January 4th, 2017

Border rumblings with Russia

There’s a lot of posturing going on near the border of Russia with Poland, Belarus and Lithuania:

Lithuania’s foreign minister Linas Linkevicius confirmed Russia’s military activity in Kaliningrad is terrifying the region.

He said: “Iskander missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads have been deployed. There are S-400 missiles and modernised jets.”

Testing, testing.

In addition:

Lithuanian Defence Ministry spokeswoman Asta Galdikaite confirmed America has offered additional military support following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

She said: “The United States was the first to offer additional safety assurance measures to the Baltic countries following the deterioration of the security situation in the region after the annexation of the Crimea.”

She added: “US Special Operations Forces presence in Lithuania is one of the deterrents” against military threats by Putin’s aggressive regime, reports the Express.

One is tempted to remember the exchange between Mitt Romney and Obama over Russia during the second debate of the 2012 campaign. But that’s old news. Now Trump will have to deal with this.

Speaking of old news, please recall that one of Obama’s first moves on becoming president was to scrap the Bush-planned missile defense system for eastern Europe and replace it with a different and NATO-based system. In 2016, that new system was finally put in place last May:

The U.S. and NATO have continually stressed that the system is intended to defend Europe from Iran and its expanding arsenal. Tehran has continued to test-fire ballistic missiles following the internationally negotiated deal to limit its nuclear program.

But Russia has dismissed the justification.

“From the very outset we kept saying that in the opinion of our experts the deployment of an anti-missile defense poses a threat to Russia,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Tass News Agency. “The question is not whether measures will be taken or not; measures are being taken to maintain Russia’s security at the necessary level.”

Looking back at my post from 2009, I see that they are correct that they had objected to the Bush plan. But not the Obama plan, which they had praised:

The Bush administration proposed the European-based system to counter the perceived threat of Iran’s developing a nuclear weapon that could be placed atop its increasingly sophisticated missiles…The Bush plan infuriated the Kremlin, which argued the system was a potential threat to its own intercontinental ballistic missiles…The Obama administration’s assessment concludes that U.S. allies in Europe, including NATO members, face a more immediate threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles and is ordering a shift toward the development of regional missile defenses for the Continent, according to people familiar with the matter…

Russia on Thursday welcomed the news [of the Obama changes] but said it saw no reason to offer concessions in return. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the plan a “responsible move.” He threatened last year to station tactical Iskander missiles on Poland’s border if the U.S. system was deployed.

“We appreciate this responsible move by the U.S. president toward realizing our agreement,” Mr. Medvedev said Thursday. “I am prepared to continue the dialogue.”

So let’s recap on the situation as presented by that history: the Bush plan was scrapped by Obama as a concession to the Russians (apparently in hopes of Russian cooperation on Iran). Russia didn’t do much to thank Obama, and when the new system was finally in place—almost six years later—this is Russia’s response. It’s a challenge to both outgoing president Obama and incoming president Trump, as well as to eastern Europe.

22 Responses to “Border rumblings with Russia”

  1. blert Says:

    Moscow’s latest grand strategy is ‘mixed’ warfare.

    A pinch of this, a snatch of that.

    It’s got a lot of Start-Stop, cypber war, and salami slicing.

    On present trends, Putin has Erdogan on the ropes.

    Barry’s BFF is dropping straight into Vald’s orbit. (!!!)

    I can easily imagine Ankara being kicked out of NATO — by Trump — with plenty of justifications — it’s a dictatorship, etc.

    Once out of NATO, Turkey will begin to implode… with Salafists from the south rending Anatolia apart.

    For starters, we should embargo F-35 exports to Erdogan. He’s sure to leak their secrets to Moscow.

  2. OM Says:

    Some background information from a credible source.


  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Much ado about nothing I suspect. Putin is not going to nuke Lithuania. As to what purpose? You don’t use a cannon as a fly swatter.

    Nor will spec ops troops stop Putin from nuking Poland, which btw Putin has no interest in doing. Putin knows that invading any of the Baltic nations could escalate into a nuclear conflict. Russia invading the Crimea and Ukraine are entirely different situations. They were defensive actions not territorially expansionist in motivation.

    The Iranian threat is real. Russia rightly sees a defensive system on its border as a potential military threat and reacts accordingly. So what? Russia is not going to start a suicidal nuclear war. The Iranians might.

  4. OM Says:

    Some additional background from cdrsalamander.blogspot.com


  5. Jim Doherty Says:

    Om cool link. But current history shows a pattern. First they infiltrate with special forces and kgb types and cause trouble, some assassinations. Get some locals to join up as rebels. Then these people start having protests and waving Russian flags.

    The local government freaks and clamps down, some “protestors”, are hurt or die in some false flag op by the russians. Then Putin starts sabre rattling about the need to protect pro-russian, or ethnic russians in the area, ie georgia and ukraine.

