Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Mother of All Red Lines

There is simmering unrest in Belarus. It takes little imagination for me to see Putin invading and annexing Belarus to the growing Russian empire.

Yeah, this worries me. A lot:

Opposition activists say defiance of Lukashenko is rising, and more protests will come. Lukashenko blames the protests on a “fifth column” of foreign spies who should be “picked out like raisins from a bun.” Rapprochement with the West, long considered a foreign policy aim for the EU to draw the country away from Russia’s influence, has been put on indefinite hold. Anger simmers.

The popular discontent with Lukashenko, a tall, broad man with a bushy moustache and a fondness for harvesting vegetables by hand, stems from issues as varied as economic hardship, corruption, and repression of basic rights.

It worries me because I don't see a free Belarus as the alternative to the dictator Lukashenko. No, I see the alternative to a Belarus dictatorship balancing between Russia and Europe as a Belarus being a province of Russia again.

Putin already has the military force to grab Belarus and could easily set them loose to arrest and shoot civilians who resist. Putin will justify an invasion of Belarus by pointing to Belarus protesters and calling them NATO agents.

Let's keep a close eye on Russia's Zapad 2017 exercise later this year, eh?

The Baltic states will press the United States and NATO to take additional security measures in the region ahead of a large Russian military exercise planned for September, Lithuania's president said on Thursday.

If that happens, the Suwalki Gap becomes NATO's new frontline along a new iron curtain.

I've long viewed a possible Russian annexation of Belarus as an Austria-like Anschluss. But it may be better thought of as remilitarizing the Rhineleand or perhaps better, the occupation of the Sudetenland.

Or, depending on whether Putin sees taking Belarus as more than an intermediate step, the new Belgium (and it could be 1914 or 1940).

For those looking for historical comparisons, of course.

If Putin occupies Belarus and annexes it, he will move his military into Belarus in force, making the defense of NATO Lithuania far more difficult.

The NATO defense of Estonia and Latvia farther north already relies on a counter-attack to liberate them, truth be told.

We'll need a non-Polish NATO heavy corps in Poland with equipment for more troops stored there.

With better logistics to funnel more troops east.

Because right now, American forces are an ocean away (From "AUSA's 5 Things" email):

Speed of deployment is becoming a closely watched measurement of Army readiness. The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team from Fort Carson, Colo., moved to Poland in 76 days in January, and the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Drum, N.Y., moved to Greece in 62 days in February.

What to watch: To improve readiness, the Army plans on treating every exercise like a wartime deployment to practice shaving time off movements, said Lt. Gen. Aundre F. Piggee, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics.

Obviously, that's not fast enough to stop a Russian attack. And don't become confused and think the Europeans will buy time for us to arrive:

NATO undoubtedly needs additional funding sources, but the unwillingness of European countries to meet their 2 percent of GDP pledge isn’t NATO’s real problem. Rather the real problem is its unwillingness to realize that Europe is not at peace and will not be for a considerable time to come. NATO’s response to Russian threats to European security has been too slow and halting. As a recent Rand report suggests, European forces are still not ready for prime time. Consequently, NATO faces both conventional inferiority on the Baltic, Balkan, and Black Sea flanks and nuclear blackmail by Moscow.

A little sense of urgency from our European allies west of Poland would be helpful.

And America could use a rebuilt actual armored cavalry regiment standing guard at the Suwalki Gap to fight a delaying action while attriting the attacking Russians. With perhaps another ACR earmarked for screening the Latvian and Estonian borders.

All this comes into play because Belarus is possibly the most important territory in Europe right now.

And for real fun as we look for historical analogies, as bad as Putin seems, what if Putin is the Mussolini sidekick of our 1930s deja vu?