Discussion „Conventional and hybrid threats in the Baltic region“

Discussion „Conventional and hybrid threats in the Baltic region“ took place in Eastern Europe Studies Centre. It was organized by RESC alongside with CEPA, National Defense Foundation and an annual V. Adamkus conference. Participants included Lt Gen Ben Hodges, former commander of the United States Army Europe (2014-2017) and current Pershing chair in strategic studies at the Center for European Studies (CEPA), Deputy Minister for Defense Giedrimas Jeglinskas and Lithuanian Military Academy expert Nortautas Statkus. Discussion was moderated by the director of the EESC Linas Kojala.

There were three main themes in the discussion. First of all, NATO cohesion was recognised as a main strength of the alliance. Cohesion of the alliance guarantees that alliance will not be attacked. It is the best deterrent method. Even if Russia attacked Baltic States, Russia would win only if alliance would fail to respond. In this case, Russia would achieve its primary strategic goal – undermining the alliance and invoking the feeling of mistrust between alliance partners. Secondly, we should look at the entire Eastern NATO flank as a coherent unit. Overfocus on Baltic States leaves Black Sea region vulnerable to the manipulations of Russia. Black Sea is even more important for Russia – Sevastopol is an important infrastructural center, and acts as a staging pad for any Russian military operations. In order to ensure cohesion on NATO eastern flank, USA has to not only focus on the Baltic States, but also include Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey in its defensive plans. Third theme was complicated USA-Turkey relations. Turkey was always important for USA because of its geostrategic location. It was admitted that USA, fighting with ISIS, made a mistake by arming Kurds. In doing so, USA did not listen to its allies concerns and alienated Turkey. Failed fighter jet deal between USA and Turkey was also mentioned. Turkey decided to acquire Russia S-400 fighter jets, because Turkish government was afraid that, in case of another coup, Americans might shut down their Patriot anti-aircraft defense system. Turkey wanted to have non-American made weapons, while USA did not want to sell them new F-35 fighter jets for fear that S-400 can spy on F-35.

During the discussion, probability of USA-China war was also mentioned. The cause of the conflict could be events in Honk Kong that resemble events in Tiananmen square. In the event of such war, USA would need to have a global entrance. In order to do so, they need to have military infrastructure all over the globe. To achieve this, USA needs allies. Participants of the discussion decided that most trustworthy allies of the USA are in Europe, along with Canada and Australia. USA appreciates allies based not only on their defense budget share, but also on their geostrategic importance. Participants of the discussion came up with an idea that Poland, Lithuania and USA should create more integrated military alliance inside NATO. This would help USA to expand its military infrastructure, meanwhile Poland and Lithuania would ensure the safety of the Suwalki gap. Security of this area could be further enhanced by creating additional formats inside NATO, including non-NATO countries such as Sweden and Finland.

Participants of the discussion decided that Georgia should be invited to NATO as soon as possible. This would stop Russian attempts to expand the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition to this, economic flow would also change. Meanwhile, Ukraine is not yet ready to join NATO. Ukraine should have a transparent defense budget, improve the conditions of military academies and create infrastructure what could accept ships and other military machinery from hypothetical allies. Another country from this region was also mentioned – Belarus. This state, a nominal ally of Russia, at this moment has no Russian troops within its borders. This situation is satisfactory for Poland, Lithuania and USA. However, participants of the discussion were quick to mention that Belarus has logistical capabilities to accept Russian troops. Belarus is pretty much unknown factor for USA. USA should continue to search for some sort of leverage in order to influence Belarus. Opening an embassy in Minsk could be a good first step.