The Russian Federation’s aggressive stance in Eastern Europe is forcing America and NATO allies to reevaluate their defensive postures. The Russian military may not be comparable to its former Soviet glory, but recent strides made in modernization and clever economy of force stratagems have resulted in a leaner, more cunning Red Bear. Russian ambition has grown in the past decade, showcased by the 2008 invasion of Georgia, the “Little Green Men” in Belarus, and the condemned invasion of parts of Ukraine. These examples have caused Russia’s Baltic neighbors to wonder aloud whether they will be the next domino to fall. The Baltic states, aware of how feeble their defenses are when compared to the colossus to their east, have even started routine insurgency training for their citizens. Despite being party members of NATO, these countries recognize that a swift Russian invasion would quickly force them back under Moscow’s reign before the West could mobilize. However, a detailed report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggests the Russians have something a little more elaborate in mind than the stereotypical use of Russian brute force.
A conventional Russian invasion of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia would be over within two days—well before anything could stop them. Yet, the Kremlin has positioned its military units in a manner that would be conducive to projecting asymmetric force into the Baltic nations while the order of battle surrounding Ukraine suggests a conventional attack. This is contrary to mainstream concerns of a surprise Russian invasion of the Baltics to unify Moscow’s former states and their exclave in Kaliningrad, which has a significant nuclear stockpile. ISW’s asymmetric warfare arguments are not convenient. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia may be all but indefensible against a rapid Russian mechanized attack, but little attention is given to the glaring fact that NATO forces are even more ill-suited to prevent an asymmetrical attack on the Baltics. A Russian invasion of any NATO state will mobilize the alliance, and Moscow knows it. While Russia will secure their Baltic prize, they cannot compete with the industrial and military might of America and Europe for long. However, a limited gains campaign of subversion and deceit might allow the Kremlin to accomplish its goal of reunifying some Soviet territory under Moscow’s rule. The West’s parochial focus on the Baltics also overlooks the evidence of a potential conventional invasion of Ukraine.
The most significant indicator of Russian intent is the arrangement of combat divisions in Western Europe. Russian military doctrine is heavily influenced by the Soviet concepts of preparation and organization prior to initiating combat. Although this is true of even a semi-professional military, the Russians put noticeably more effort into their preparations. The commanding officer of the Western Military District (WMD), an academy-trained armored officer, is methodical in his preparations. The most telling indicator of Russian intent is the pairing of combat regiments under a division headquarters with significant combat support battalions and regiments in tow.
The Southern (SMD) and Western (WMD) Military Districts’ division headquarters have been restructured in heavily guarded rear areas, close to the Ukrainian border, and are mutually supported, directly threatening the main cities in Ukraine. The WMD even stationed two mechanized combat battalions to Ukraine’s west, in Moldova, on an ostensible peacekeeping mission, ready at a moment’s notice to strike Odessa on the Black Sea. Ukraine is being threatened along its entire eastern border and to its rear by the Russian 1st and 20th Armies from the WMD and the 8th, 58th, and 49th Armies from the SMD. Russia’s venerated Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol threatens the entire southern seaboard with blockade, bombardment, and amphibious assault.