Russia is once again using its nuclear arsenal as a “diplomacy” tool.
Earlier last month, Russia and the United States held a closed-door bilateral meeting in Germany. The Russian envoys warned that if any attempts were made to return Crimea to Ukraine, they would use their nuclear force to defend it.
In fact, if NATO was to help Ukraine regain Crimea, Russia would consider such actions as a direct threat towards them.
Russia also mentioned that a spectrum of responses from nuclear to non-military could be used to counter NATO’s influence.
Adding to that, the Russian envoys also cautioned NATO to stop moving troops eastward, especially in the Baltic States. They confirmed that the Kremlin was also ready to use nuclear force if further troop movements were made.
Russia has been eyeing the Baltic States under the pretext of protecting the Russian ethnic population. The same tactic was used in Crimea and has been continuously the cause of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
According to the Kremlin, the small minority of Russian ethnic population in the Baltic States are discriminated against and Russia is ready to intervene to protect them.
Since the Baltic States countries are NATO members, an attack on them would put Russia in a total war against NATO. An Article 5 would justify NATO’s intervention and would quickly be a declaration of war.
Latvia: Russia’s First Target
Geopolitically speaking, Latvia would most likely be Russia’s first target if they were to invade the Baltic States. With Belarus on the southern border acting as a buffer zone, Russia would be able to split the Baltic States in two.
The Russian ethnic group in Latvia count for 26% of the total population, enough to give Russia a pretext to invade Latvia. Latvia also has the largest Russian ethnic population of the Baltic States.
The small town of Zilupe could be one of the very first target of the Russian Army. Zilupe is the last train station of the Riga-Zilupe train route, one of the longest railway in Latvia.
Taking control of the railways would enable Russian soldiers and supplies to quickly move throughout the country with the help of air superiority. However, air superiority would almost be impossible to maintain due to the proximity of NATO countries.
Additionally, the Riga-Zilupe train route is connected with Russian railways. Strategically, Russia could use this railway to quickly insert soldiers. A bold move, however.
The Latvia-Russia border in Terehova—7 kilometers southeast of Zilupe—would also be a strategic crossing point due to the highway connecting both countries, enabling the motorized units to quickly move to Riga, the Latvian capital.
Since Terehova is close to the Belarussian border, Russian troops could start their military campaign knowing their left flank is secured.
The Gulf of Riga would also be a good staging area for the Baltic Fleet to launch a seaborne operation, opening a second front.
Russia could use many options when it comes to an invasion of Latvia. Nevertheless, the Zilupe – Terehova option would be realistically possible.
Could Estonia be skipped?
Because of the Peipsi järv and Lake Pskov, the invasion of Estonia would be much more complicated since the only crossable bridge is in Narva.
However, if Latvia would be the first to fall, Russia could open two front in Estonia using the 6th Army from St Petersburg. The 6th Army could cross in Narva and roll west to Tallinn.
Estonia has a very small military and a virtually non-existent air force. They solely depend on NATO’s aircrafts, stationed at the Ämari Air Base.
If a total war was declared, NATO would most likely move its aircrafts to Poland, Romania, Norway and Turkey. Even if Estonia is a NATO member, they would quickly become very isolated.
Russia could also completely skip Estonia and drive westward to reconnect Kaliningrad with the fatherland. In fact, the distance between Nesterov, Kaliningrad and Zulipe is only 470 kilometres and can be reach by staying on the E67 highway.
Reconnecting Kaliningrad to the Fatherland
Since Kaliningrad is Russia’s first line of defence against NATO—mostly due to the Vorozneh radar station—the Russian Armed Forces will most likely be ordered to blitzkrieg through Lithuania to reconnect with the Kaliningrad Oblast.
The word blitzkrieg is very important here since Poland would probably move toward Kaliningrad to destroy the Vorozneh radar; a move that would enable NATO to launch strategic bombers from the United Kingdom without Russia knowing.
With Kaliningrad reconnected, Russia could move troops through a secured corridor—most likely the E67 highway—and reinforce the Oblast against Poland.
Kaliningrad and the southern Lithuanian border would then become Russia’s defensive line against NATO.
The Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad could be used tactically to slow the Polish advance. The Ground and Coastal Forces of the Baltic Fleet would most likely be ordered to prepare defensive positions throughout the Kaliningrad Oblast.
A Total War Is Highly Unlikely
Of course this is all suppositions and the total war concept between Russia and NATO is highly unlikely.
My opinion: Cold War 2.0 has started.
We’ll most likely see another nuclear buildup and massive troop movements on both sides. Russia will keep threatening NATO. NATO will respond by moving more troops and aircrafts on Russia’s border.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Pro-Russian militants” causing trouble in the Baltic States to justify Russia’s intervention. However, I don’t think Russia will engage troops in combat as they did in Ukraine.
This time, the stake is too high and I don’t think the international community wants a nuclear war between Russia and NATO.