    This is probably why you dont see US heavy units in Lithuania, instead probably Green Berets. They say special ops but I am betting they are counter guerilla types. Nip it in the bud. Ya need people who can handle street fights or deep woods on a small scale.

    Fighter planes and tanks do not scare the Russians, special forces guys who can bag and tag their FSB and spetznaz fellas are a different matter because they tend to collect evidence.

  6. parker Says:

    2 things…

    I agree with GB that there is no real threat to the Baltics, but the Baltics will appreciate NATO (USA) bases and boots on the ground to spend hard currency to prop up their meager defense outlays.


    Your first link mentioned Van Creveld. I have 3 of his books dating back to the early 90s. He is worthy of your attention.

  7. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Tom Clancy told some journalists that they have it easy. All they have to do is write what happens. Fiction writers have to make sense.
    He was referring to the clown show preceding WWI. Looking at the prospects, choosing to start WWII wasn’t very bright, either, The Korean War wouldn’t have been fought except the Sov reps to the UN took a potty break.
    The Franco-Prussian War was started because Bismarck wanted to get the South German Confederation on side and thought a thumping war with France would do it.

  8. Yankee Says:

    Kaliningrad used to be Konigsberg, founded by the Teutonic Knights, and later part of East Prussia, and then Germany, until the end of WWII, that is. The aftermath of that war saw the expulsion of all the Germans, with the city then renamed and repopulated by Russians.

    Kaliningrad is a strategic port for Russia, and about 600 miles from its other major port, St Petersburg (about as far as NYC is from Cincinnati). The nearby three Baltic States have been EU and NATO members since 2004.

    Because of the geography and relative distances of that region, it’s easy for Russia to push back against its smaller neighboring states at little cost to itself.

    Unlike Georgia and the Ukraine, it’s very unlikely for there to be any overt military actions in the Baltic region. Perhaps some poking and prodding, just to set things up for a weaker NATO and weaker West, relative to Russia?

    In such a case, stronger economic and cultural ties can help maintain the independence of the Baltic region, and other states like Poland. So it might be interesting to see what happens with the EU in this coming year, and as the Brexit progresses.

  9. Frog Says:

    GB: “Russia rightly sees a defensive system on its border as a potential military threat.” I do not understand the “rightly”, since the system is defensive, not offensive.

    As to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia: while they were “owned” by the Soviets after WWII, there was much Russian in-migration. So the Baltic States now all house substantial Russian minorities, potentially destabilizing. Not good if your adjacent neighbor is Mother Russia, an elephant compared to the three Baltic kitties.

  10. parker Says:


    Ethnic Russians are not allowed to be full fledged citizens in the Baltics, expelling them would take little effort. The only reason for Mother Russia to occupy the Baltics is to gain more ports on the Baltic Sea, but then they already have St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. Why provoke NATO when Georgia and other soft targets would not risk NATO retaliation?

    Putin/Mother Russia plays the long game. He is testing the waters. He recognized bho as a mannish boy, thus annexation of Crimea. Are you suggesting he is testing the donald?

  11. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Rchard A,

    WWI was both predictable and given the geopolitical dynamics, arguably unavoidable.

    “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” ― Otto von Bismarck, 1888

    Prior to WWII, neither England, France or the US was militarily prepared to go to war with Nazi Germany. Had the French and/or England confronted Hitler, they would have been bluffing and he might have called them on it. IMO, they should have done it anyway. “They choose dishonor” W. Churchill


    In a nuclear conflict, any defensive system that can degrade a retaliatory strike has in effect, offensive capability. That we cannot imagine launching a ‘proactive’ first strike does not mean that the Russians believe us to be incapable of it. Even if they think it unlikely, the consequence of being wrong forces them to assume that, under the right conditions… we might do it.

    I’m not arguing that Putin might not scheme to seize those countries through the subterfuge of ‘rescuing’ Russian ethnic populations. Just that moving nukes up to the border is not part of a scheme to intimidate the West into allowing Putin to invade them.

    That movement is a reaction to the defensive system now being in place. The Russians have been consistent in how they view it. Given the future Iranian threat, that is not an argument in favor of not putting in place the defensive system, just acceptance of the reactive Russian consequence.

  12. parker Says:


    When Germany invaded Poland 9/39 was the time for France and the UK to invade Germany. They had Germany out numbered on all parameters; men, artillery, tanks, and aircraft. What was lacking was leadership and thus the will of the people.

    Otherwise, I agree. Do not push when you are not ready for a shove. Plan ahead, when shoved pivot and shoot them in the back.

  13. Yankee Says:

    Estonia has 1.3 million people, with 69% of them Estonian, and 25% as Russian. Latvia has just under 2 million, with 62% as Latvian, 26% Russian, and 3.4% Belarusian. These are majorities, but not large ones, so there are issues in both countries with the language and citizenship status of the ethnic Russians (all going back to how those states view things prior to their incorporation into the USSR, and the resulting in-migration of outside ethnic groups).

