The Times has an excellent article today about the NATO expansion into the Baltics that gives a really good insight into why Russia isn’t happy.
Moscows hawkish position is partly based on practical military concerns. The Belgian F16s are now within 100 miles (160km) of Mr Putins home city of St Petersburg and close enough to spy on Russias borders.
With the F16s came 60 Nato ground staff, including navigation experts from Britain, who make sure that the fighters are ready to scramble within 15 minutes of an incursion. They make our lives safer, Major Martusevicius told The Times. Whoever violates our airspace, there have to be assets to defend against them.
Military planners like to work on worst case scenarios. Lets take the worst case scenario for Russia – NATO planes could strike targets in St Petersburg. The flight time for planes based in the Baltics is so short that no Russian interceptors would have time to scramble and defend the city. NATO says the F16s are only there to defend the Baltics, though, and professes to be somewhat surprised at Russia’s reaction. But think about it again from the hypothetical worst case scenario that military planners look at. It actually gets worse.
If Russia were to attack the Baltics, the flight times would also be equally short. Certainly less than the 15 minutes quoted above that the F16s would need to scramble. So, any Russian attack on the Baltics would have time to hit the F16s on the ground, before the could gt in the air. Effectively, in the case of a Russian attack, the F16s are militarily worthless. So, if they have no defensive role, why does NATO have F16s in the Baltics? Surely there can only be one other reason…
OK, none of the above is actually going to happen. NATO isn’t going to attack Russia, and Russia isn’t really going to try and invade the Baltics. But this is the mindset of those with whom we entrust the physical security of our nations. If they didn’t have this mindset, we’d want to know why not, and then we’d go find someone else who did have this mindset. National security policy has to be based on worst case scenario planning. It happens in Russia, and it happens in the US too (National Missile Defense anyone?). If states don’t do everything to provide for their defense, then one day someone really will walk all over them. And, given Russia’s historical experience, they are understandably a little reluctant to trust their defense to the good words and promises of others.