Lessons in Current Russian…

Lessons in Current Russian Aggression and Regional Defense by Baltic States

We’ve been earnestly promoting the concept of a regional former captive nations alliance against Russian aggression for the obvious reason that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine endured the same national hell called the Soviet Union, the evil empire or Russia’s prison of nations.

The Baltic States detailed explanations about the unending dangers posed by Moscow as well as its invasion of Ukraine should convince free world leaders and observers that what these four countries are experiencing can very well spread across Eastern Europe and into “old” Europe.

In testimonies at the Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission on Thursday, March 17, three Baltic government officials affirmed that if Russia isn’t dealt with firmly and immediately in Ukraine, even by vanquishing it, the free world will have to deal with Russia and Vladimir Putin’s unending desire for additional conquests for many years to come. The Kremlin has shattered the post-war security architecture and ersatz peace, leaving the free world to clean up Russia’s mess.

The three Baltic speakers were: Laima Andrikiene, chair, Foreign Relations Committee of the Seimas (Parliament of Lithuania); Marko Mihkelson, chair, Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu (Parliament of Estonia); Rihards Kols, chair, Foreign Affairs Committee of the Saeima (Parliament of Latvia).

Their statements, words and expressions demonstrated the unquestionable belief that the nations of the world will be endangered so long as Putin rules Russia. You could have found many doubters of this eventuality around the world just a few months ago. However, due to Russia’s invasion and war against Ukraine, and its soldiers’ brutal killing of civilians along with children, world leaders and a wide range of pundits have seen the light. They finally understand the warnings that leaders of Eastern European liberation movements have been saying since the end of World War 2.

The parliamentarians pointed out that the future of their common security – indeed, the security of Europe and the free world – is being decided in Ukraine. They understand that Putin’s war against Ukraine is the biggest threat to the Euro-Atlantic security since the end of World War II.

They proposed a new defense and security structure that will feature a new NATO – one that would show political backbone and give the x-captive nations the belief that NATO is ready to, and will indeed protect every inch of their territories.

On the positive side – if there could be one during war – Russia’s invasion has united the world in defense of Ukraine and against Moscow.

In this blog, we’re publishing the Baltic parliamentarians’ opening remarks as well as their key responses during the Q&A session:

ANDRIKIENE: Thank you very much. Honorable Chairman, members of the Helsinki Commission, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I would like to thank the Helsinki Commission for organizing this important and, I would say, unique hearing, as you have three chairs of the foreign affairs committees of the parliaments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It is an honor and a timely opportunity to appear before you today.

Let me start by saying that a global democratic world order in the past decades has been greatly challenged by the autocratic regimes of Russia and China. This competition of powers was shaping the security environment and bringing a lot of tensions over time up until the 24th of February. This day not only changed the established but deceptive peace in Europe exposing the real goals of the autocratic state of Russia, but also unified the democratic western world and created the legend of the greatness of the Ukrainian nation.

The Baltic States for many years have been the whistleblowers trying to draw the attention of the whole world to Russia’s real intentions and ill perception of the world order. The Russian revisionist policy cannot be eliminated by making concessions or one-sided promises to “reset” the relations. Russia has chosen confrontation with the Western world and will remain a major threat for many years to come. Our necessity is to establish a credible defense, since any conflict on our soil would be too costly, not only for our nations but for the alliance as well.

For many reasons, both geographic and historic ones, the Baltic region was bound to remain the most vulnerable part of the NATO alliance, which required special attention of NATO military planners and allies. In addition to the Suwalki Gap issue, Russia’s de facto absorption of Belarus means more than a double increase in the length of the Lithuania-Russia border, which is the NATO-Russia border. Increased Russia’s military footprint in Belarus and its engagement in the war against Ukraine is a game-changer and significantly affects defense calculus in our region and requires the implementation of additional defense measures.

As we all witness today, the Kremlin employs massive propaganda and disinformation campaigns in an attempt to justify its aggression against Ukraine and to conceal its war crimes and atrocities. Kremlin’s anti-Western narratives and its interpretation of the sanctions applied against Russia and of the support provided to Ukraine by the West as an alleged involvement in war against Russia serve the Kremlin as a means of shifting the blame. Strengthening deterrence is no longer enough. We need to build credible defense before it is too late. We must change our approach by moving from deterrence based on limited forward presence and reinforcement to deterrence by denial and forward defense.

