Are you really thinking about escaping?
By Charles Kelley
PHILOMATH, Oregon – Will Latvia be next? The short answer is, “I don’t know.” But…
A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a friend in Latvia. We were speaking about the current threat Putin’s war in Ukraine poses to the Baltics. My friend told me that someone had recently asked him if he had already made plans of how to escape the country when Latvia falls to Russia.
I was stunned by the comment. “Has it come to that?” I asked. “Are you really thinking about escaping?”
Of course we were talking about worst-case scenarios. But a year ago who would have predicted that more than a million people in Eastern Ukraine would be displaced by Putin’s expansionist conquests?
Could Latvia be next?
I try to keep up with the news, especially as it relates to the security of the Baltics. I read the BBC, The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Baltic Times, Forbes and NATO’s website.
In recent weeks numerous key leaders in northern Europe and beyond have sounded important alarms. Here are a few.
• As Russian fighter jets regularly zoom over the Norwegian coast, Erna Solberg the Prime Minister of Norway, is also worried about the build up of Russian troops on Norway’s northern border. (1)
• Most Americans do not realize that Finland was part of the Russian empire until 1918, lost its eastern state of Karelia to Russia in World War II and is not a member of NATO. The Finnish President Sauli Niinisto is justified in his objections to Russia’s flying military planes into Finnish airspace and deploying submarines and helicopters to chase after Finnish research vessels in international waters. (2)
• The British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon refers to Vladimir Putin as a “real and present danger” to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and NATO was getting ready to repel any aggression. (3)
• Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite has asked her Parliament to approve the reintroduction of conscription [the draft] over concerns about “the current geopolitical environment” in the Baltic States. Conscription will be renewed for a five-year-period to “enhance and accelerate army recruitment” she said. (4)
• Estonia’s Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas recently told the Atlantic Council that since tensions between Russia and the West show no sign of abating, US forces should remain in Estonia for “as long as needed.” (5)
• Poland is the largest European Union member nation to border Ukraine. Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, announced that over the course of the next two years her country will increase defense spending to at least 2% of GDP in line with NATO recommendations. Poland has become increasingly uneasy amid repeated provocations by Russian warplanes with NATO recording at least 100 instances in the last year of Russian aircraft violating its airspace. (6)
But what about Latvia?
• NATO’s former General Secretary Rasmussen says that the Baltic states are right to be worried about Russia’s ambitions: “Our Baltic friends and allies are concerned about the Russian behavior, not least because one of the Russian doctrines is that Russia preserves the right to intervene in other countries, to protect what they consider the interests of Russian-speaking communities in other countries. And as we all know, particularly in Estonia and Latvia, we have significant Russian speaking minorities.” (7)
But perhaps the most disturbing piece I have read is by Professor Paul Roderick Gregory, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. In a recent Forbes article, he paints an alarming picture of how Putin could orchestrate a clever and calculated take-over of Latvia.
“We can already describe Putin’s game plan for destroying NATO via the new type of war he perfected in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It could begin in any of the three Baltic States. Russia has already launched a provocation in Estonia, but this is likely a diversion. Latvia, a country of two million, one quarter Russian, 150,000 of which are not Latvian citizens, is the likely first target.” (8)
Gregory’s article continues to articulate a potential step-by-step scenario that would render Latvia occupied and NATO irrelevant if not dissolved.
I certainly hope that Professor Gregory’s apocalyptic picture of the future will not take place. However, he has a profound understanding of how Putin, like his sinister predecessors, has mastered how to befuddle the West into getting what he wants.
Will my Latvian friends have to escape from an ever encroaching Russia? No one knows for sure.
But this I know. I will not put my energy in developing escape plans. Now is still the time for all of us who are concerned about ministry in Latvia and to Latvians (whatever their ethnic make-up), to remain vigilant, informed, alert, prayerful and committed to doing the most important things possible for as many people as possible from the perspective of the eternal.
(1) Secretary General discusses security challenges with Norwegian Prime Minister, NATO website, 21 January 2015.
(2) Griff Witte, Finland feeling vulnerable amid Russian provocations, The Washington Post, 23 November 2014.
(3) Jonathan Marcus, BBC defense and diplomatic correspondent, Russia ‘danger’ to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – Fallon, BBC News Europe, 19 February 2015.
(4) Lithuania to reintroduce conscription over security concerns, BBC News Europe, 24 February 2015.
(5) Estonia’s Prime Minister: NATO Presence Key to Counter Russia’s Provocations, Atlantic Council website, 11 December 2014.
(6) Polish PM announces plans to up defense spending amid Russian threat, Ukraine Today, 17 February 2015.
(7) How strong is the NATO military alliance? BBC News Europe, 17 February 2015.
(8) Paul Roderick Gregory, Hoover Institution Fellow, Ukraine Is More of An Existential Threat Than ISIS, Because It Could Destroy NATO, Forbes, 23 September 2014.
(9) The lead photograph depicting a pro-Ukraine rally outside the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania is used in accordance with the stipulations of Baltic News Network.