Monday, January 19, 2015
X-Captive Nations Must Unite vs. Russian Imperialism
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine one week after the conclusion of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the ensuing Russo-Ukraine War of 2014 have demonstrated that none of the former captive nations of Russia are safe from the Kremlin’s never-ending quest to restore its empire, prison of nations and the iron curtain.
News of Russia’s hurried militarization, pronouncements of a right to defend itself at all costs and retake the former captive nations, and numerous sorties over European countries beyond the Baltics have given rise to real concerns in eastern European capitals that their future is at stake. Russia’s newly revised military doctrine has also lead to sobering fears about Russians at their doors in countries that border Russia to the west and east.
What are the former captive nations to do? With NATO immersed in a deep re-analysis of the mission that it was precisely mandated to undertake at the end of World War II – to defend the free world against Russian imperialism, the alliance is not building confidence in the captive nations. The logical question is if the aggressor has clearly not changed, why then should NATO’s mission change?
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is escalating its war against Ukraine while setting its sights on Baltic and east European countries – and beyond. It has stationed 800 servicemen from its Northern Fleet in Alakurtti within 50 kilometers of the Finnish border, with the rest of the fleet to be deployed soon, according to announcement by Commanding Admiral Vladimir Korolev of the Russian navy on January 13.
At full force, Russia’s Northern Fleet consists of some 3,000 ground troops trained for combat in Arctic conditions, along with 39 ships and 45 submarines. Its arrival in Murmansk follows Russia’s decision last year to create a united command for all of its units designated with protecting Russia’s interests in the country’s northern regions.
“In 2015, the Defense Ministry’s main efforts will focus on an increase of combat capabilities of the armed forces and increasing the military staff in accordance with military construction plans. Much attention will be given to the groupings in Crimea, Kaliningrad and the Arctic,” Russian General Staff chief Valery Gerasimov said, according to Russia’s Sputnik news agency.
Leaders of the former captive nations fully understand the danger that Russia presents to their independence and sovereign existence. They are on the record as stating that Russia is a terrorist state that has not lived up to any agreement that it has signed. They meet regularly to coordinate their security and defense. The Baltic Review reported on such a meeting held earlier this month:
“This year, President Bronisław Komorowski of Poland is also invited to take part in the traditional meeting the main purpose of which is to discuss regional security measures.
“The Lithuanian head of state together with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Latvian President Andris Bērziņš and Polish President Bronisław Komorowski reviewed the implementation of decisions adopted at the NATO Summit in Wales as well as energy, information and cyber security issues.
“ ‘Our countries have a shared goal – secure and economically strong region. We will only achieve this goal by standing together in the implementation of long-term collective defense measures and strategic projects aimed at ensuring the region’s energy self-sufficiency,’ the President (of Lithuania) said.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine delivered a wake-up call on defense spending to the small Baltic States.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are on heightened alert as Russian military planes and warships circle their airspace and sea borders on a daily basis in what they call “unprecedented” Russian activity.
Sven Mikser, Estonian Defense Minister, recently concluded the biggest military procurement in his country’s history, worth 138 million euros ($160 million). The deal buys 44 CV90 combat vehicles and six Leopard tanks from the Netherlands. It comes a month after Mikser agreed a contract worth $46.2 million with the US to buy 40 Stinger missile systems. Estonia also has an order for self-propelled guns in the works.
Latvia bought 123 combat vehicles for $55.5 million from Britain in August and in November agreed to a $4.6 million deal with Norway for 800 Carl Gustav anti-tank weapons and 100 trucks.
Lithuania bought a $39.3 million GROM air defense system from Poland in September and a month later said it would spend $18.5 million on a fresh supply of Javelin anti-tank missiles from the US.
That brings the price tag for Baltic military spending on hardware to $347 million euros in six months.
Leading the political fight against Russia’s aggression is President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, an unabashed critic of Putin and Russia’s imperialism, and ardent supporter of Ukraine, who is often photographed at a military shooting range.
Grybauskaite has noted that Ukraine is not just fighting for its own sovereignty, but it is defending the sovereignty of all European nations. Her acerbic denunciation of Putin’s war is without comparison in eastern Europe.
During an interview with German news magazine Focus in June Grybauskaite said the Russian despot “uses nationality as a pretext to conquer territory with military means. That’s exactly what Stalin and Hitler did.”
“Russia is at war against Ukraine and that is against a country which wants to be part of Europe. Russia is practically in war against Europe,” she said, adding that she is prepared to “take up arms” in the instance Russia attacks
Grybauskaite is convinced that if Russia is not repulsed from Ukraine, Putin will sweep across the Baltics, central Europe and northern Europe.
“The situation is still deteriorating. Russian troops are still on the territory of Ukraine. That means that Europe and the world are allowing Russia to be a country which is not only threatening its neighbors but is also organizing a war against its neighbors. It is the same international terrorism as we have in Iraq and Syria.
“In Ukraine, it is a real war. The European Union and most of the leaders in the world are trying to talk about it as if it is not war but some kind of support of terrorist elements. We saw Crimea. In the very beginning, it was green men, and it became Russian military. Now it is the same in eastern Ukraine. And I’m sure that it is not the last territory where Putin is going to demonstrate his powers.
“If we will be too soft with our sanctions or adapt sanctions but not implement them, I think he will go further trying to unite east Ukraine with south Ukraine and Crimea. He recently said that in two days he is capable to reach Warsaw, the Baltic States, and Bucharest. So that is an open threat to his neighbors.
“If he will not be stopped in Ukraine, he will go further.”
