Oh Russia! As I’ve made clear, I don’t think much of the continued furor around that country’s role in the US election. But that barely scratches the surface of the silliness surrounding discussions of Russia’s geopolitical position. The US foreign policy establishment has been jawing for years about Putin’s “impending” invasion of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This has always been ridiculous. A year and a half ago I made a video pointing out 3 reasons why it would never happen. It has reached a pretty large audience.
Donald Trump’s election has prompted a new wave of Baltic paranoia, however. On the campaign trail, Trump spent a fair amount of time insulting our NATO allies. Some are afraid he won’t honor our commitments to the Baltics in the event of a Russian invasion. I think these fears are exaggerated. But what if they were true? If Russia had the all powerful military machine it is credited with then maybe the Baltics would be in trouble. It doesn’t. In fact, the 2017 Russian budget imposes a 25% cut on Defense spending. Even without NATO, I’m quite confident Russia wouldn’t invade Estonia. It’s just too dangerous for Putin. Washington, DC will continue pretending Russia is a real threat, rather than a skilled exploiter of situations in countries the US has already destroyed. For those of us outside the beltway however, I’ve put together another video laying out the dismal geopolitical situation facing Russia. I hope you enjoy it..
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Video Transcript after the jump…
OMG you guys! Now that Trump is president, does that mean Russia is going to invade the Baltic countries!?!?
No, no it does not. A year and a half ago I laid out three reasons why Russia is never going to touch Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. Reason number three was the fact that these countries are all members of the North Atlantic Treaty organization. Donald Trump has famously expressed some skepticism about NATO. I think this risk is oversold. Trump has hired a bunch of generals, and they all know that NATO is valuable. But even if the United States gave up on the alliance, I still think there’s no way Putin will invade the Baltic countries. Here are three reasons why…
When Russia annexed part of Ukraine in March of 2014 a barrel of oil cost 104 dollars. Today it costs just under 50 dollars. For over a year now I’ve been pointing out that these oil prices are not going to recover any time soon. In fact they’re probably going to go lower. The rest of the world is now waking up to this reality. In 2017 Russia cut its military budget by 25%. A lower oil price also means that the rest of Russia’s economy is dramatically weaker. Russia is in no shape to undertake a wider war, and oh boy would an invasion of the Baltics lead to a wider war.
2. The Frozen Conflicts
Russia has a number of “Frozen conflicts” on its periphery. Both Ukraine and Georgia would love the opportunity to escalate the conflicts in their countries. They have been held back from doing so by the US and the EU. If Russia invaded the Baltics, both these countries would get full support from the West. Most of Eastern Europe has a very grim history of Russian occupation. If Putin stepped up those fears with a Baltic invasion, Poland in particular would be guaranteed to get belligerent. Who knows, maybe Romania would intervene to boot the Russians out of Transdniestria in Moldova as well. Russia doesn’t have a large presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, but that conflict would almost certainly spin out of control if Russia was distracted. This, combined with Georgia’s actions would be guaranteed to have spill over effects in Chechnya and Dagestan. A Russian invasion of the Baltics might lead to a disintegration of Russia itself, and it would certainly lead to the fall of Putin’s regime.
This is the big one. For 70 years Germany has been a strongly pacifist country. The German Eagle has been slumbering, largely out of Guilt. A Russian invasion of the Baltics would wake that eagle up. US policy makers find it easy to ignore history. The Russians can’t. They know that a militarized Germany is the largest potential threat they face. Everybody knows that Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. What few appreciate is the fact that an initially more successful invasion a century earlier had a large German component as well. We tend to look at Napoleon’s army as mostly French, but it wasn’t just that. Almost a third was German, and if you add the Poles to that number, Napoleon’s army was almost half Eastern European. If the Russians invaded the Baltics, Germany would have to re-militarize. Russia will do anything it can to avoid this result.
So to sum up: NATO is unlikely to fall apart, but even if it did, Russia can’t attack the Baltics. Thanks to the fall in the oil price, they don’t have the resources necessary to fight a larger European war. And that’s exactly what they’d get the second they invaded Estonia. As much as Russia hates NATO and the EU, they’d hate a newly militaristic Germany infinitely more. The Baltic countries are perfectly safe.
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