Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wait, What?

The most locally relevant thing in the Wikileaks infodump so far has been the business surrounding the NATO defense plan. Now, nothing actually secret has come out of the cables, as far as I can see - we knew back in Spring that a Baltic defense plan existed, and even that nine divisions were earmarked for it. The particular Polish and North German ports that would act as naval bases were not mentioned, but I expect anyone who's researched NATO naval capabilities and the state of the Baltic coast would find the choices either self-evident or at least expected.

Like with most Wikileaks material, the important part is not the information itself - which was either publically known, heavily suspected, or ought to have been inferred by the intelligence analysts of what used to be called the Likely Antagonist. The important part is that the implied factors have now been confirmed. Theories about how the other side might react now have a very convincing basis.

And when politicians are forced to stop bullshitting, everyone else gets a moment of clarity as well. A moment of true intentions becoming apparent.

Cue the statement of Russia's envoy to NATO, one Dmitry Rogozin - a loudmouth of some standing, admittedly, but someone who is acting in an official capacity as a representative of the Russian government:

"We must get some assurances that such plans will be dropped, and that Russia is not an enemy for NATO," he said. "I expect my colleagues from the NATO-Russia Council to confirm that Lisbon has made all the difference."

Rogozin said that despite official denials by NATO officials, the plan was clearly aimed at his country. "Against whom else could such a defense be intended? Against Sweden, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, against polar bears, or against the Russian bear?" he said.

Let that sink in for a moment. Russia, attempying to normalize its relations with NATO and no longer be seen as NATO's possible enemy, insists that NATO stop intending to defend its member states. Rogozin would like NATO to make a policy that it will allow Russia to invade NATO states and will not respond to it.

Under no reasonably conceivable circumstances is the Baltic defense plan a threat to Russia's current territorial integrity. Never mind that NATO has no interests in Russia - if you were an end-of-days conspiracy freak, you could come up with a scenario of NATO swooping in to secure natural gas supplies for Western Europe, but that gas comes from Central Asia and having control over the Nord Stream beach head is not enough to guarantee uninterrupted delivery - but in any case, nine divisions plus the local strength is not enough to mount any sort of credible invasion of Russia.

The Baltic defense plan in its leaked form could not possibly constitute any kind of threat to Russia's territory. The only reason Russia would object to it so strongly - more strongly than China today objects to US forces stationed in Taiwan - is if the defense plan were a threat to Russia's ambitions.

Take some time to think about the implication of Russia getting seriously upset about a legitimate Western commitment to protect the Baltics and Poland against invasion. For my money, this signals that Russia has still not come to terms with the Baltics falling outside of its sphere of influence, and if at this point it is unwilling or incapable to get control of the territory by military means, it has most certainly not discarded the option in its mid- to long-term intentions.

As I never get tired of saying: Yes, we're paranoid about Russia. Yes, they're actually after us.


Bonus 1: Giustino weighs in.

Bonus 2: With my Tom Clancy rubber face mask on, I've actually come up with a scenario where NATO troops in the Baltics are a threat to Russia's territorial integrity. It involves a massive uprising of Ingrians - ethnic Finno-Ugrians living at the butt of the Gulf of Finland, the native population that was there before Saint Petersburg was built. How many genuine ethnic Ingrians are left is a matter of some speculation, but there is certainly a group of people who self-identify as Ingrians, and juxtapose that identity to the Russian state. Most of them make the effort to obtain Estonian or Finnish citizenship, and the movement does profess the theoretical desire of establishing an Ingrian state that would follow in the footsteps of Finland and Estonia, resolutely Western-minded. From what I've seen, the driving force behind it is hatred of the Russian central authorities, more than any genuine desire for cultural self-determination, and in the event of a massive institutional collapse in the Russian Federation the Ingrian banner may just be taken up by people whose primary intention is to reject the rule of Moscow kleptocrats.  

If so, a significant NATO deployment just across the Narva river may be tempted to move in, under the guises of a peacekeeping mission. Hell, even material support and a base of operations would be sufficiently dangerous, if the Ingrian cause is used as a pretense by a sufficiently large rebel force. Remember your history. About a century ago, the Judenich corps, remnants of the Russian Imperial army, laid siege to Petersburg and came uncomfortably close to capturing it. Judenich was ultimately defeated by the brilliant military leadership of Leo Trotsky, but a big part of that was the withdrawal of support (and eventual outright betrayal) by Estonian command. This was the tail end of the Liberation War, when the Gulf was controlled by a British naval expeditionary force and Estonia had just defeated the German Landeswehr, liberated Latvia and fought the Bolsheviks to a stalemate on its eastern border. The Estonian leadership had no intention of prolonging the war with whoever controlled Russia, its purpose was independence and territorial security, not conquest; but if the Estonian army, battle-hardened and armed with Entente weapons, had actually backed Judenich and attacked Petersburg, Trotsky's militia could very well have failed.

Rogozin and his ilk might be seeing Ingria as a potential Kosovo - or potential South Ossetia, pick your poison. I don't believe NATO would rush to intervene in an Ingrian uprising, for pretty much the same reason that Estonia did not get involved in Judenich's campaign. But since we're talking about implications, here's one: if the Russian state leadership thinks that a credible NATO presence at the Baltic border could actually make a difference, then perhaps the Russian state is closer to the brink of failure than we think.


Giustino said...

Rasmussen should tell the Russians that Article 5 counts and contingency plans are in effect for all countries. That should be the end of it.

antyx said...

It should be, but in reality there is a massive difference. With the existence of the plans confirmed, the Russians know that a NATO response to an invasion of Estonia will not be decided by politicians. The Big Red Button will be pushed by a military commander who has a specific ruleset to follow; there is no FUD in the system.

That's worth a lot.


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