1. New bunkers and barbed wire at the border
  2. The Baltic countries "are more secure than ever before"
  3. Scenarios for attacking the Baltics
  4. All hopes are on the US and Ukraine's victory

The Baltic states are building defenses along their borders with Russia and Belarus, preparing for a possible invasion. Even London and Berlin are warning of a NATO-Russia war within a few years.

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Currently, Russia is bogged down in Ukraine, and NATO is deploying more troops to Russia's neighbors, making the alliance more prepared for an attack than before. However, Russia has put itself on a war footing, and it will be difficult for Moscow to retreat from a war economy. There are scenarios outlining how and when Russia might attack the Baltics, reports the Financial Times. has read the longread and selected the most interesting parts for you.

New bunkers and barbed wire at the border

Excavators and concrete mixers have appeared on fields in Estonia to upgrade NATO's eastern border with Russia. Hundreds of reinforced bunkers are being built as part of a new line of defense to protect the Baltic states.

Lithuania is building anti-tank barriers with barbed wire and concrete blocks on its borders with Russia and Belarus. Latvia and Finland have also put up fences. But Baltic leaders see Russia's defeat in Ukraine as the best way to ensure their security.

Латвійський кордон із Білоруссю, 8 серпня 2023-го (Фото: EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA)
Latvian border with Belarus, August 8, 2023 (Photo: EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA)

"Ukraine is existential right now for us," says Žygimantas Pavilionis, head of the Lithuanian parliament's foreign affairs committee.

Recent months have brought a flurry of warnings about a possible Russian attack on NATO in the next decade, the publication reminds us. Not only are Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn concerned, but ministers in Stockholm, Berlin and London are also suggesting that war could indeed break out.

Латвійський кордон із Білоруссю, 8 серпня 2023-го (Фото: EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA)
Latvian border with Belarus, August 8, 2023 (Photo: EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA)

Regional leaders see the Baltic states, with their small territories and narrow land links to the rest of NATO, as the place where Russian dictator Vladimir Putin might try to test the Alliance's unity through provocations or direct attack.

This anxiety is exacerbated by the prospect of Donald Trump's return to the White House, which raises doubts about America's willingness to protect Europe if Europeans themselves are unable to defend themselves adequately.

The Baltic countries "are more secure than ever before"

The growing nervousness is accompanied by a sense that the Baltic countries, having joined NATO, are safer than they have been in centuries. It is "a paradox," admits Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. Last year, the Alliance was strengthened by the accession of Finland and Sweden, turning the Baltic Sea into a "NATO lake."

Led by Germany, the US, and the UK, NATO countries are sending additional troops to the Baltics and plan to increase defense spending from the current 2% of GDP to 3% in the coming years. Meanwhile, Russia is bogged down in Ukraine, and its western border regions near the Baltics and Finland are almost empty of troops.

"We are more secure than ever before. If Putin tests NATO, NATO will work," says Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna.

Tsahkna's words underscore the line that regional officials are following: a balance between raising the alarm without being alarmist, investing more in defense, and maintaining confidence in collective security.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO 20 years ago, just weeks before they became members of the European Union. Annexed by the USSR in 1944, the three countries regained their independence in the early 1990s. Their frequent warnings about Russian revanchism were ignored, a mistake now acknowledged by French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders.

Security services apply a standard model to assess the threat – whether Russia has the intention and capability to attack. The intention is there. Regarding capabilities, there is agreement that, having directed all its resources to Ukraine, Russia will not be able to attack NATO shortly.

Scenarios for attacking the Baltics

Russian plans envisage doubling their troops on the Baltic front to 40,000 by 2026, with a significant increase in tanks and armored vehicles, notes the Financial Times. Russia's war in Ukraine complicates adherence to this schedule.

With defense spending at 6-7% of GDP, Russia has established a defense industry, producing 4 million artillery shells per year, hundreds of tanks, and armored vehicles. Although a significant portion of this is low-tech equipment, Russian factories significantly outpace Western ones in terms of quantity. By transitioning to a war economy, the Kremlin may not be able to reverse course [after the war against Ukraine].

