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not a description of the baltic counterattack

The Baltic Counterattack

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In my last defence and foreign policy piece, I proposed that a coalition of Baltic coastal countries which are already NATO members should form a smaller, more compact and politically more united alliance which would serve as a deterrent to Russian aggression. However, if these countries want true deterrence against Russian aggression, they must also have a plan to defend themselves against Russia and also send a message to Russia that any acts of aggression will only result in severe pain and humiliation for the aggressor state. Towards that end, I further call for the proposed alliance develop a plan for a combined counterattack in the case of Russian provocation, something that I’ll refer to in the future as the Baltic counterattack. 

Let’s first recapitulate the key points from our last piece. Understanding that America is experiencing a crisis of leadership and a period of indecision, a coalition of Eastern and Northern European countries, most of whom have a Baltic coastline should form a defensive alliance. The alliance should function as a mini-NATO in the case of Russian aggression and should not preclude NATO membership. The proposed member states are: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with options for Czechia and Romania to join if they choose. 

Now, let’s define what we mean by Russian provocation. By this we don’t mean a Russian invasion of any of the member states, but rather a Russian attack on any of these member states meant to test the resolve of NATO, or of the new alliance, provided it’s formed. In the last piece, I cited Anders Puck Nielsen’s fears that Russia might engage in a small-scale provocation attack against one of the Baltic states. This scenario has since been mentioned as a possibility by the head of Polish military counterintelligence, Jarosław Stróżyk in an interview. Stróżyk specifically names the Estonian city of Narva or the Swedish Baltic Sea islands as possible targets of Russian provocation. The Baltic counterattack plan would be activated in case of precisely such a provocation. 

The Russians, of course, have every reason to test NATO’s resolve in this way. The theatrics of MAGA in US Congress, the timid approach of Germany to the Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as the election of the pro-Russian Robert Fico as Prime Minister of Slovakia, along with the rise of other pro-Russian parties and individuals in Europe send a strong signal that NATO may be weaker than it appears, not because its military capacity is low, but because its political unity – i. e. the willingness of member-states to go to war for each other is low. The only way to make sure, however, is to test NATO and this can be done by a small operation such as a raid into Estonian or Latvian territory or a brief occupation of one of the Baltic Sea islands. In particular, Russian media seems to be fixated on the Swedish island of Gotland as a possible target of occupation. 

If formed, the alliance would have to have a plan for responding to such a provocation which would be independent of NATO and the associated decision-making frameworks, but rather would rely on its own framework. In particular, such a plan would have to account for provocations on member-state territory and formulate a response using only member-state resources. The counterattack plan must already be formed, at least roughly, before the attack happens, so that it may be immediately and violently executed. 

This, of course, will imply a very close level of cooperation between the member states’ governments and militaries, including intelligence sharing and joint operations, all of which will have to take place outside of NATO command structures. It’ll take a lot of political will and capital for such levels of not only cooperation, but for the  public display of distrust in that preparations, joint drills and intelligence sharing of that level would display. This may make the proposed member states reluctant to form the alliance or engage in such levels of cooperation. However, it must be understood that we cannot afford to wait and see whether NATO is a coherent alliance or not. When the provocation happens, the response must be swift and decisive. 

Since the provocation is likely to come from Russia, this presents some unique problems. The Russian state has historically engaged in aggression and has only backed down from such aggression when violently defeated. Showing weakness or even a natural human aversion to violence and war will only be interpreted by the aggressor state as an invitation for more aggression. Thus, in designing the Baltic counterattack, we must follow the very un-Christian maxim of “if a man strike ye on the cheek, hack off his arm and beat him with it.” 

If the provocation arrives in the form of a raid or temporary occupation of territory, whether it is an Estonian or Latvian border region or an island in the Baltic Sea, the response must obviously include a removal of the invaders from the territory of the member state. Care must be taken to inflict a military defeat on the invading/provoking force and if possible, to degrade their fighting capabilities. However, since the aggressor state has historically proven itself to respect no treaties and laws, only force the response must also include a disproportionate counterattack. 

