Two Portuguese F-16AM-15MLU and a Canadian CF-18 Hornet protecting the Baltic States.
My latest article “Gotland – the Danzig of our time” caused a bit of a stir in the nations surrounding the Baltic Sea. That is understandable. All of them, with the exception of Finland, are underprepared and in the case of Sweden unprepared to counter a Russian attack. Furthermore, the Baltic States and Poland cannot rely on European NATO allies for help and there is a risk that the US will be too late to defeat a Russian attack. Therefore the governments of Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania must undertake bold and decisive steps if they want to be able to resist the coming Russian aggression. The sooner such steps are taken and the bolder they are, the higher the chance that Russia will reconsider its intention to force a showdown with NATO in the Baltic States.
I described What NATO and the US should do to strengthen the defense of Europe to deter Russia and ultimately force regime change in Russia in a series of articles published on April 14th, 2014 – two days after Russian mercenaries led by a Colonel of the Russian military intelligence service occupied the police station in the small Donbas town of Sloviansk.
As always, I was right and I was first to understand and publish what Putin would do. Nobody listened. With every further day wasted Europe comes closer to war, one with nuclear weapons. For a year Europe and US have retreated again and again in the face of Russian aggression and lies; these retreats have emboldened further Russian aggression.
Last April I wrote:
This means that Putin will not negotiate and he will not back down. He wants vengeance. Crimea was only the first step, and each subsequent step will be worse, if he does not feel the pain of steep costs for his actions. He is already destabilizing Eastern Ukraine, fully expecting to get away with stealing more territory and herding more people under his rule, at little economic cost to his regime. And each further weak response to his attacks will emboldens him to undertake more and more roguish and dangerous actions. (Article: Retreat is defeat)
A year later and nearly nothing has been done to improve the situation: except for Lithuania, no country has reintroduced conscription and except for Romania, no country has decisively increased military spending. Even worse: the UK, Germany, France and Italy continue to cut defense spending.
Russia waging war against Ukraine, Libya imploding, Yemen imploding and center of a regional war, Iraq in civil war and breaking apart, Syria a meat grinder, ISIS massacring tens of thousands, Arab nations gearing up for war with Iran, Russia’s proxy Armenia increasing fighting with Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan (next Russo-Turkish war coming soon), Russia harassing NATO air space, and Boko Haram wrecking Africa… “Apparently a good time to cut defense spending!” — say Merkel, Cameron, Hollande and Renzi, which shows that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland cannot rely on help from other European nations in case of a Russian attack.
While all military personnel I know do care about common defense and want to fight with their allies in the East, Western European armies are led by incompetent, duplicitous careerists, none of whom even knows what it took to keep the Soviets contained during the Cold War. Most don’t even know that Belgian, Dutch, British, Canadian and American units manned the frontline in Germany. And that it was not just some symbolic force like Obama has dispatched to the Baltics nowadays, but 87% of the Belgian Army, 84% of the Dutch Army, 76% of the Canadian Army, 75% of the British Army and 45% of the American Army and Army National Guard were based or assigned as reserves to the German theater. Nine out of 18 active US Army divisions were either based in Germany or part of Operation REFORGER (Operation Return of Forces to Germany) and a further three US Army divisions were bound to reinforce Denmark, Norway and Italy.
However today it doesn’t make sense to place full divisions into the Baltic States as Russia already announced it would nuke them at the start of war. But even the smallest of deterrent forces, namely combined arms battle groups built around a mechanized infantry battalion dispatched permanently by NATO’s six biggest members to the Baltic nations, was already too daring for the cowed heads of Western governments. Such battle groups of about 1,500 men, each with tanks, tracked infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery would force the Russians to fight German, French, Italian, American, British and Spanish troops the moment they cross the borders of the Baltic States. This would ensure that all NATO members would honor their Article 5 commitment, as abandoning the Baltic States would also mean abandoning their own troops, which no head of government can do.
But instead of permanently basing forces in the Baltics and Eastern Poland, NATO leaders decided to create a martial mirage by increasing NATO’s Response Force. In other words, they did nothing and will betray the Baltic States.
NATO’s Response Force is neither a force nor ready to respond, because before being able to respond national governments will have to release their troops. And even if the Response Force would be allowed to intervene, it would come too late, be too little and ultimately do nothing.
This year Germany contributes the lead element of the Response Force. The assigned unit is the 371st Mechanized Infantry Battalion, which turned up at its first NATO Response Force maneuver with black-painted broomsticks instead of machine guns. But not just machine guns are missing: the battalion had only 24% of the needed night vision googles, 59% of the needed pistols and 69% of the required machine guns. By now these gaps have been closed by taking the missing equipment from other German Army units, which themselves are all under-equipped. Now the 371st will be able to deploy within 5 to 10 days, hopes (!) German Army Chief General Kasdorf; or in other words: if Angela Merkel allows the battalion to be deployed, it will be ready two weeks after Russia has occupied the Baltic States and one week after Poland surrendered.
When Russia attacks, Germany, and with it all other nations of Europe, will be unable to help the Baltic States, and when the nations of Europe will finally be able to help, then it will be too late for the Baltic States. The harsh reality is that the NATO response force has been designed with such a slow “respond” speed that it can never arrive in time; this is a designed and approved betrayal of the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by Merkel and Co. The NATO response force is nothing but a PR fluff and that doesn’t change facts on the ground.