This requires not only re-posturing of our forces but also a change in our mindset. The necessary measures should be taken immediately and continue in the long term. We have already taken robust measures to improve the host nation support capacity and are ready to host United States and NATO forces by providing infrastructure, which would enable rapid and smooth deployment of forces and their operation on the territory of our countries, and necessary training conditions. We call on the United States of America to step up its efforts in ensuring our defense, in particular by stationing additional substantial permanent combat forces.

Prepositioning of U.S. military equipment, and enhancement of our region’s air defense would significantly improve our security. In our region, air defense with anti-aircraft and long-range missile defense assets is crucial. We need our own Iron Dome. Air defense over the Baltic States has to be enhanced, including by deploying necessary assets such as combat aviation and surface-based air defense of short, medium, and long ranges in and around the Baltic States.

It would show a political backbone of NATO and give us credibility that NATO is ready to, and will indeed, protect every inch of its territory. For that, we need a strong political will from the U.S. side. Firm support of the U.S. Congress for a persistent U.S. military presence and capability development in the Baltic region is crucial. Lithuania is serious about its defense spending, which will reach 2.5 percent of our GDP this year. We will not stop at that.

Ladies and gentlemen, whilst Russia remains the biggest and the most imminent conventional threat to the Baltic States, China is becoming a pacing threat to our national security. While Putin’s regime is using heavy weaponry, China is weaponizing cross-border economic and trade relations. China is eager to dominate, not to cooperate. We have always backed U.S. efforts in defending our common democratic values and containing China’s global ambitions. China’s targeting the Lithuanian economy with undeclared sanctions and applying various trade restrictions over deepening ties with Taiwan. Lithuania has made it clear that it considers such a manipulative Chinese policy to be contrary to our democratic values and a security challenge.

The case of Lithuania is a test for the entire democratic world of our ability to withstand economic coercion and deter – and to deter China from moving ahead with its redlines and from using coercion as a regular foreign policy tool to advance its goals. Enhanced coordination of actions with international allies, including in WTO, is needed to respond to economic coercion, find systemic long-term solutions, and send a message to China that such coercive actions will not be tolerated. Lithuania is not stepping back. Engagement with democratic Taiwan is in our direct interest. China’s aggressive actions, including its threats to Taiwan, more than ever before, may have a direct impact on European security.

We thank the United States for its strong support to Lithuania in the face of pressure by China, including also in offsetting the effects of China’s economic coercion. In addition, we call on the United States to lead the efforts to encourage our common allies to take a more resolute stance against China’s intimidations. Mr. Chairman, thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to address this distinguished group of U.S. Congressmen. And I very much look forward to my colleagues’ statements and follow-on discussions. Thank you very much.

MIHKELSON: Thank you, Senator Wicker. Distinguished members of Helsinki Commission, those who have witnessed the advance of the Russian brutal war machine with their own eyes are probably keenly aware that it cannot be stopped by gentle words alone. As a young journalist covering the first Chechen War in 1994 to ’96, I learned what Russian authorities were capable of. The carpet bombings of Grozny killed thousands of their own citizens. And for what? To stop the empire from disintegrating and the free will of the people from becoming the norm. The Kremlin’s appetite has only grown in 30 years and has not been thwarted by Western diplomacy, which has lacked proactive strategy towards Russia. Russia’s blatant aggression and military invasion in Ukraine has caused a fundamental shift in the European security architecture and threatens the peace and stability of democratic nations, not only in Europe but worldwide. I argue that the future of our common security will be decided in Ukraine. This is why the Western allies should do everything to coordinate and supply a wide range of lethal weaponry and other help to Ukraine as long and as much as it is needed. At the same time, our leaders should not let Russia feel that it has a green light to destroy one of the biggest democracies in Europe. Putin must be stopped in Ukraine.

Dear colleagues, Putin’s war against Ukraine is the biggest threat to the Euro-Atlantic security since the end of World War II. What we need the most now is a strong and loud allied message that is not only loud in words but will decisively strengthen the deterrence and defense posture in the eastern flank of NATO. Russian military forces in the Western Military District and Kaliningrad hold a geographic advantage and outnumber NATO forces postured in the Baltic region. Russia’s permanent deployment of land forces, fighter jets and air defense assets in Belarus will strengthen Russia’s force advantage even further.

