The Baltic states call on NATO allies to wake up: Ukraine is just the beginning

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are teaching more and more of their citizens how to fight and have even announced plans to build a defensive line, including bunkers, along the hundreds of kilometers of border that separates their territories from Russia

by Sededin Dedovic
The Baltic states call on NATO allies to wake up: Ukraine is just the beginning
© Leonhard Simon / Getty Images

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, three Baltic states that were once members of the Soviet Union, are now sending an urgent message to their ally Great Britain and other NATO member countries: Russia is a serious threat that will not stop at the borders of Ukraine.

These three countries, located along the border between East and West, are increasingly making their citizens aware of the potential danger and are actively preparing to build defense lines that would protect them from possible Russian aggression.

These include plans to build bunkers and strengthen military capabilities along the hundreds of kilometers of border that separate them from their much larger neighbour. The frightening shadow of the past, in which these countries were under the rule of the Soviet Union, has led them to be especially cautious when it comes to Russia.

Joining NATO two decades ago was a key step towards strengthening their security, but now they face new challenges.

A Lithuanian border fence runs by Lithuanian (L) and Russian border markers along the border to the Russian semi-exclave of Kali© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Great Britain and other allies were focused on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and confronting insurgents and Islamist militants is a very different kind of fight than a conventional war against an equal enemy like Russia.

As concerns grow within NATO about the possibility of a return to large-scale conflict in Europe, teams of journalists travel from northeastern Estonia to southwestern Lithuania to hear the voices of soldiers, civilians and politicians preparing for the eventuality of war.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been aware of the potential threat posed by Russia for decades. However, their warnings and calls for attention were often ignored, especially at a time when Great Britain and other allies were focused on other international conflicts, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the situation is changing. However, NATO's response to this threat was gradual and cautious. But the all-out war launched by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine in 2022 fundamentally changed this dynamic.

The Allies realized that a much greater defensive effort was needed to prevent Russian aggression. The concept of "deterrence by denial" became a key strategy. This means that the NATO alliance is trying to strengthen its defense along the eastern flank of the Baltic states and Poland in order to deter Russia from a possible invasion.

Germany Prepares Tank And Artillery Battalions For Deployment To Poland And Lithuania February 28 2024© Leonhard Simon / Getty Images

These three Baltic states have become vocal advocates of strengthening NATO's response to the threat posed by Russia.

Their warnings are clear: if Russia wins in Ukraine, it will likely try to test NATO's defenses. One of the key points of attack may be the city of Narva, located in the northeast of Estonia, right next to the border with Russia.

Narva is particularly sensitive because most of its residents speak Russian, which could facilitate the eventual infiltration of Russian forces under the pretext of helping Russian citizens living there. Any such move, however, would trigger an allied response according to one of NATO's founding principles – an attack on one is an attack on all.

And this would develop further in a short time and we would already be in the bloodiest war in the history of mankind. Predictions are that this war would not last long, but it would have catastrophic consequences for the population and infrastructure, and in the worst case, a nuclear war would develop, which would mean the end of civilization as we know it today.

NATO commanders believe Hume Island could be another potential target for Moscow in the event of a conflict with the West, due to its strategic location in the Baltic Sea. If Russian troops were to take control of this territory, there is a possibility that they could block access to the sea and isolate the Baltic states, which would make it difficult for allies to help in a possible conflict.

This would foretell the opening of another front, and a huge amount of NATO troops and armaments would be in eastern Europe. In addition to Estonia, similar concerns exist in Latvia and Lithuania, where there is a fear of the possibility of Russia closing access to the Baltic states through key points such as the Suvalki gap.

"The war in Ukraine is ongoing, so the question is not: will Russia be aggressive? She is already aggressive. The purpose of the draft is to strengthen capable and equipped and trained reservists. It is not a replacement of a professional army, but an increase of a professional army," Krisjanis Karins, Latvia's foreign minister, told Sky News in an interview on the sidelines of a major security conference in Munich in February.

This situation requires a strong response to protect the security of the entire region. While the Baltic states are preparing for a possible threat, their ability to defend themselves may depend on the support and engagement of citizens of other NATO member countries, but in the event of armed aggression against one of these states, something that no one can predict awaits us. All are now called to unite in defense of freedom and stability in Europe.

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