After Ukraine, does Russia have designs on the three Baltic states?by Andrew Stuttaford / July 16, 2015 / Leave a comment
For years now the Instagram entries of an expat friend in Tallinn on social media have been what you’d expect—local scenery, a cat picture or two, a glimpse of his toddler. But one of the latest shows something disconcertingly different: an American A-10 flying over the Estonian capital. Known as the “Warthog” or, more flatteringly, as a “tankbuster,” this ugly but effective plane is typically used to attack forces on the ground. Its presence was part of a continuing effort by Nato to signal to Russia that, as President Barack Obama explained in Tallinn last September there are “no junior partners or senior partners [within Nato]—there are just allies, pure and simple… The defence of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defence of Berlin and Paris and London.”
Under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, an “armed attack” on one Nato member is to be regarded as an attack on all. Fine words, but the challenge for Nato is to ensure that they are never put to the test. For his part, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin knows that there is no better place than the Baltics—nearby, lightly defended, far from the Nato core and with a large Russian minority—to try his luck.
There are two main reasons why he might be tempted to do so. The first is focused on the United States rather than Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. The US is again Russia’s principal adversary, although the rivalry has changed since Soviet times. It is not nearly as ideological as when communism was out to “bury” the west. Moscow’s geopolitical aims are more modest, too: it believes that the US just has to accept that its current dominance must be replaced by a humbler role in a “multipolar” world in which Russia is treated with the respect it thinks it deserves. With respect would come the realisation of Moscow’s second objective: recognition that Russia has a legitimate extraterritorial sphere of interest, much of it encompassed…