An invasion of Estonia and the other two Baltic States by Vladimir Putin's Russia would fit the pattern of much of his lengthy presidency, a recent opinion piece by US politics portal Politico argues, and if successful would pay dividends in terms of support, just as those into Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2014, did.
However, the key difference is NATO membership of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – not just on paper but with allied boots on the ground and jets on the apron.
Putin, the piece argues, needs victory, at a time when mass protests at the arrest of Alexei Navalny were seen in cities across Russia – not to mention economic woes – to maintain momentum towards future possible terms as president and to recoup the wave of popularity that followed the annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
While doing so at Estonia's expense, along with that of Latvia, Lithuania and the NATO alliance, might fit the bill and also have the effect of showing NATO up as some sort of paper tiger, Politico argues, this would also come with risks, although at the same time these could be mitigated via hybrid ops.
Borders could still be crossed, notably into Ida-Viru County, whose population is about 74 percent ethnic Russian, with similar Irredentism having legs in eastern Latvia as well, while ast the same time, NATO would take around three months to properly mobilize a force that would outnumber the putatitive Russian troops, the piece argues.
Compare this with the three weeks taken from Crimea referendum to annexation and, Politico says, a picture of how indefensible the Baltics are in the shorter-term is clear.
Even in conventional terms, Russia has an absolute supremacy in tanks, fighter aircraft and rocket artillery.
While NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups, including the U.K.-led unit at Tapa, east of Tallinn, have been a fact for around four years now, actions such as Emmanuel Macron referring to the alliance "brain-dead", his doubts over U.S. commitment to Article 5, the lynchpin of collective security, and those in key NATO countries France, Spain, Germany and Italy in voting two-to-one against coming to the aid off an ally in the event of conflict with Russia, and the cracks are clear, the piece argues (even internal leaders in Estonia have cast doubt on NATO integrity - ed.).
However, of potential targets, several other neighboring (to Russia) countries other than the Baltic States – including two which have seen Russian incursions in the recent years (i.e. Georgia and Ukraine) might be more viable, along with other foreign entanglements including the alliance with Bashar al-Assad's Syria.
What is certain, the piece says, is that such adventures pay off for Putin in terms of support – the president's monthly approval rating catapulted from an average of 65 percent in 2012 and 2013 to 81 percent from 2014 to 2018, something which experts have called the "Crimean consensus".
The full Politico piece is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte