Russia focused on Baltic to take fight to Nato, Lithuania warns

Moscow's army has improved in Ukraine battles, making it well-prepared for confrontation with the West, Lithuanian military chiefs claim

A Russian frigate launches a Kalibr cruise missile. A Lithuanian intelligence report has suggested that Russia is aiming to target Nato. AP
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Russia is preparing for a long-term confrontation with Nato while it steps up its campaign in Ukraine, an intelligence report has disclosed.

As a result of lessons learnt from the bloody fighting with its neighbour, Moscow has an army that has “improved its combat effectiveness”, Lithuania’s intelligence agencies reported.

They said Russia had the capability to continue its current tempo of the war in Ukraine, where last month it seized the city of Avdiivka, albeit with 47,000 casualties including an estimated 17,000 killed.

Russia is planning a war with Nato while it continues its campaign against Ukraine, where it is learning valuable tactical lessons, especially in the use of drones, the report said.

The Baltic Sea region was the key focus for the Kremlin’s potential attack on the alliance, where it has increased its air and naval resources, according to Lithuania’s declassified 2024 national threat assessment.

This included missile cruisers equipped with the Kalibr cruise missiles near St Petersburg and its force of Tupolev Tu-22 “Backfire” heavy bombers, conducting five sorties over the Baltic Sea last year after in 2022.

“Russia is preparing for a long-term confrontation with Nato, including in the Baltic Sea region, and is gradually expanding its military capability westward,” the report said.

Presidential mobilisation

There is also a strong likelihood that President Vladimir Putin will use his near-guaranteed victory in next week’s Russian presidential election, starting on Friday, as a platform to make unpopular decisions.

This could well include the imposition of greater mobilisation for Russian men to bolster the army’s ranks, which “could allow the Kremlin to address some potential constraints on its long-term war effort”, the Institute for the Study of War said.

The Washington think tank also reported that Russian military thinkers were now “openly discussing how Russia can go to war against Nato in the near future”.

It quoted an article in the Russian Ministry of Defence journal, Military Thought, that suggested the war in Ukraine “could escalate into a large-scale war in Europe”. The Russian colonel author argued that peace in Ukraine would “not lead to the end of confrontation between the West and Russia”.

Sustain fight in Ukraine

Lithuania’s intelligence chiefs suggested Russia had the “manpower, material and financial resources” to sustain the Ukraine fight.

Despite suffering heavy losses in personnel and equipment since the 2022 invasion, including 120,000 killed, Russia has been able to rebuild its armed forces in greater numbers.

“Moscow is able to evaluate the lessons learnt and improve its combat effectiveness,” said the report composed by Lithuania’s State Security Department and the Defence Intelligence and Security Service.

Russia continued to prioritise quantity of manpower and materiel over quality of forces, it added.

Billion dollar defence

By mobilising its defence industrial base at the expense of other economic sectors, Russia was able to spend $119 billion on its armed forces last year, double what Britain spends.

Its economy has been significantly bolstered by high oil prices as well its ability to circumvent many western sanctions.

The report said Russia had “no intention of de-escalating” the war in Ukraine and even if it was defeated Moscow would continue to undermine its neighbour’s sovereignty and look to destroy its military power base.

Updated: March 09, 2024, 7:08 AM