Grybauskaite’s colleagues in Riga and Tallinn are equally troubled by Russian saber rattling. In the Baltic States, Russia’s goal is to undermine local trust in NATO’s collective defense, to destabilize internal politics, provoke local Russians to seek Moscow’s intervention, and ultimately to cause the countries to give in to Russian interests. As for military provocations in the Baltics, Moscow sees them not so much as an invasion, but rather a matter of taking back what rightfully belongs to Russia. Some feel the same scenario used in Ukraine is already unfolding in the Baltic countries.
Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, president of the Lithuanian bishops’ conference, observed that Lithuania is in the front line and Russia has made its intentions clear. He believes that Russian aggression against Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is possible, and appealed to Western Catholics to be better informed about the situation.
“While we feel NATO’s support, we know the front could move forward if the international community fails to stand firm,” said Archbishop Grusas of Vilnius. “What isn’t fully realized in the West is that the information and propaganda war which preceded the military action against Ukraine is very much underway here, too. There’s a high degree of tension, and everybody here knows how dangerous the situation has become. The three Baltic states are relatively small countries, which can be pressured more easily than Ukraine,” Archbishop Grusas told the Catholic News Service.
“Russia is a great country, with great people. But the desire to promote that greatness, perhaps with new empire-building, runs deep in the Russian mindset under President Vladimir Putin. They’ve expressed a belief they have a right to lands they once ruled.”
The Baltics are hoping for at least an increased NATO presence so that Moscow would think twice about invading them. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius explained that he does not have any reason to doubt the security guarantees which were provided by NATO and the EU but he added that that’s not a reason to relax.
“Freedom and peace are not a given. They are something that should be defended when the time comes,” Linkevicius said. “We are not talking about militarization, about big divisions of NATO troops. I am talking about a sensible level of presence which does not exist at all right now.”
A few days ago, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry announced that it will be distributing a manual that advises its citizenry how to behave if Russian tanks stream across their borders. “Keep a sound mind, don’t panic and don’t lose clear thinking,” the manual advises Lithuanians, according to Reuters. “Gunshots just outside your window are not the end of the world.”
Reuters said the manual reads like a guide to non-violent, passive civil resistance. It urges Lithuanians to participate in demonstrations and strikes. The manual even tells workers to engage in a kind of passive sabotage to crash the economy and make life hard on the Russians by “by doing your job worse than usual.”
The country’s Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told Reuters: “The examples of Georgia and Ukraine, which both lost a part of their territory, show us that we cannot rule out a similar kind of situation here, and that we should be ready,”
Distrust of NATO’s promises is not unfounded. Despite what up to now has been a solid EU front in support of sanctions against Russia, seven countries in the European Union have said they will support ending them. Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Hungary and Slovakia are reportedly in agreement on the matter. Such a crack in the bloc will only encourage Russia not to fear the European paper tiger.
Fortunately, in an op-ed article in The Times of London, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron declared their commitment and “enduring mission” to fight the growing terror threats and stand up to Russian aggression against Ukraine. They said they will face Russia’s aggressive stance in Ukraine since the failure to challenge Moscow may lead to instability as Putin continues to ignore international law. Their position allays some anxieties but only if the US and UK maintain their position.
Some Western pundits also see this threat but not nearly enough of them. Bloomberg news wrote: “Vladimir Putin undermines NATO members by stirring up trouble with Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, and with Russia's Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and Lithuania. Recent airspace encounters show Russia’s willingness to test NATO’s capabilities.”
Russia’s militarization also foresees its development of the capability to threaten several neighbors at once on the scale of its present operation in Ukraine, according to Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges.
Hodges, commander of US Army forces in Europe, told Reuters last week that an attack on another neighbor does not seem imminent because Moscow appears to have its plate full in Ukraine for now.
But that could change within a few years, Hodges said, when upgrades sought by Putin would give Russia the ability to carry out up to three such operations at the same time, without a mobilization that would give the West time to respond.
“Right now, without mobilizing, I don’t think they have the capacity to do three major things at one time. They can do one thing, I think, in a big way without mobilizing. But in four to five years, I think that will change,” Hodges said. “Certainly within the next four to five years they will have the ability to conduct operations in eastern Ukraine and pressure the Baltics and pressure Georgia and do other things, without having to do a full mobilization.”
In view of the latest wave of Russian aggression against the former captive nation, the joint defense concept charted by Yaroslav Stetsko and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in 1943 is worthy of a revival. The resulting Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN) was created as a coordinating center for the liberation of captive nations of the Soviet Russian empire.
The former captive nations may have another opportunity to resuscitate such a structure. According to the Latvian Foreign Ministry, plans are under way to convene in May the next session of the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga that is aimed at intensifying ties between the EU and six of the other former Soviet republics – Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. The participants would be remiss if they didn’t form a regional security and defense organization along the lines of ABN or NATO that would include a well-armed and funded multi-national rapid deployment force.
Not surprisingly, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin had also alluded to the imperativeness of such a far-reaching coalition. Outraged by the Russian invasion of his homeland, Klimkin suggested soon after President Petro Poroshenko’s visit to Canada and the United States last fall the creation of a Coalition of Freedom to defend democracy and Western values in a troubled world.
“It is about security for everyone,” said Klimkin during an exclusive Fox News interview on the eve of the 65th UN General Assembly. “If someone in this interchangeable and intertwined world cannot feel secure, how can US citizens here feel secure?”
Klimkin explained then that Ukraine is confronting a threat any nation can face, adding “we need a network of security.” His Coalition of Freedom would consist of “countries which are committed to freedom, to democratic values, where we are not talking about spheres of influence, but the values and real interests of democratic countries.”
I applauded his decision in my blog at the time.
Undeniably, the former captive nations are being threatened by Russia and cannot trust their sovereign, independent existence to the whims, politics and nervousness of NATO and the free world. They must unite for their joint security and defense and to protect themselves from Russian aggression.