"It’s not a question of whether [Russia] wants to stop, but it’s a question of whether it can stop. Because when you’ve put all your bets on the military economy, you have millions of people who are armed and trained. And, all of a sudden, you say: ‘Now, we go home,'" says Lithuanian Prime Minister Šimonytė.

Former national security adviser and ex-head of Latvia's Foreign Intelligence Service, Jānis Kažociņš, sees two scenarios.

The first – Russia succeeds in Ukraine and tries to exploit the West's weakness under Trump. A sudden attack against a Baltic country followed by a nuclear threat to deter NATO intervention.

The second – Kyiv and the West withstand the war in Ukraine, Russia carries out provocations, dozens of hybrid attacks, sabotage, assassinations, and stirring up of the Russian-speaking populations – everything short of an invasion.

Russian-speaking minorities make up about a quarter of the population in Estonia and Latvia. Baltic officials admit they are vulnerable to disinformation from Russian media, but Moscow's ability to use them as a weapon is decreasing: older generations are dying, and younger people are more integrated.

In Lithuania, the Russian-speaking minority is significantly smaller, but vulnerable due to geography. It borders the heavily militarized Russian Kaliningrad, where, according to Lithuanian intelligence, there is nuclear weaponry, and Belarus, which is completely controlled by the Kremlin.

Next is the narrow strip of the Lithuanian-Polish border – the Suwałki Gap. For many military experts, this is the most vulnerable section of NATO. Restraining Russia here involves depriving it of the ability to exploit any geographical weaknesses of the Baltics.

"It’s the wet dream of Putin to test Article 5. Putin longs to abolish NATO, to be the leader who really challenges NATO, and it falls apart," believes Rihards Kols, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian Parliament.

NATO's strategy is to protect the Alliance's territory "from the first metre," not allowing Russian invaders to destroy cities, as they did in Ukraine. In other words, to make Russia's attack prohibitively difficult and costly.

Therefore, the Alliance is increasing its presence in the Baltics. In 2016, after the annexation of Crimea, it added multinational battalions and combat groups of troops. Now it is expanding battalions of about 1,000 soldiers to brigades of 3,000-5,000. These forces are intended to hold back Russia during the initial attack until reinforcements arrive.

All hopes are on the US and Ukraine's victory

The decisive guarantee of NATO's strength for the Baltic countries remains the US. Keeping the US engaged in NATO and in Ukraine is a top priority.

Baltic leaders share a broad skepticism about the ability of European states to replace the US. Despite criticism of America for its inability to provide weapons to Ukraine, in the Baltics, they expect Germany to make the largest contribution to strengthening the Alliance's frontline defense. Berlin is rearming its army, pledging to station troops in Lithuania – the first permanent deployment of their army abroad after World War II.

Прапори Литви, НАТО та Німеччини під час навчань Альянсу в Литві, червень 2023-го (Фото: EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA)
The flags of Lithuania, NATO and Germany during the Alliance exercises in Lithuania, June 2023 (Photo: EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA)

France and Britain are weaker players. Macron's hint that he might send troops to Ukraine is welcomed in the Baltic region, but there are doubts that Paris's actions will match its rhetoric.

Frontline states would like Britain to take a larger role, but they are not certain that it will invest enough in the army to do so.

Analyst Thomas Jermalavičius from the International Centre for Defence and Security think-tank in Tallinn says that the Baltic region currently feels particularly vulnerable. There is a sense that two preconditions for security policy after independence are under threat: never to be occupied again and never to fight alone again.

First, the scale of Russia's offensive against Ukraine indicates that the deployed allied forces in the region are insufficient to deter Moscow, and the West is reacting too slowly to aggression. Second, the war in Ukraine has drawn attention to the discrepancies between the frontline countries and the rest of NATO in assessing Russian threats.

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