It remains the only part of NATO where Russia can create credible military strategic dilemmas for the alliance, even during this crisis and with short notice, if necessary. This is the region of greatest risk of further Russian aggression. Taking into account the precarious security situation on the borders of NATO’s Eastern flank, I would like to highlight that continuous U.S. engagement and presence in the Baltics is of paramount importance given the vulnerabilities of the region. We welcome the efforts already made by the U.S. and NATO to bolster the deterrence and defense posture in the Baltic region, but more is needed to effectively deter Russia and avoid the risk of miscalculation. And we rely on your support for this.

President Biden’s decision to reinforce the Baltic region with various assets and personnel has been much appreciated, and the recent deployments have been of crucial importance in maintaining a credible deterrence posture. We are doing a lot for our own self-defense. All three Baltic States have their annual defense budgets above 2 percent of GDP and defense cooperation between our countries is at historical high. However, the worsening security situation has highlighted the need for further U.S. support to immediately fill out a number of critical capability gaps in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

I would like to thank the Congress for increasing the resources for Baltic Security Initiative for this year and hopefully also in the future. This sends a strong message to our citizens of U.S. support to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and, more importantly, it enables us to continue our critical regional capability development projects. We need your support with ground-based air defense, as the Baltics should not be left out as the only region in NATO still uncovered by air defense. We are also in need of a long-range fires capability. These are capabilities that the Baltic States plan to develop on their own with the help U.S. security assistance, but such large-scale capability developments take time and the shortfalls in our defense need to be addressed expeditiously.

These are shared objectives among the Baltics that are endorsed by the United States European Command. We hope for the United States’ substantial and consistent security assistance on this, on top of the on-going projects under the Baltic Security Initiative, such as caliber ammunition stocks, and special forces. We need to keep bolstering NATO’s deterrence and defense posture also in the long term. NATO needs a forward defense strategy. This requires strong political will as well as courage to take action. It is detrimental that the United States, as the most credible deterrent, would take leadership role in bolstering the NATO’s eastern flank.

We consider it critical to have the U.S. presence in the Baltics through NATO framework. NATO should prepare to defend the most vulnerable part of the alliance – the Baltic States. And this includes, first, establishing a permanent increased allied forward presence in the Baltic States in the land domain. Second, establishing a sound and appropriate NATO Command and Control, C2, structure that is able to plan and conduct military operations with the Baltic States national home defense forces and allied reinforcement forces. And third, establishing credible air defense posture with additional fighter aircraft and ground-based air defense assets.

Thank you to this Commission for the service that you provide for security and stability in the transatlantic community, including the Baltic region. I look forward to your questions.

KOLS: Thank you, honorable Senator Wicker, honorable Senator Cardin, distinguished members of Helsinki Commission. As a concluding intervention, I think I have the task the most challenging which is to describe the threats that are awake and blurred, and those are the hybrid threats and the hybrid warfare that the Baltic countries have been experiencing since regaining our independence.

So to start with, the Russian General Valery Gerasimov said, “The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.” This encompasses the majority of what I will be addressing to you today. Since we gained our independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, the Baltics have been under constant Russian pressure. For us, having lived in this environment for the majority of our lives, this multi-vector warfare, hybrid warfare tactics, and the chaos they attempt to create have become intuitively recognizable and often seep into the background like white noise.

A key aspect to understanding Russia’s actions is the so-called sootechestvenniki, or compatriots abroad policy. Its officially stated goal is to support Russians living abroad, including defending their interests and rights in their place of residence. In this context, it needs to be emphasized that Moscow, per its compatriots abroad policy and the concept of the Russian world, aims to bind together all Russian speakers – not just ethnic Russians but quite literally even the descendants of ancestors who could have had a connection to, say, tsarist Russia. It considers these minorities as an essential political means of exerting influence.

In past regional wars, Moscow has argued that it must protect Russia’s compatriots. In this Russian world, Putin’s Russia anoints itself with the messianic title of the vanquisher of absolute evil, and with it the right to fight against what it considers fascism. Russia has weaponized information for a very long time, with it targeting not only Russian speakers but also what it deems as its geopolitical opposition, the West too. Spreading disinformation and building up twisted narratives aimed at further support for its political goals. It seeks to destabilize societies and it does so also by its export of corrupt practices, by abusing Western legal and financial loopholes.

Russian doctrine argues that corrupting another country’s elites is part of new generation war. The Russian brand of corruption thrives on globalization and depends on access to the global financial system to loot its own or other states’ funds and assets. The West, however, has several advantages – time, allies, and transparency. Transparency is a potentially devastating tool against authoritarians because when corruption is exposed it delegitimizes the authoritarians. The governments of free societies already face public scrutiny, which positions them well to demand the same of others. Russia’s leaders are afraid of accountability.

