, Lithuania, on December 18, 2022. Photo: J. Stacevičiaus / LRT

Putin’s pledge to Russian speakers

But given that Russia borders 14 countries, why are the Baltic states especially concerned about their security? In addition to being geographically close, notable numbers of ethnic Russians live in the Baltic countries ( 5 % in Lithuania, 25 % in Estonia and 36 % in Latvia. In the eastern Estonian city of Narva, 95.7 % of the population are native Russian speakers and 87.7 % are ethnic Russians.

This matters as Putin has argued that having substantial numbers of ethnic Russians living outside of Russia, due to the” catastrophic” dissolution of the Soviet Union, represents a “humanitarian disaster of epic proportions” as it left Russians cut off from” their motherland”. Putin has vowed to actively protect all” Russians” living abroad.

In particular, Putin has said he was concerned about how ethnic Russians are being treated in the Baltics, remarking that the deportation of ethnic Russians ( most notably in Latvia where there have been recent changes to its immigration laws ), poses a threat to Russian national security.

Baltic states regional map: SOF News

The Kremlin has also protested the demolition of Soviet monuments in the Baltics, placing Estonia’s Prime Minster Kaja Kallas on its wanted list for doing so.

But these claims about wanting to protect Russians abroad are really just a pretext to justify escalation with the Baltics, which will test NATO’s alliance and destabilize the organization. So it’s not just important that there are ethnic Russians living in the countries. There are strategic reasons, as well, that make them an easy target.

Even with the Baltic countries strengthening their troop numbers, Russia currently has 1.32 million active military personnel, and two million active reservists. Combined, this is greater that Lithuania’s entire population of 2.8 million people, and far greater than the populations of Estonia and Latvia, 1.3 million and 1.8 million people respectively.

For Lithuania, which borders Belarus and Russian- run mini- state Kaliningrad, there are concerns that it could be taken over first by Russian forces, which would then physically isolate Lithuania from the rest of the Baltics.

The Kaliningrad region has become increasingly militarized in recent years, with Iskander ballistic missiles and S- 400 systems installed. With Trump suggesting he would weaken the US’s commitment to NATO if elected, there wo n’t be much of a deterrent to keep Putin from grabbing low- hanging fruit.

The current NATO response force consists of approximately 40, 000 troops, with plans to upgrade to 300, 000 troops. But quick- reaction units despite their name could still be too slow to protect the Baltics from Russian forces because moving large units, vehicles and ammunition across borders is bureaucratic and takes time.

It would be important to have excellent intelligence and to move quickly, something that will be made more difficult with the US potentially opting out of its commitments.

Although Russia has plunged much of its resources into winning the Ukraine war, Putin still aims to expand Russian sovereignty across the post- Soviet states and to effectively dismantle NATO, something that Trump takes no issue with.

As Russia has been ramping up its war machine, the Baltic states firmly believe that Russian aggression will not stop at Ukraine, and that they could be next.

Natasha Lindstaedt is a professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.