Friday, November 18, 2016

No, Putin is not invading

Some of you may have read a recent piece in Foreign Policy predicting a Russian hybrid warfare invasion in Latvia.  If you did see the piece and are worried about what President Trump means for our safety in the Baltic's no need to be afraid, we will be just fine.  To note, I think President Trump's reset 2.0 with Putin is a bad idea and will embolden him.  It is also troublesome to have a US president in power who doesn't care about the Baltic states or NATO at a time of such high security tensions in the region.  That said, an incompetent President Trump doesn't doesn't necessarily mean another war.  The impact of the reset will be more felt in places like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. 

Miller has most likely never been to Daugavpils and so a few shortcomings should be noted.  First, Putin is not crazy.  He has interests, goals, and is willing to take appropriate measures to accomplish those goals and defend his interests.  Consolidating gains in Ukraine is important for Putin.  Getting rid of sanctions is important to Putin.  Increasing Russian influence in the region is important.  Weakening the EU as a unitary actor is important.  Reducing US influence (unilateral influence in particular) is important.  Geographical conquest in the Baltic states is not important. 

Russia tried to gain ownership and control of key energy infrastructure in the Baltic states and was rebuffed.  Their response was to simply build their own despite the expensive costs.  The Baltic states do not represent the Russian religious nation like Miller claims. Ukraine and Crimea in particular have a much more historical and normative value for Russia than the Baltic states. The only reason for Russian hostility against the Baltic states would be to discredit NATO, but that isn't as high of a priority with future NATO expansion already off the table. 

The cost of military incursion in the Baltic states is also significantly higher than Ukraine.  Even if a president Trump decided that he would not invoke article 5 Germany and other European countries would and would send troops and arms into the Baltic states.  It would be a military incursion that would cost Russia significant amounts of blood and treasure.  It could even cost Russia in terms of non Western support like China, which is always very cautious about international intervention and the changing of borders. 

Lastly, Miller overlooks the domestic situation in the Baltic states. Russia's hybrid warfare is much more difficult to pull off because of the well functioning governance.  Russian speaking minorities are less likely to riot, protest and much less likely to support Russian intervention.  The pensions, wages, and options are all better.  The use of paid imported protesters, mercenaries, and trouble makers would not have the same impact due to the Baltic states readiness for such tactics.  Internal security is a high priority and riot reaction and other crisis reaction measures have been gamed out in detail over the past two years. 

The last flaw in Miller's argument is the idea that a military confrontation will automatically escalate to WWIII.  Russia's hybrid warfare is designed to reduce Russia's responsibility for the intervention.  If there was some type of "local" militia that would pop up NATO forces could be called in to suppress it and Russia would then be faced with the decision to confirm that it is Russian troops involved or to just let the militia lose and back down.   I wouldn't put it past President Putin from trying to test the waters a bit but he would not be willing to risk WWIII over Daugavpils. Would President Trump be willing to send in some troops to help Latvia put down a Russian backed "local militia"?  Most likely.  I doubt Trump would appreciate being stabbed in the back by Putin.  There are other arenas to wage the war of geopolitics and other interests that Russia has to worry about other than Daugavpils. 

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