Baltics to Fight Russia from the First Mile

The 600-plus fortifications and other measures announced in January will spread across the Baltic states and will border both Russia and Belarus. The aim, a fundamental change in approach, will seek to channel any Russian invasion toward massive mobility hurdles in the form of bunkers likely stocked with reserves of mines, barbed wire, and materials for the construction of major anti-tank mobility traps such as dragon’s teeth.

Construction on the first bunkers is planned for 2025 and will cost at least an estimated €60m ($65m.)

The only military threat to the Baltic states, now as in centuries past, comes from Russian imperialist designs. The Russian despot’s predecessor and sidekick, Dmitry Medvedev, said on March 15 that Latvia does not exist, the same formulation the Kremlin uses for Ukraine. Western military planners have suggested they are taking the threat seriously.

NATO exercises have often gamed out how to defend or liberate the occupied Baltics, and policymakers have had deal with the threat of Russian gray zone or hybrid warfare attacks. Since last year’s Vilnius summit, the alliance has moved from a forward presence of a few battalions to forward defense, which aims to hold territory.

The old Baltic plan of total defense strategies, including mobilizing resistance among the civilian population, is no longer considered adequate. As Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas complained in summer 2022, the old plan allowed Russia to capture the Baltics and flatten their towns before (hopefully) NATO forces liberated whatever remained.

The defensive fortification line proves that all that once was old is new again; it puts the hinge of defensive success on preventing a conventional Russian offensive from breaking through, rather than bracing for some form of asymmetric conflict.

From a tactical perspective, this investment reflects the changes in the last 10 years of the Ukraine war. Russia’s seizure of Crimea spawned fears of similar operations conducted in NATO countries that might not provoke an Article Five response in time to defend the sovereignty of the invaded ally. While those sorts of operations still feature in the Russian playbook — and are being used against Estonia — the last two years of massive military operations show the need for major conventional defensive systems.

Read the rest at CEPA.

Michael DiCianna is a Research Assistant at Yorktown Institute.

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