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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2042

Wary in Minsk;
Gaming Russia's designs on the Baltics

Edited by Ilan Berman and Ivanna Kuz
February 23, 2016

February 3: 

The United States is expanding its military commitment to Eastern Europe. 
New Europe reports that the Obama administration has proposed a quadrupling of its military spending on troops and training in Europe in a move intended to serve as an expanded deterrent against further Russian aggression there. The President's upcoming 2017 budget, soon to be submitted to Congress, will include a request for $3.4 billion to beef up forces and materiel arrayed against Russia as part of what the White House has dubbed the "European Reassurance Initiative." "It is clear that the United States and our allies must do more to advance our common defense in support of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace," President Obama has said. 

Moscow's closest regional ally is taking military precautions. 
According to Belarus Digest, the government of Alexandr Lukashenko in Minsk recently approved significant changes to the country's national military doctrine - amendments that reflect "fundamental changes in the mindset of the Belarusian establishment." The Lukashenko government, observers say, is now worried about the potential of "violent changes" that could come "from Ukraine and pro-Moscow forces' attempts to repeat in Belarus their exploits in Ukraine." Moreover, Minsk - a longtime ally of the Kremlin - now appears to be increasingly leery of the possibility of Russian aggression against it as well, although the new strategy stops short of identifying Russia as a possible threat. 

February 4:

A new study from the prestigious RAND Corporation has found that NATO is ill-prepared to confront further Russian aggression in the "post-Soviet space." The study, which draws its conclusions from the results of a series of war-games in 2014 and 2015, concludes that "[a]s currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members." "Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours," the report notes. "Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad: a bloody counteroffensive, fraught with escalatory risk, to liberate the Baltics; to escalate itself, as it threatened to do to avert defeat during the Cold War; or to concede at least temporary defeat, with uncertain but predictably disastrous consequences for the Alliance and, not incidentally, the people of the Baltics." 

However, the RAND study highlights, remedies are available to the Alliance. Specifically, based on the results of the same war-games, "a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades - adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities - could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states. While not sufficient to mount a sustained defense of the region or to achieve NATO's ultimate end state of restoring its members’ territorial integrity, such a posture would fundamentally change the strategic picture as seen from Moscow." 

Russia's treatment of Crimea's Tatars has been roundly condemned by Europe. 
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the European Parliament, based in Strasbourg, has adopted a resolution blasting Russia for its treatment of the Crimean Tatar population since its annexation of the Peninsula back in 2014. In its provisions, the resolution "strongly condemns the unprecedented levels of human rights abuses perpetuated against Crimean residents, most notably Crimean Tatars, who do not follow the imposed rule of the so-called local authorities." It also urges Moscow to provide "unimpeded access" to international institutions and watchdog groups on the Peninsula, so as to ensure better conditions. 

February 5:

Russia's strategic partnership with Iran is poised to get bigger still. 
Iran's Tasnim news agency cites Ali Akbar Velayati, a key advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as telling reporters that the Iranian government is "seeking to purchase more weapons from Russia" as part of the expanding political ties between Moscow and Tehran in the aftermath of the passage of the new nuclear deal. According to Velayati, Iranian officials have held talks with their Russian counterparts regarding a potential $7 billion loan from the Kremlin, which will be used to broaden contacts between the two countries in a variety of spheres.

Related Categories: Russia; Iran; Russia and Eurasia Program

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