As soon as the aggressor state commences its provocation, the member states of the alliance must launch an immediate counterattack using long range strike capabilities, in particular ground-launched missiles and air power in order to destroy Russian military assets in the Baltic Sea region. A perfect target for such strikes would be the ships, port infrastructure and command facilities of the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet. Of similar value as targets would be the assets of the VKS, the Russian Airspace Forces within the Baltic Sea region. This would include the base facilities of the VDV, the Russian paratroopers in Pskov, which is within strike distance of many weapons systems from Estonian and Latvian territory Given that the VDV is almost certain to be involved in any provocation, striking their base facilities will add a very necessary element of justice to the Baltic counterattack. 

In addition to these long range strikes, it may be possible for the alliance to push ground troops into Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea coast formerly known as Königsberg and headquarters of the Baltic Sea fleet and stage a demilitarisation of this area. Every Russian military asset in Kaliningrad and its surroundings should be destroyed or captured, including elements of Russia’s internal security apparatus such as FSB or Rosgvardia (national guard). Since the counterattack’s purpose is not to seize and hold Russian territory, but rather to punish the aggressor state and to demonstrate resolve, alliance troops can later be withdrawn from Kaliningrad Oblast, after the demilitarisation process is complete. 

Having thus used long range strike capabilities and an incursion on Kaliningrad to punish the aggressor state and severely degrade its military capabilities and once the aggressor state troops have either been forced to retreat from alliance territory or destroyed, the alliance should declare the matter closed. The Baltic counterattack, while violent and decisive, must not be seen as an act of war, just as the aggressor state’s provocation will likely not be called a war. 

Russian aggression has in the past several decades always masqueraded as anything else than a war, culminating in the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine. The reason is quite simple. Russians understand that Western powers take the distinction between war and peace seriously and as such have trouble thinking in the grey zone between war and peace. Thus, the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, when Russian soldiers with the national emblems removed from their uniforms illegally entered and annexed the Crimean peninsula. In this respect, the Russian state behaves less like a European state and more like a Middle Eastern despotism, which is never truly at war in the European sense, but not at peace either. 

Since the aggressor state refuses to abide by traditional European distinctions between war and peace, it must be responded to in similar vein. The alliance, having executed the Baltic counterattack and hopefully crippled Russia’s ability to act in the Baltic Sea region must, like Iran after it launched its missiles at Israel with no intent of hitting anything of importance, declare the matter closed and refrain from declaring war. The ball would then be in Russia’s court, where they’ll face the choice of either going to war with the alliance or accepting the defeat and dealing with the resulting humiliation and loss of prestige. 

Thus described, the Baltic counterattack is designed as a deescalatory measure. If (or when) Russia attempts to bait NATO into either responding to a provocation or losing face, such an immediate and violent yet limited counterattack would serve to conclude the matter immediately as well as shifting the risk of losing face and prestige to Russia. An immediate destruction of Russian air and naval assets in the Baltic Sea will permanently decrease Russian capacity for troublemaking in the region and thus ensure a more secure future for the member states of the proposed alliance. The attack of Russian military assets on Russian territory would also demonstrate that Russia does not have free options and that every aggressive act against its neighbours will cost it dearly. In a sense, the Baltic counterattack must be designed to teach Russia that old Italian saying: “You fuck up once, you lose two teeth.” 

Having thus had its teeth kicked in, the aggressor state will likely refrain from aggression in the future, at least towards its Baltic neighbours. That is, of course, unless they choose to further escalate in the wake of the Baltic counterattack to a full-scale war with the proposed alliance’s member states. However, knowing what we know now, after two and a half years of Russian incompetence in waging a full-scale war against Ukraine, I’m confident that such a conflict can only end in a resounding victory for the proposed Baltic alliance. 

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