How long could Lithuania resist open military aggression?

Most Lithuanians think that, should Russia decide to engage in military aggression against their country, it could defend itself without any outside help for one or two days. So said 44.6 percent of respondents in a poll commissioned by DELFI.

Political scientist Deividas Šlekys of the International Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University says that, following the NATO decision to set up a spearhead force for rapid deployment, Lithuania would not have to stand its ground unassisted for more than two days.

“The NATO summit specifically addressed the issue of a rapid response force of up to 4,000 troops that could be deployed to any spot on Earth within 48 hours. And since these will be European forces, they could reach us even faster. Which means that we’d have to defend ourselves alone for no more than two days before someone came to help. Very likely, even faster,” Šlekys says.

Few optimists

Public opinion pollster Spinter Tyrimai carried out the survey in late July, asking 1,005 people how long they thought Lithuania could withstand Russian military aggression without NATO help.

Of those polled , 44.6 percent said Lithuania could hold out for one or two days, while 16 percent said a week.

Optimists were much fewer in numbers. That Lithuania could defend itself for at least two weeks thought 7.3 percent of those polled. Slightly fewer, 7.2 percent, gave it one month. 4.2 percent thought Lithuania could hold out for three months, while 5.2 percent were more confident and gave it more than three months.

Šlekys: Lithuania would make it

International relations expert Šlekys says that these lay speculations are quite accurate, which is why NATO leaders have recently decided to create a force for particularly rapid deployment and set up headquarters in the Baltic states.

He adds, however, that while military aggression against a NATO member would trigger collective defence mechanism outlined in Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the tricky part is the exact definition of “military aggression”. Does that mean foreign tanks entering a country’s territory or would it include a foreign government using local groups as proxies to foment armed unrest?

“There are many possible scenarios: two days or longer. But I can hardly imagine a possibility of Lithuania falling within two days. Sure, Russian tanks could enter the territory and try to take control, but Kaunas, Vilnius, Klaipėda falling down in less than two days – it’s hard to imagine. Our political elite and society would not break down so fast. Taking control of parts of the Lithuanian territory in two days is possible, but that would mean surrendering some territory in order to retain strategic towns and win time before allies came to assistance. I disagree outright that we would succumb after two days,” Šlekys insists.

On the other hand, he says, the strategy of the “little green men” – as Ukrainians called Russian military servicemen without identifying marks on their uniforms – is different from open military aggression. The use of unidentified soldiers protracts the response time. Moreover, Šlekys says, NATO leaders would definitely have difficult time deciding whether resulting developments on ground should be considered aggression or simply civil unrest.

“In such a scenario, we would have to stand on our own for longer than two days,” according to him. “This kind of warfare is very time-extensive. So we would be talking about weeks, not days.”

He adds, however, that foreign agents could not just enter the country and take over administrative buildings, as it happened in eastern Ukraine in the early stages of the current crisis.

“Our border is not as permeable, while the Russian-speaking community is much smaller than in Latvia or Estonia. That is also a factor,” the political scientist says.

“The ‘little green men’ scenario would not be met with specific response quite so readily as tanks. It would result in a longer debate period than conventional military force crossing into the country. It’s truly a grey zone. The little green men could at first be treated as simple criminals. What would NATO have to do with that? And when does ordinary banditry cross into something more? When does it become foreign aggression? I think that NATO leaders have spent many hours debating this,” Šlepys says.

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