April 2015 – UKRAINE – Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO forces and one-time presidential candidate, made a prediction about Russia last week based on a recent fact-finding visit to Ukraine: The enigmatic former Cold War power is planning yet another offensive there, likely between Orthodox Easter this Sunday and the symbolic V-E Day on May 8, which marks the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s formal surrender in World War II. Clark has been advocating for the U.S. to provide greater assistance to its Ukrainian allies, particularly lethal weapons, and believes the U.S. should be poised to respond to what he considers the inevitability of further Russian aggression. His assertions come amid tense times in Eastern Europe, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attempts to guide his country through a fragile and spasmodic cease-fire, in place since February, and to some sort of future free of Russian interference. Yet Russia maintains control of Crimea, which it annexed last year, and observers question whether Kremlin-backed rebels will try to make another land grab to create a bridge connecting the strategically placed peninsula with mainland Russia.
Or perhaps President Vladimir Putin’s Russia will maneuver toward a more precious goal: the weakening of NATO, starting with some of the alliance’s newest members that were all too recently within the sweep of Moscow’s sickle. “They are concerned. They’re really concerned,” William Taylor, acting executive vice president at the United States Institute of Peace, says of Baltic countries like Latvia and their NATO partners. Taylor was a former infantry officer in the Army who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. “Their militaries are beginning to think seriously about how they would respond to a kind of Ukraine-like situation.” Russian troops remain at or across the country’s border with Ukraine, and Western officials are concerned over the failure so far of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to fully monitor the area. A special task force of the organization – which has been charged with monitoring both sides’ adherence to the cease-fire – includes civilians from Ukraine and Russia but has been unable to patrol some areas of the border, citing security concerns.
Russia’s effective use over the last year of “little green men” – or forces it can deny having deployed – has only heightened tensions among many operating in the region, serving as a reminder that all players in the conflict have grown more cunning. That specter also has left many in the area wondering: Who could be next? “We should look very, very carefully because all sides are learning lessons,” says Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, chief of the Latvian defense forces, who sat down with U.S. News for an extensive interview late last month. “A new type of hybrid warfare could emerge.” Latvia and its NATO partners have had to be on guard against more nuanced, unconventional warfare techniques, Graube says, adding: “We do have to be very careful.” Russian military and intelligence services already have employed so-called hybrid warfare in an attempt to destabilize Ukraine, ultimately creating the circumstances under which they could deploy troops there. The National Defence Academy of Latvia released a policy paper last year breaking down the various phases of Russia’s strategy.
The plan’s early stages involve misleading an opposing government’s leadership and disseminating pro-Russian propaganda among the general population, before ultimately ramping up military presence – along with less conventional tactics like cyberattacks – ahead of an all-out deployment that includes special operations forces. “The Russian view of modern warfare is based on the idea that the main battlespace is the mind and, as a result, new-generation wars are to be dominated by information and psychological warfare, in order to achieve superiority in troops and weapons control, morally and psychologically depressing the enemy’s armed forces personnel and civil population,” the paper says. –US NEWS