Therefore, it is time for the West to realize that corruption is a severe security issue. The Baltic States have a lot of firsthand experience tackling hybrid threats that previously had been tackled by democratic countries at all, such as the recent Latvian, Lithuanian, and Poland experience with illegal migrants sent in from Belarus. Although these dangers were somewhat unexpected, the answer continues to be efficient. Therefore, we in the Baltic see ourselves not only as learners in the field but also as providers of expertise. The Baltic cyber expertise has already benefited democratic countries across the globe, and the same work should continue with border incidents and issues such as countering disinformation and cleaning up financial markets from Russian money streams.

A critical issue is Russia’s weaponization of its energy exports via its state-owned companies, such as Gazprom. Russia has attempted, through varying degrees of success, to use energy exports as a bargaining chip in achieving its political goals. Thus, one of the ways of resisting aggression and strengthening our resilience is the Three Seas Initiative, a new forge of unity between nations in the Adriatic, Baltic, and Black Sea regions, integrating the north-south axis. It is a platform of pragmatic collaboration to create the network of cooperation possibilities for twelve countries of the Central and Eastern European region.

It seeks to promote large-scale infrastructural, digital, and energy-related investments that are highly needed in this geographic area, as the region still faces underdevelopment challenges – mainly in infrastructure, interconnectivity, and mobility – following 50 years of Soviet occupation and its lasting negative setbacks after the USSR’s collapse. Three Seas would help maintain stability and democracy in countries that the Western countries formally describe as peripheral. But we are not peripheral.

We are the frontier where democracy in the entire Western world has to stand or fall. A more robust economic U.S. presence in the region would strengthen transatlantic business, energy, and geopolitical ties to Central and Eastern Europe, while compensating China’s and Russia’s initiatives and actions to advance and make regional in-roads. Accordingly, the Three Seas merits, in our opinion, American continued political support and investment, and investment from across the transatlantic communities.

Dear colleagues, for NATO and Europe this will be a marathon, not a sprint. We cannot afford to be cavalier about our short-term responses, but must do everything in a strategic, organized, conscious, and prepared manner. This should not be mistaken for the lack of resolve and determination to act, but it takes time. Russia spent months building up its forces on the borders of Ukraine. Hybrid threats are often aimed at the most vulnerable points of a state. Thus, supporting a well-educated and informed society, using the means acceptable to them, is a fundamental step in countering hybrid threats. Well-educated and informed societies will be the most resilient force against attempts of historical revisionism, revanchism, and sowing discord.

To conclude, for those who worry that standing up to Russia could just provoke Putin and drag the world into war, we only have to look at the history of the 20th century. Nothing is more provocative to a dictator than the weakness of free nations. Acta non verba (Deeds not words). Thank you.

Q&A Responses

KOHLS So we cannot exclude any Russian-speaking communities in any part of the world being exploited in this kind of way to gain the goals of the regime. When it comes to Latvia, I mean, the current one, we don’t see the – Russia’s actions in Ukraine has come from part of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia as a shock, really, like saying that to the last moment, we didn’t believe that he’s going to do that.

So there are new realities as well – reality check. But, of course, there are, as I call them, Russian chauvinists that no matter what is going to happen, no matter what, how you’re going to put, you know, incentives into integration and et cetera, they will be committed to Mother Russia, to Putin, and et cetera.

So that is something that, of course, our security intelligence community needs to work and identify beforehand. But what I have to say that we still have to do a lot in the West. I mean, it’s been three weeks right now when we suddenly realized that, you know, propaganda channels, we need to actually shut them down.

MIHKELSON This is how Putin is building a Russian world. They don’t care about Russian-speaking population or Russians. They only care about this idea of reshaping world by force and, as we all know, they – you know, Putin and others have declared that the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of 20th century was the breakup of Soviet Union and this is exactly an idea not only to rebuild Soviet Union but Russian Empire, and that’s where human lives doesn’t matter, of their own citizens or the others, and this is where we have to stand as democracies strongly against this right now and do everything that is possible that Ukrainians can win this war because this war is our war as well for democracy and freedom in our world.

ANDRIKIENE: On Putin’s threats, this man is unpredictable. Before the 21st of February, even seeing those – you know, Russia’s buildup along Ukrainian border and in Ukraine, not many people in the world believed that Putin will give an order for a massive military aggression against Ukraine, and I have to say that our intelligence also they – that was, you know, miscalculated. There were, you know, informations that Russian army will be in Kyiv in 48 hours since the beginning of the military attack.

