A simulation of war between Russia, the Baltics, Poland…and possibly NATO
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With the recent fighting in Eastern Ukraine and Russia’s seizure of the Crimea, nations bordering Russia must be nervous…even if they are NATO Members. Recent Russian provocations in the Baltic have not helped matters. Russian fighters chased a US reconnaissance plane into Swedish air space. Many believe that Russian mini-subs operate in the territorial waters of Finland and Sweden. The Russian military recently staged high profile war games in the Kaliningrad enclave. Russian troops even practice nuking Warsaw. With all of this sabre rattling, it is easy to see why NATO’s eastern members would be a bit nervous.
Of course, there are lots of reasons why Russia will not attack. NATO would most likely come to the aid of Poland or the Baltics, and Russia could not win a protracted conflict with even a subset of NATO members. The end result of any kind of Russian incursion into NATO territory would be more western troops based much closer to Russia’s borders.
A more intriguing and interesting scenario would involve a subset of NATO members attacking Russia. Poland and the Baltics could attempt to starve the Russians out of the Kaliningrad enclave. These nations might act on the pretext of supporting a Kaliningrad independence movement. If Russia can annex a primarily Russian Crimea, why can’t Poland blockade Kaliningrad?
Of course, Poland and the Baltics would need to act alone. Other NATO members would likely want to avoid an open confrontation with Russia. Fortunately, Poland has the hardware it needs to cut off Kaliningrad: anti-ship missiles, submarines, mine layers. The Russian Navy has deteriorated to the point that it cannot lift a Polish Naval blockade. The Russian Air Force does not have enough transport aircraft to keep Kaliningrad supplied by air. The only way Russia could hope to resupply its geographically isolated enclave would be to invade Poland or Lithuania and open a land corridor. This situation provides the backdrop for Baltic Gambit’s first two scenarios.
It is not clear how NATO would react in this situation. One could argue that Poland and the Baltics attacked Russia, and NATO is under no obligation to come to Poland’s aid. It would likely take a while for NATO to make up its mind. Consequently, this game assumes NATO starts out as neutral.
The game also includes a scenario in which Russian “volunteers” intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians in Estonia. You play as Russia, and your objective is to carve out an enclave along the Russian border. Again, it is unclear how NATO would react in this situation. If the Baltic republics imposed illiberal restrictions on the ethnic Russian population (restrictions on Russian language use, elimination of voting rights, etc.) and Russia avoided overt intervention, NATO may decide to remain neutral.
The Baltics could quickly become another Ukraine….up to a point. NATO would probably NOT tolerate the tactics that Russia has relied upon in Eastern Ukraine. For instance, rebel fighters in Estonia would not be able to count on artillery support from guns inside Russia. Driving a convoy of tanks across the Estonian border would certainly force NATO to act. To win, Russia would need to run an unconventional war of attrition. No tanks. Lots of IEDs. Since Russia has the more challenging task in this scenario, you play as Russia.
Some would argue that no nation would be silly enough to attack a nuclear armed country like Russia. Unfortunately, a large nuclear arsenal didn’t stop Egypt and Syria from attacking Israel in 1973. Argentina invaded the territory of a nuclear armed Great Britain in 1982. Pakistan invaded a nuclear armed India in 1999. As long as the stakes are low, nuclear weapons are not much of a deterrent.