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Russia threat is real, time to get serious - UK thinktank

A new report by influential UK thinktank Chatham House says the potential threat Russia poses to the Baltic states is real, and NATO needs to up its game considerably if it is serious about providing deterrence and defense.

Titled Russia's 'New' Tools For Confronting The West, the 72-page report argues that while it has become fashionable to describe Russia's approach to as all-new, in fact most elements of so-called "Hybrid War" have deep roots within the Russian military and society. 

"Russia intends to develop the capability to operate against several neighbors at once...This realization has led to sudden retrospective attention to the major exercises which Russia had been conducting for a number of years – and the implications of their scenarios for the neighbors who appear to be targeted," the report says, questioning whether NATO has the capability to mount a "swift and effective military response" in such circumstances.

"In Russian thinking, conventional military power deficiencies present a temptation and an invitation. Weakness provokes, but readiness deters. Consequently, the relative military vacuum in the Baltic states must urgently be filled by NATO, before Russia is tempted to fill it itself," the report says.

"If NATO is not willing or able to pre-position sufficient forces in the Baltic states to close off easy opportunities for Russia, then in order to fulfil its function and reason for existence it must be prepared to accept much more costly and politically challenging alternatives."

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are widely considered the most likely next potential victims of Russian intervention, but are not the only candidates, the report suggests, with Sweden in particular repeatedly threatened. However, constant reports in Western media about the likelihood of the Baltic states being attacked could actually have a deleterious effect on those countries' economies.

The Kremlin is not above personal intimidation either with servicemen in Latvia confronted with "Russian intelligence officers reeling off details of their personal lives" taken from social media posts.

Recent increases in the NATO presence in the Baltic states provide some deterrent effect but their actual military value may not be as large as they seem, argues the report:

"Despite the availability of a small amount of (primarily US) military equipment already delivered to the Baltic states, in order to reach these three countries any forces seeking to protect them would have to run the gauntlet of Russian naval and air forces in the Baltic Sea...One-third of Poland and substantial parts of the territories of other NATO members and partners are under Russian integrated air defence system (IADS) coverage."

The report concludes that the risk of conflict between Russia and the West is unlikely to disappear any time soon, with Russia's neighbors obviously at greatest risk:

"Russia’s security initiatives, even if it views or presents them as defensive measures, are likely to have severe consequences for its neighbors. Russia’s growing confidence in pursuing its objectives will make it even harder for the West to protect itself against Russian assertiveness, without the implementation of measures to resist Russian information warfare, and without the availability of significant military force to act as an immediate and present deterrent in the front-line states."

The full report is available HERE.

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