The only unit on the entire European continent capable to deploy within 24 hours and reach the Baltic States rapidly is the American 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza in Northern Italy. If called the brigade can leave within hours on the C-130J Super Hercules transport planes of the American 37th Airlift Squadron based at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and reach Estonia by crossing the Baltic Sea to the North of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. However if Russia takes Sweden’s Gotland island and places S-300 surface-to-air-missiles there then the C-130J Super Hercules will all be shot down. In that case the 173rd Airborne Brigade will have to wait until F-16 fighters of the American 31st and 52nd Fighter Wings clear Kaliningrad and Gotland from Russian air-defense systems, which could take days; or might never happen if Sweden refuses American plans permission to smite the Russian troops on Gotland.
Therefore the US Army – sensibly and rightly – plans to preposition equipment in the Baltic States. Just as the Cold War’s Operation REFORGER, this will allow the US to quickly move troops to the Baltic States. As very few remember Operation REFORGER, I will explain: during the Cold War the US Army had four mechanized divisions permanently based in Germany and the entire equipment, weapons, vehicles, ammunition and fuel for a further five mechanized divisions and three armored brigades stored in POMCUS (Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets) bases in Western Germany and the Netherlands. For these divisions and brigades the entire equipment was bought twice: once for their home bases in the US and once to be stored in Europe. In the event of war the US Air Force would have requisitioned every airplane in America’s Civil Reserve Air Fleet and flown 20,000 troops a day to Europe. The troops would have entered the POMCUS warehouses, found their company’s entire equipment in one place, taken it and gone directly into battle.
Now the US Army is preparing to do this once more. Each Baltic State, as well as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania will receive at least enough equipment for one heavy combined arms battalion with a headquarters company, two tank companies and two tracked infantry fighting vehicle companies and an attached forward support company providing logistic services. This will allow the US to fly the 628 men of a combined arms battalion to a nation under threat and have them ready to fight within hours after their arrival. The only problem is that the troops will have to be flown to Europe from the continental United States as nowadays no heavy battalions are based in Europe. Therefore NATO’s supreme allied commander General Breedlove suggested Europeans should join this prepositioning program, but they all refused as no European nation wants to buy a second set of equipment and none is willing to fly its troops the short distance to the Baltic States under Russian attack.
All this shows that the Baltic nations and Poland cannot rely on their European “allies” for help and cannot assume that the Americans will arrive in time. If America is late, then Russia will reach and destroy the prepositioned materiel and make any airlift of US troops moot. The US military hopes it will receive a few days’ warning before Russia attacks the Baltic States, thus allowing it to fly its troops there in time and unopposed. But the harsh reality is that there will be no warning; and even if there was, it wouldn’t change anything.
When Putin orders the attack on the Baltic States, nobody but a few generals in Moscow will know. All preparations and troop movements will be done under the guise of yet another large scale Russian military exercise. The current constant stream of exercises is meant to lull our senses, reduce our vigilance, make us get used to them, but for Russia’s military exercises are a way to obfuscate its troops deployments and its preparations for war. Nobody in the West will fly troops to the Baltic States or raise the readiness of its armed forces for yet another Russian exercise. And then when such an exercise turns suddenly into an attack on the Baltic States, nothing that is not already based there will be able to intervene. And even if the US had an advance warning of an imminent Russian attack and would fly its forces to the Baltics in time, it would not matter in the short-term, because if Putin is resolved to wage an insanely dangerous war against the might of NATO, three American battalions in the line of fire won’t change his mind anymore.
In an ideal world NATO would have six combined arms battle groups in the Baltic States, and each Baltic State would field an armored brigade and at least two additional reserve brigades, giving them a chance to withstand a Russian attack for at least three days. In an ideal world Poland would base an additional three of its armored brigades, along with two American armored brigades, near the border with Belarus to ensure that the land connection between Poland the Baltic States could not be cut by a Russian offensive from Belarus towards Kaliningrad. In an ideal world equipment for seven armored brigades made up of troops of all NATO countries would be prepositioned in in Eastern Poland. In an ideal world two battalions of M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems would be based in Northeastern Poland to quickly rain fire on Russian S-300 missile sites in Kaliningrad. In an ideal world Poland’s airspace would be secured by half a dozen batteries with SAMP/T air-defense and anti-ballistic missile systems. In an ideal world two NATO air wings would be based in Southern Poland with enough firepower to wreck advancing Russian forces. In an ideal world Sweden would fortify Gotland and join NATO. In an ideal world neither Hollande, nor Merkel, nor Renzi, nor Cameron, nor Obama would be in political office.
But we do not live in an ideal world. We live in interesting times, and as the ongoing massive Saudi Arabian attack on Iranian and Russian backed militias in Yemen proves, times are getting more interesting still. Therefore each nation must prepare itself for the battles to come. Prepare without trust and faith in the European nations to the West of the Oder–Neisse line. To adequately prepare, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania must accept that they must merge their armed forces and fight this war alone, or in the best case stand alone for three days before the full might of America’s air power arrives to annihilate Russian forces. Poland must accept that it will bear the brunt of the fight, bloodshed and destruction and Sweden must realize that as long as it is not a member of NATO and does not garrison Gotland, it stands alone and must acquiesce to Putin’s brutish reign.
Accepting these harsh realities will finally spur the frontline states to prepare themselves for this war and thus ready them to stand long enough for America to come to their aid. Accepting that they are on their own and cannot rely on fickle Western European governments will prevent them from crumbling under a likely Western betrayal.
I will discuss what the frontline states — Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — must do to prepare in my upcoming article “Peace is over.”