    With that in mind, was it a good idea in the first place to admit those countries into NATO in 2004? Did anyone in the Bush-43 administration foresee what might happen later on? Could Russia stir up some resentments to serve its own interests, or are the Baltic Russians happier to be in a more prosperous country that is closer to the rest of Europe?

    As for Lithuania, they are in better shape, with 2.85 million people, a comfortable majority of them as 87% Lithuanian, rounded out with 5.6% Poles and 4.8% Russians, among others. Given time, and a decent economy, all three Baltic states could grow closer to the rest of Europe, with Russia having less to offer as long as the price of oil stays relatively low.

  14. parker Says:


    Yes it was a good idea to allow the Baltics and Poland into NATO, Ukraine no for obvious reasons. Of course if one wishes to make Moscow great again, it was a very bad idea.

    1980s policy is calling us back to the future. Get a grip with 2 hands. There will be turbulence.

  15. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    In 9/39 France and England had the upper hand militarily on paper… England did declare war on Germany with the invasion of Poland. But actual events proved that neither the French nor the English were capable of resisting the German Blitzkrieg nor contesting the air superiority of the Luftwaffe. Dunkirk was the English desperately trying to save the English forces on the continent from being destroyed. The French folded like a paper tent and English forces on the continent were utterly routed.

    Had Germany not attacked Russia and Pearl Harbor not happened… England would eventually have fallen.

  16. The Other Chuck Says:

    How will Trump respond to Putin? His strategist, Steve Bannon, had this to say in a 2014 interview:

    Question: Obviously, before the European elections the two parties [UKIP in England & National Front in France] had a clear link to Putin. If one of the representatives of the dangers of capitalism is the state involvement in capitalism, so, I see there, also Marine Le Pen campaigning in Moscow with Putin, and also UKIP strongly defending Russian positions in geopolitical terms.

    Harnwell: These two parties have both been cultivating President Putin.

    Bannon: I think it’s a little bit more complicated. When Vladimir Putin, when you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of his beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism; he’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism. A lot of people that are traditionalists are attracted to that.
    One of the reasons is that they believe that at least Putin is standing up for traditional institutions, and he’s trying to do it in a form of nationalism — and I think that people, particularly in certain countries…

    …we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism — and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.

    You know, Putin’s been quite an interesting character. He’s also very, very, very intelligent. I can see this in the United States where he’s playing very strongly to social conservatives about his message about more traditional values, so I think it’s something that we have to be very much on guard of. Because at the end of the day, I think that Putin and his cronies are really a kleptocracy, that are really an imperialist power that want to expand. However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put it on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first.

    Bannon seems to have no illusions about Putin, but is more worried about radical Islam – first things first. He also is willing to overlook a nascent Fascist movement in Europe (see Hungary) if it advances nationalism, as he was willing to tolerate white supremacists and cultivate the alt-right here.

    Does this explain why Trump and his sycophants are trying so hard to dismiss Russian involvement in our election?

    Gingrich compares Trump to FDR. Is he forgetting Yalta?

    (The interview is at buzzfeed.com but cannot be linked.)

  17. Sergey Says:

    Russia now is so unstable and unpredictable that no measure to contain and deter her is superfluous. While I do not expect any sudden moves from Kremlin before presidential election in March 2018, after this all bets are off.

  18. Sergey Says:

    I do not think Putin has any moral convictions at all, but he certainly has political convictions of Soviet era in foreign policy, that is, he sees West as adversary and using all openings to weaken it and ignite internal squabbles in Europe whenever it is possible. He also believes (rightfully) that Europe is decadent and morally decaying, and is inclined for civilization suicide. It is hard to dispute it, really. But actual reason for his traditionalist internal policy is that the core of his electoral base are people older 60 years, and this constituency is very social conservative and traditionalist. He can not afford to alienate it, so he throws red meat to it whenever possible, because he has no money to appease them economically. His bluff about Russian imperial ambitions is also mostly addressed to domestic audience, since Russia has no actual resources for military adventures, and he knows this.

