The Corner

On Shooting ‘Little Green Men’

One of the mysteries of the Russian takeover of the Crimea was the sluggish Ukrainian response to the peninsula’s infiltration by “little green men,” Russian military operatives who had removed just enough of their insignia for Putin to be able to deny, however unconvincingly, that they were anything to do with him.

Estonia, conscious, I suspect, of the vulnerability of Narva, a city of some 60,000 located just across a narrow river from Russia, does not want to repeat Ukraine’s mistake. Narva is a Russian-speaking city where only 4 percent of the population is ethnic Estonian.

The Financial Times reports:

Estonia has a clear plan for dealing with any “little green men” — the undercover Russian special forces operatives who sprung up in the early days of the Ukraine crisis last year — according to the country’s chief of defence: they will be shot . . .

Estonia, a nation of just 1.3m, is in the midst of its largest peacetime mobilisation exercise this week, involving 13,000 troops, 7,000 of them called up by draft.

If Russian agents or special forces enter Estonian territory, “you should shoot the first one to appear,” Gen Terras [Estonia’s most senior military officer] said. “If somebody without any military insignia commits terrorist attacks in your country you should shoot him … you should not allow them to enter.”

Having watched Russia’s undercover operatives quickly and effectively create their own facts on the ground in Ukraine’s restive east last year, with Kiev paralysed and unable to stop them, Nato policy makers and strategists have spent months grappling with the question of how best the alliance should position itself to deal with Moscow’s subversive tactics.

Images of unmarked special forces troops silently taking up positions at key locations, shadowy militias rapidly mobilising in support of Moscow and a relentless information warfare campaign have raised questions about military readiness, intelligence capabilities and the threshold of responding with violence to provocation.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of such tactics, at least so far as Estonia is concerned, is that they could be used to cast doubt on NATO’s obligation to come to its aid. Under Article 5 of the NATO treaty that obligation is very clear, but what if the Russian incursion could be camouflaged just enough for the more hesitant NATO allies (yes, Mrs. Merkel, that includes you) to claim it was an “internal” matter (involving, say, rebellious Narvans) that did not trigger any duty to help out?

The Financial Times:

Gen Terras said . . . Nato needed to be prepared to stand behind his country and go to war in the event of his forces having to forcibly confront any Russian interference in a way that Kiev was initially unable to do.

“We need to make sure that we believe in article five,” he said — referring to the principle of collective defence in Nato’s founding treaty — “but, even more importantly, we need to make sure that Mr [Vladimir] Putin believes in article five. And I think we should put a lot of emphasis on that.”

Deterrence works, but to work it has to be convincing. 


Public Broadcasting of Latvia:

The senior military commanders in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are to send a letter to NATO’s commander in Europe, US General Philip Breedlove, requesting a major troop reinforcement for the region.

“At a meeting of Baltic armed forces commanders recently in Lithuania… they agreed on sending a joint letter to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Philip Breedlove in which, given the geopolitical situation in the region, they will request a higher – brigade level – permanent Allied military presence with a roughly battalion-level placement of units in each country,” a statement by the Latvian Defense Ministry said….

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