Putin Could Attack Baltic States Warns Former NATO Chief.
Vladimir Putin Could Mastermind A Hybrid Attack On A Baltic State To Test Whether NATO Would Mobilize, Warns Anders Fogh Rasmussen
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard 5:46PM GMT 05 Feb 2015
Vladimir Putin has dangerous ambitions beyond Ukraine and aims to test Western resolve in the Baltic states, the former head of NATO has warned.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former secretary-general of the Atlantic alliance, said the Kremlin’s true goal is to shatter NATO solidarity and reassert Russian dominance over Eastern Europe.
“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.
The fear is that the Kremlin will generate a murky conflict in Estonia or Latvia where there are large Russian minorities, using arms-length action or “little green men” without insignia to disguise any intervention. This may tempt weaker NATO to members to play down the incident, either to protect commercial ties with Russia or because of pro-Kremlin sympathies as in Hungary or Greece.
Estonia’s relations with Russia worsened significantly last September when a squad of Russian security operatives allegedly crossed into Estonian territory and seized Eston Kohver, a veteran officer in the Estonian Security Service.
Mr Kohver was paraded on Russian television as a spy and is currently being held in a high security prison in Moscow. Analysts believe the abduction – which took place two days after a visit to Tallinn by Barack Obama – was designed to demonstrate Russia’s muscle in the Baltics.
NATO has already beefed up its forces in the region with squadrons of fighter jets, chiefly as show of force and as a strategic tripwire to reassure allies. Its Baltic Air Policing Mission intercepted 150 incursions into NATO airspace by Russian aircraft last year.
Article 5 states that a military attack on any one NATO to country is an attack on all of them, triggering collective mobilization. It has been invoked just once in the 66-year history of the alliance, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
Nobody knows what would happen if one of the Baltic states invoked Article 5 protection but was turned down by the NATO Council. Failure to respond would devastate NATO’s credibility and undermine the principle of deterrence, though allies could still act as a coalition of the willing outside the treaty structure.
Mr Rasmussen, who had to grapple with the Ukraine crisis until stepping down as Nato chief in September, said Mr Putin’s immediate tactic is to create a frozen conflict in the Donbass rather than trying to conquer and hold large parts of the country. “He wants to keep the water boiling,” he said.
He called for urgent action by Nato to mount a rapid deployment force of several thousand troops in a permanent state of “high readiness” and able to act within 48-72 hours as a deterrent, but the cost is proving prohibitive. “It is very expensive. Only a few are able to do it,” he said.
Mr Rasmussen said the Europeans have slashed military spending so deeply since the financial crisis that they can barely defend themselves without American help. “The situation is critical. We have a lot of soldiers but we can’t move them,” he said.
“NATO countries have cut defense 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.”
Belgium is the most extreme case, famed for its well-armed pension fund while fighting capability fades away. It spends 96pc of defense budget on salaries, retirement, and its Burgundian canteens. The share spent on military kit has been slashed to 4pc. “Military confidence is nearing the point of collapse,” said Alexander Mattelear from the Vrije Universtiteit in Brussels.
Mr Rasmussen said there is no truth to Kremlin claims that the West violated pledges at the end of the Cold War that there would be no eastward expansion of the alliance into the territory of former Soviet Union. “No such pledge was ever made, and declassified documents in Washington prove this. It is pure propaganda,” he said.