Small Wars Journal

Putin's Conundrum: The Baltic Region, Unconventional Threats and a Rising Russia

Putin's Conundrum: The Baltic Region, Unconventional Threats and a Rising Russia by Douglas Mastriano, Foreign Policy Research Institute

The provocative Russian actions in the Baltic Sea against the USS Donald Cook last week suggest that Moscow is implementing a more aggressive approach towards NATO and the United States in particular.  Yet, this should not be a surprise, as the 2015 Russian National Security Strategy describes NATO as a threat.  The antagonistic flyovers of the USS Donald Cook are not the first example of irresponsible Russian behavior. There has been a steady increase of Russian violations of Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian sovereign territory in the air and at the sea over the past year.

These conventional Russian challenges in the air and at sea, however, are the least of our concerns.  There is a more troubling development coming from the Kremlin—the willingness to use hybrid and unconventional methods to accomplish its national strategy. The so-called "little green men" who appeared in Crimea in 2014—soldiers without national affiliation on their uniforms, who seized key places in the peninsula—are the most well-known example of this tactic. These soldiers wrested complete military control of the territory within a week. Within a month, Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Crimea.  Only then did he acknowledge that the "little green men" were his.

The purpose of this ruse was to obscure outsiders’ understanding of what was taking place, and thereby prevent the United States, NATO, or the EU from taking decisive action against Moscow…

Read on.