Some of Russia’s neighbors in Europe should be prepared to deal with new World War-type hybrid warfare challenges presented by Russia under President Vladimir Putin amid fighting in eastern Ukraine, a Latvian official has stated. His comments come as US and Latvia are carrying out war games amid tensions with the Kremlin.
US and Latvian troops this week are staging mock battles, including one with a “Stalingrad-type scenario.” It will also entail the firing of a more than $100,000 anti-tank missile and mortars.
Amid the war games, officials with NATO are starting to work in the new Riga-based command center, according to TIME magazine.
“NATO must be flexible,” Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis told TIME.
He said, “During the last 65 years after the Second World War it was calm and silent in Europe… now the situation has changed this year due to Russian activities in Ukraine. We must be ready to adapt to the new situation, and ready to react to new geopolitical challenges in Europe.”
Vejonis was making reference to Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine in recent months.
TIME reported that NATO forces have started increasing their forces in eastern Europe. And about 600 troops were deployed to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.
“This is time for NATO to be crystal clear,” said ex-US diplomat Matthew Bryza, who now works for the International Center for Defense Studies. “If you use military force in the Baltic states, there will be consequences, there will be war. It needs to be that clear.”
Amid the war games with the US, Vejonis said, “It is a strong political signal to Russia that we are part of NATO [and] Article Five will be enforced if it is be needed.”
Latvian officials have said they’re pleased with recent developments involving NATO forces, including the Rapid Reaction Force announced last month.
“Seeing how deep Russia’s involvement in the war with Ukraine has been, seeing these militaristic statements by Russian leaders, seeing this speculation about how capitals can be conquered in the neighborhood – we think it should be really rapid,” Andrejs Pildegovics, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, told TIME.
Putin recently spoke on former Soviet states–like Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia–trying to foster ties with Europe.
“We have never been opposed to closer relations with the EU, we ourselves want to move closer,” Putin said, reported state-run broadcaster RT.
But he stressed that it might hold risks to the Russian economy. “We need to think about the impact when signing documents with European partners and the effect it will have on our own local markets, since European goods will flood in under the guise of local products,” he said.