Is Russia planning a hybrid war in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania? What would a conventional war look like if Russia chose to take that path? Some thoughts from the experts (my translation):
In the context of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine there is a lot of talk about a hybrid war: that Vladimir Putin will attack Narva, Moscow would then be able to save Russian speakers of Latvia or the Klaipeda region. But the war may be conventional, and then the first target will be Lithuania, which has a very convenient corridor from Kaliningrad to Belarus.
Latvia and Estonia, of course, will not remain intact either, as Russian cannot be limited to a corridor through Lithuania, because such a corridor will be a security risk.
So says the analyst from the Eastern European Research Center, Marius Laurinavičius. According to him, the Russians already believe that they are at war with the West. Since Kaliningrad is important for Russia for defines, and as an outpost for attack, it remains one of the most sensitive points if a conventional military conflict ever starts.
“The Russians constantly believe that they are at war with the West. In their worldview, in the military situation the question of Kaliningrad comes to the fore. Kaliningrad to them has always been and will be used for defense against the West, and an outpost for attack. For Russia, this region has a very large military value.” said Laurinavičius.
Kaliningrad, to which Russia has not land access, occupies 8301 square kilometers, and is home to about 1 million people. This territory belonged to Prussia for about 700 years, but at the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union occupied the Kaliningrad region, the population was exposed to destruction or repatriation, and was award the right to the territory at the Potsdam Conference.
During the Cold War it was the most militarized zone in Europe, after the Iron Curtain disappeared, the area experienced a time of disintegration, but now Kaliningrad has again become a real armory. In the Baltic Sea is the Baltic Navy, which has 3500 soldiers and more than 50 warships, and several submarines.
“Over the past 10 years, that is in the Putin era, this area has been strengthened in relation to conventional warfare,” – said defence policy analyst Alexandras Matonis.
“In addition, the Kaliningrad region traditionally has a lot of conventional weapons: a motorised infantry division, reorganization from the divisions in the brigades…
I want to emphasize that right now all the Russian forces in the Kaliningrad region are in constant combat readiness. This means that, if they are given a military task, they can meet it quickly.” said Matonis.
According to Matonis, it is known that the weapons in Kaliningrad are up-to-date. For example, since 2012 the radar airspace surveillance early warning system “Voronezh-DM has been operating near the village of “Pioneer”.
“They can watch all of the airspace not only over the Baltic Sea and Northern Europe, but in practice, between the Azores and Greenland. A very wide range,” – said Matonis.
“It has been reported that the Kaliningrad Air Force is rearmed with anti-aircraft missiles of C300 & C400. This advanced system has an operational range of about 450km. That is, such an air defense can paralyze almost all of the airspace of Lithuania, southern Latvia, and a large part of Poland to the north of Warsaw.”
Matonis noted social problems [in the region]. This [Kaliningrad] is one of the poorest regions of Russia.
“I’d say that the Kaliningrad region is a strongly militarized zone with many social problems, rather high unemployment, due to the fact that the region is separated from Russia, the labor market is isolated, mail can only get through the territory of Lithuania or by air. These factors contribute to the risk of this region. We know that most of the military ranges in the Kaliningrad region are stationed on the border with Lithuania.”
According to Matonis, many military experts believe that the Kaliningrad region is a place where Lithuania could potentially be attacked in case of a conventional conflict: a possible attack across the river Nemunas (Neman), an attempt to block the port of Klaipeda. Another line of attack – in the direction of Belarus to proved the region with a connection to Russia by land, and attempts to prevent aid from Poland.
“This was confirmed by joint exercises with Belarus, which they called “Zapad” [West], the last time they took place was in 2013, when they tested different attack scenarios. The goal of the  “Breakthrough” exercises was to form a link to Belarus.
According to Matonis, in the case of a hybrid war, the region of Klaipeda would also be vulnerable, as this region is home to the citizens of different nationalities. From Kaliningrad it would be easy to move provocateurs from the intelligence services, who could, if necessary, stir up trouble. It would also be possible to deliver contraband weapons from Kaliningrad, according to Matonis.
But he is confident that the Lithuania’s security is less vulnerable than Latvia or Estonia, as there live large groups of non-citizens who are not integrated into society.
“We also have such problems, but not on such a scale. I think it all depends on how we organize the protection of the Constitution and the defense of our country. But it is true that Kaliningrad is a strong destabilizing factor.”
Laurinavičius believes that Kaliningrad is currently underestimated as a threat, since Russia would not necessarily begin a hybrid war against the Baltic states
According to Laurinavičius Russia believes that the only way to protect Kaliningrad is to create a corridor through Lithuania by land, but in fact, Russia needs all the territory of the Baltic states.
“I keep repeating to everybody that we pay too much attention to the threat of hybrid war. Russia is a country that behaves differently. If in Ukraine Russia is using a hybrid war, it does not follow that it will do the same in the Baltics. Every time Russia decides on different tactics. Depending on the purpose, Russia uses different means. Perhaps there will be no war at all. They may use other ways to destroy the EU & NATO and will not need a war.”
Lecturer at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science in Vilnius Raimundas Lopata claims that Kaliningrad has been kept hostage geopolitically. “The concept of a geopolitical hostage is quite flexible, so they can be arranged in certain ways. In this case, the focus is simple – a military bastion.” – said Lopata.
The political scientists agrees that this region poses a threat.
We do not know exactly what is in Kaliningrad, we know a lot that could be. We do not know whether the nuclear weapons have been removed or if they have been updated. In other words, it [Kaliningrad] is a pawn that performs a specific function on this chess board – bullying.” said Lopata
But on the question of whether Lithuania is the most vulnerable because of Kaliningrad, Lopata said that now this does not apply because the Baltic states have joined NATO, “Now this is not just our headache. It was only our pain before, but now it has become a headache for everybody.”