This does not happen and we miscalculated the readiness of Ukrainians to defend their country and the spirit in the country. We also miscalculated the strengths of the Russian army and we miscalculated the position of the European Union on this. Not many politician(s) and political leaders expected this dramatic change with the position of Germany and some other countries, and that changed the situation dramatically.

What I understand that Putin is targeting not only Ukraine, is targeting our security architecture in Europe. If Putin remains in power after this war, we will not have peace.

Lithuania is – we have to support Ukraine until the very end, whatever Putin says, until the victory of Ukraine. If we fail in Ukraine, it will be only a matter of time until Putin continues his aggression against us – against NATO allies, against Georgia and Moldova.

So Lithuania is supporting Ukraine in many different areas and we will continue to do this. And as you possibly know, Lithuania was the first one to provide lethal munition to Ukraine and many other things. Thank you.

ANDRIKIENE: In addition to what has been said, in addition to EU sanctions, Lithuania implemented additional national sanctions against Russia. We suspended broadcasting of eight TV channels from Russia. We suspended sale of Russian and Belarusian printed media outlets. We suspended visas and we also suspended certificates of Russian and Belarusian services and products.

I would like to remind you that Lithuania took legal international action outside the scope of the European Union and NATO framework. We requested that the ICC prosecutor open an investigation into the crimes of the Russian Federation and Belarus committed in Ukraine. And, also, prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland have addressed major online platforms with the request to take measures to stop the spread of Russian disinformation. Thank you.

MIHKELSON: Also, we have to do everything, as I said earlier as well, to make sure that Russia will not miscalculate with possible adventures against some NATO countries, and this is why we have to make immediate steps, perhaps, already next week during NATO summit in Brussels. We have to – additional to that to declare that Article 5 is rock solid and alliance is rock solid.

We have to go and show the steps, what are going to be visible on the ground in terms of allied presence in the Baltic states with building immediate steps to build capabilities we badly need in coming weeks, months, or years, like air defense I mentioned.

But we have to – and here I conclude – we have to be ready for long-term confrontation with current Russia. And this is where the solid and united strategy of Western allies are needed right now.

KOLS: Thank you. Just one comment. I think when you talk about the peace talks, I think what the West needs to avoid is actually by any cause to find to be as intermediaries as to ones that will settle the two sides together. I think it’s exclusively a right only up to Ukraine and the Zelenskyy office in what will be the negotiations or talks and what will be agreed or not agreed.

I think it’s – well, I will not applaud these attempts that, you know, European leaders calling five, six times to Putin, God knows talking about what for one and a half hours, and then each time getting a slap in the face again and again and again. That is – you know, it’s just gaining time for Putin to re-maneuver, to rethink, and so on.

So, therefore, the true talks, if they’re even taking place, is exclusively up to Ukrainians and Russians that are conducted – I don’t know what it is right now – the fourth time, and it’s only for them to determine are they ready for any concrete proposals already being implemented.

All the rest is just empty noise, unfortunately, from Russia sites, in particular, because you cannot talk about peace while you’re bombing civilian objects in Ukraine. Thank you.

ANDRIKIENE: Very briefly. The composition of Russia’s negotiating team speaks for itself. The head of this delegation is former minister of culture, and everybody understands that this delegation is not the one who takes decisions. There were reports that they managed to agree on humanitarian corridors from – at least for the civilians from Mariupol.

But even those agreements – so-called agreements – failed. So what could help in reality is our unified position, united position of democracies of the world – our EU member states, NATO allies, other democratic countries in the world. If, in the 21st century, in the very center of Europe, we cannot guarantee secure corridor for the civilians who are leaving the war zone, I mean, all our words are nothing, and we, in the Baltic states, all our parliaments, we very recently adopted resolutions about security zones, no-fly zones, over humanitarian corridors and nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

They have 15 active nuclear reactors on the territory of Ukraine, and we know what Russian forces were doing in Chernobyl. Their very first target was Chernobyl nuclear power station. Then they went to Zaporizhzhia and there is the third nuclear power station in focus. We have to stop this. We have to avoid, really, a very big – potentially, very big catastrophe. And what could stop Putin is, as I said already, our united stance, our united position, and Ukrainians, who are fighting for their freedom, for their independence, for their families, for the future of their children. Thank you.