  19. Richard Aubrey Says:

    WRT WW I. The sources of Balkan troubles were a bunch of idiots playing stupid games in an air of idiocy. Of course, it was predictable, given that there was so much nonsense going on. But there were any number of points at which it could have been delayed and possibly precluded by somebody of moderate intelligence in a position to affect things. The A?H decision to take Serbia to the woodshed required them to invade Russia why? And the German help in Russia required the Germans to invade France why? And what did the Italians think to gain by going to war for the Tyrol or whatever the hell it was that caused them to attack the A/H?
    And WTF did the guys who started it get out of the thing?
    Hitler and his staff knew that they couldn’t prevail in the Rhineland. It was a gigantic bluff. But the generals planned to can Hitler if the French resisted….
    Not a digression: After a certain period without war, the US public demands it in popular entertainment. After Viet Nam and before Desert Storm was a sub-genre called the military techno-thriller, begun by Sir John Hackett’s “August 1985”. Sold big time. One of the interesting items was how the authors got their guns and shooters into a war, big or small. It was always reasonable, always plausible and you’d almost wonder what was wrong that we weren’t having a war. But, this is the point, we weren’t.
    The lesson is that if predicting or explaining wars or rumors of war requires rational calculation or excludes irrationality, you’re wrong.

    Here’s a tell: Hitler talked of secret weapons and the blond Aryan superman. The Japanese talked of the Code of Bushido. Mussolini spoke of the Brits,, “once a race of magnificent adventurers, now a line of tired rich men’s sons.” (Read his Wodehouse, I bet).
    When they talk like that, they’re trying to occlude potential combat power which they cannot see themselves overcoming with combat power. But they went ahead because….no rational answer.

  20. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Richard A,

    I can’t agree that the start of WWI was due to “a bunch of idiots playing stupid games in an air of idiocy”. Nor that the various nations pulled into the War were incoherently hoping for something undefinable. Back then concepts like honor meant something and they had the quaint notion that treaties must be honored even if it meant a war no one wanted.

    Nor can I agree with “the generals planned to can Hitler if the French resisted…” At that point, Hitler’s power was at its zenith and no rational German general would have imagined that canning Hitler was possible.

    As for “After a certain period without war, the US public demands it in popular entertainment.”

    Escapist entertainment and wishing for the real thing are of course, entirely separate things.

    Public approval of and economic support for entertainment is not a ‘demand’, instead might subconscious/subliminal reflection upon recent, significantly impactful events through ‘entertainment’ be at play?

  21. junior Says:

    Odds and ends…

    Don’t forget that Obama announced the cancellation of Bush’s missile defense system while in Poland, on the anniversary of the 1939 invasion of Poland by the USSR.

    The big problem for Britain and France wasn’t the Blitzkrieg tactics per se. It was that the strategic leadership assumed that Germany would try the same thing that it did in 1914, and ended up getting half the army cut off and surrounded when the Germans smuggled most of their tanks through the Ardennes instead.

    By the start of the invasion of France, Great Britain building fighters faster than Germany was. I don’t know about other equipment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case for things like tanks as well. Britain’s big problem wasn’t industrial capacity. It was manpower. As for the projected invasion of Great Britain, I doubt that the Germans could have pulled it off even without Barbarossa. They never would have been able to get the Royal Navy weak enough. And Stalin had plans of his own to go to war with Germany, so Hitler was still on a timetable.

  22. Richard Aubrey Says:

    GB. If the Brits’ going to war for/with France is the reference to honor, you’re late. The war had already started by then.
    Everything is predictable after it happens.
    But, according to Keegan, Moltke told the Kaiser it couldn’t be done– a logistical question of supreme importance (details upon request)–and the Kaiser said, “Your uncle would have given me a different answer,” so Moltke penciled in 150k guys where he knew he couldn’t put them and went ahead.
    Italy wanted terrain suitable for travel posters?
    For decades we thought the German generals knew they were part of a gigantic bluff in the Rhineland and would certainly lose if the French resisted. But Hitler prevailed. IOW, the peace party won. Then, there were credible reports that the Generals had had more than enough of LCPL Schickelgruber and were actively planning to dump him if the French showed up, Even if this isn’t true, they knew the facts on the ground showed they lose. Except the guys who’d beaten them the first time stayed home.
    My point, I suggest, is that decrying the likelihood of a particular war by means of rational calculations is fantasy.
    “demand”war in entertainment is used in the retail sense Craig T. Williams in Call to Glory and Cliff Potts in For Love and Honor–about a peacetime arty unit. For the love….their last episode had them on a field exercise with lightning coming at them from all directions.
    Then there was Top Gun.
    But my point was…all the wars one found in military techno thrillers were perfectly rational and…didn’t happen. “The Lieutenant” with Gary Lockwood and Robert Vaughan. A peacetime Marine lieutenant in a series whose last episode was in Viet Nam. Didn’t need the fake stuff any longer. The real thing was on at 6:30.
    This was not “Victory at Sea”, possibly the most hours of any series on television year after year, local station and national, and whose soundtrack was a best-selling album. Something the nation shared.
    So my point stands; predicting the military future by rational and logical calculations considering facts on the ground misses the irrational, which, as I say, is the important part.
    Junior. You speak of the progress of the wars once started. You make a good case for how the Allies won, or what they missed in the progress, or what they anticipated. But they won and the guys who started it should have known that would happen. In fact, you make a very good case for it.

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