The arrival of Canadian troops in the Baltics has helped established a “red line” for Russia and greatly diminished the risk of a Crimea-style takeover in the region, Latvia’s former top military commander said Tuesday.
Retired lieutenant-general Raimonds Graube says the deployment of NATO battle groups in Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and his country sends a politically significant message.
He downplayed criticism, both political and academic, that says the size of the multinational battalions, roughly 1,200-1,500 soldiers each, makes them militarily insignificant.
There have been studies, notably by the U.S.-based think-tank the Rand Corporation, that have said the Russian army, given its size, could overrun all three tiny Baltic countries in as little as 36 hours.
Threat is stealth takeover
Graube, who retired last fall and heads a pro-Latvian foundation, says the likelihood of a full-on invasion is remote and the real danger has been the kind of stealth takeover, involving special forces, which Russia used to annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Moving Russian tanks or troops across any of the Baltic borders would provoke a response by Western countries, a fight Graube said Russia is not eager to pick.
“I would say the use of military force against NATO countries, 17 countries whose soldiers are on Baltic soil; I think you must be absolutely crazy,” he told CBC News. “Because it will lead to a big conflict. I don’t want to exaggerate and say Third World War, but at least the conflict would be really huge.”
The NATO battle groups — known in military terms as the enhanced forward presence battalions — are small in size, but they are nimble enough to prevent the infiltration of Russian covert forces. Those forces were known in Crimea as…