Baltic states seek defence against Russian threat

A column of Russian tanks roll through Red Square in 2013. Image copyright Getty Images

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The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been studying the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, writes Robert Beckhusen for Medium, and they think they've learned an important lesson

The way to stop Russian tanks isn't with other tanks, he says, it's with anti-tank missiles. Lots of them.

When it faced off against Russia, Georgia didn't have this capability - and it proved costly. Beckhuson quotes Frederic Labarre, who wrote a history of one of the key battles in the Russia-Georgia conflict for Small Wars Journal.

"On the one hand, it is clear that cool-headed infantry is more than a match for armour, especially in an urban environment," Labarre says. "This lesson had been put to the test many times and many years before, by many countries. One wonders therefore why it wasn't applied by the Georgians."

The Baltic states, according to Beckhusen, aren't interested in repeating these strategic errors.

Over the past two years, they have been buying anti-tank weapons in large numbers, he reports. Estonia, for instance, spent $55m [£34m] early this month for 120 US launchers, 250 missiles and assorted spare parts. Last year the three Baltic states combined to spend $63m on Swedish rocket systems.

"There's one overriding reason for why the Baltic states want to destroy armour," Beckhusen writes. "It's because they fear Russian tanks. Many officials in these countries are also worried Nato might not come to the rescue were Russian troops were to invade."

According to Richard Milne and Neil Buckley in the Financial Times, the Baltic nations remember half a century of occupation at the hands of the Soviets and are particularly sensitive to prospects of a more belligerent Russia under Vladimir Putin, even though the nations have Nato security guarantees.

"As members of Nato for the past decade, the potential prize for their destabilisation is all the greater for Mr Putin as it would call the alliance's credibility into question," they write. "Mr Putin's ruling circle views Nato as an organisation that is fundamentally hostile and a threat to Russia."

Recent concerns over the possibility of a Russia submarine cornered in the territorial waters of nearby Sweden have only heightened these concerns.

"The geopolitical stakes in the Baltics could scarcely be higher," Milne and Buckley conclude.


If Hitler had died young - Counterfactuals are always fun, and the Academie Diplomatique Internationale's Timothy W Ryback takes on a popular one in the New York Times. If Adolf Hitler had died in World War One, would fascism have taken hold in Germany?

Ryback speculates that Hitler emerged at a crucial time in Germany's transition from monarchy to democracy.

"This was history's perfect storm. Hitler seized the moment and plunged Germany and all of Europe full steam into catastrophe," he writes. "We can say with certainty that no other political leader of the era would have harnessed national passions or driven an anti-Semitic, pure-race agenda with such ferocity or tragic consequence, resulting in the deaths of millions of European Jews as well as gypsies, homosexuals, the weak and disabled."

Hitler's rise, Ryback concludes, can offer lessons to modern-day leaders in regions such as the Arab world that are trying to make a similar transition from monarchical rulers to government by the people. "A history without Hitler underscores both the potential and pitfalls of transitioning societies," he says.


Balancing security and freedom - Bob Rae writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail that Canadian leadership will have to tread lightly when considering legislative ways to address the recent shooting in Ottawa.

"Accountability and oversight" must be included in any attempt to expand law enforcement powers, he says.

"An effective strategy requires deep cultural knowledge, the engagement of many communities and their leaders, and the resources to be nimble in dealing with new groups and new threats," he writes.


Global economy offers opportunity for reform - Falling oil prices has given India's leaders a golden opportunity to enact much-needed reforms in the petroleum and energy sectors, writes CRL Narasimhan in the Hindu.

He says the key test, however, will be sticking with the reforms when energy prices make their eventual return to higher levels.

"Real reform here would require them to stay away during different phases of the petroleum price cycle," he writes. "Unless of course there are oil shocks that create crisis situations crying out for government interventions."


An Arab world anomaly - As other nations in the region struggle with war and authoritarian retrenchment, Tunisia is embracing a democratic path, writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post.

"In January it adopted a progressive constitution balancing power between the parliament chosen Sunday, which will confirm a prime minister, and a president to be popularly elected next month," he writes.

In Tunisia, Diehl says, the country's Islamist Ennahda party have embraced a unity governing coalition - forsaking the "scorched earth" politics of other Arab nations.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian and Ukrainian commentators react to Ukraine's parliamentary elections on Sunday.

"The results of the election for the Supreme Council … show that no political force has a monopoly to form a majority. And this is definitely good." - Taras Berezovets in Ukrayinska Pravda.

"There is hope for a new government made up of professionals and not politicos, a new leadership of the national Bank of Ukraine which will employ specialists who know what to do." - Oleksandr Okhrymenko in Vesti.

"A country is better off with legitimate government bodies, after all. Of course, we shouldn't expect full resolution any time soon, but a freezing of the conflicts is possible." - Andrey Bunich, president of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Leaseholders in business daily Kommersant.‎

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