What a Russian offensive would look like if war broke out: expert warns – NATO countries are already preparing for such a scenario

NATO and Lithuanian flag DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Last week, NATO launched its most significant military exercise since the Cold War, with a US warship beginning its journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the Alliance’s European territory. The German exercise plans, which were made public, have also attracted much attention, with Russia striking the Baltics through the Suwalki Corridor. The Western world is preparing for the worst-case scenario of a clash with Russia. According to experts, the scenarios we have already seen, such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014, are now less likely to materialise, Aleksandras Znamerovskis states in TV3.LT

One of the possible scenarios was reported this month by the German publication Bild – the Alliance Defence 2025 scenario. In this scenario, an escalation between NATO and Russia would occur as early as February. This is a scenario of the German army practising war against Russia in case the Ukrainian armed forces are defeated against Russia.

The German Ministry of Defence details a possible path to conflict between Russia and NATO in a secret document. Month by month, it describes the actions of Russia and the West, culminating in the deployment of hundreds of thousands of NATO troops and the inevitable outbreak of war in the summer of 2025.

In this scenario, at a time when the US could be leaderless within weeks of the elections, Russia, backed by Belarus, is repeating the scenario of the 2014 invasion of Ukraine on NATO territory. In May 2025, NATO decided on its deterrent measures; at this point, it redeployed 300,000 troops, including 30,000 Bundeswehr troops, to the eastern flank.

Russian propagandists often talk about a possible war with NATO, with Russian officials and guests on Russian state television calling for a strike against both the US and other NATO members for the aid they are providing to Kyiv. Most recently, Vitaly Tretyakov, Dean of Lomonosov University and a guest on the Russian state television channel Rossiya-1, suggested doing so. He suggested attacking two NATO countries, Italy and France.

“Why would Russia attack NATO and the European Union? What then? Take control of Amsterdam, where cocaine is everywhere? What will the Russian occupation troops do there? Will they come there to fight drug smuggling?” – said Mr Tretyakov.

Russia’s expansionist goals go beyond Ukraine

Although Russian propagandists often propose attacking one or another European country, experts differ in their assessment of Russia’s possible objectives. Arvydas Pocius, a member of the Seimas and a former army commander who is a member of the National Security and Defence Committee NGSK (NSCD), said that Vladimir Putin is seeking to reclaim the former territories of the USSR.

” V. Putin is identified with his past ideal – Stalin and his plans and ambitions. He sees the collapse of the USSR as the biggest mistake of the 20th century. One can understand that he is setting out to reconstruct and rebuild the USSR and all the territories that were under the USSR. When the war broke out in Ukraine, what were the demands – to return to the situation in 1997. This says a lot about his goals”, said Mr Pocius.

Valdas Rakutis, a Lithuanian military historian and Member of the Seimas, believes that Russia would like to regain the territory it held before 1914. Still, geopolitical circumstances require it to reduce its objectives, with Kaliningrad becoming an essential part of its strategy.

“Let’s start with the dream format. The Russian territories include a vast area that Russia ruled before 1914. The southern part – the Balkans and the Caucasus region – is also part of the dreams. These dreams are part of a practical policy, especially in the Balkans.

The more realistic scenario is that they must retain access to European politics. One crucial place is the Kaliningrad area. This is a very destabilising factor in Lithuanian politics. This fort has an aggressive, militaristic purpose. As Lithuania is between Russia’s ally Belarus and Kaliningrad, this is undoubtedly destabilising,” Mr Rakutis warned.

The scenario of the annexation of Crimea in 2014 – unlikely

The German Alliance Defence 2025 exercise scenario presents one version of how a Russian attack on NATO could play out. However, there are other ways in which Russia could attack NATO. According to experts interviewed by the news portal tv3.lt, the possibility of a repeat of the 2014 invasion of Ukraine on NATO’s territory is quite remote.

In the opinion of A. Pocius, Member of the Seimas, the measures used during the 2014 annexation of Crimea, such as the infiltration of unmarked officers (the so-called little green men), are all too recognisable.

“Such a scenario would certainly not work – it is played out and is well known. But we need to be prepared for the unexpected – we need to anticipate it”, said A. Pocius.

Mr Rakutis also agreed with this assessment.

“Lithuania is morally ready for this. Meanwhile, Crimea in 2014 did not look like that – the situation was left to its own devices. I think most citizens understand the threats”, V. Rakutis said.

 In V. Rakutis’ opinion, a more favourable scenario for Russia would be to take advantage of internal divisions. However, historians believe Lithuania has yet to reach such a dangerous threshold.

“As far as taking advantage of internal problems is concerned, one of the most dangerous scenarios is a major division of society, unrest, which V. Putin could use to his advantage. I see such a threat in other countries – today we have the US and Poland, where societies are divided into several radically different groups,” V. Rakutis warned. 

“But as long as radical policies are not being pursued in Lithuania, where compromises and attempts to reach agreement are not being sought, there is no great danger”, V. Rakutis added.

Explaining how the 2022 attack scenario could unfold

Another possible scenario is similar to the one that took place in February 2022, when Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Before the start of the war, in March and April 2021, large Russian reserves were built up along the Ukrainian border, and from October 2021 onwards, troop levels were increased in Russia and Belarus. Although members of the Russian government have repeatedly denied the plan to invade Ukraine, on 21 February 2022, V. Putin announced his recognition of the independence of the territories under Russian control. On 24 February, V. Putin announced in a speech a special military operation to launch a war in Ukraine.

Giedrius Česnakas, Professor at the Lithuanian Military Academy, shared one possible scenario for a similar attack on NATO territory.

“First of all, Russia would concentrate its forces in the border areas – in this case, it would probably be Belarus, the border of St Petersburg with Latvia and Estonia, and the Kaliningrad regions,” Mr. Česnakas explained.

 According to G. Česnakas, NATO countries are already preparing for such a scenario.   

“NATO has such plans, which belong to the Force Commander, the Secretary-General. When he sees a potential threat, he can deploy and redeploy specific forces to the regions where the danger might arise.

Even before a potential invasion, work is done to prevent and deter the adversary. In the same way, the Baltic countries have partners – in Lithuania, there will be a German brigade; in Latvia, there will be Canadians; in Estonia, there will be the British with partners. They can also pre-position troops in the region, in the Baltic States, to deter the adversary. This means the adversary sees that he cannot attack unhindered. I would assume that NATO countries or the US could send ground forces and additional air forces acting as a defence or strike force,” G. Česnakas considered.

The professor stresses that countries could defend themselves in an emergency without a joint NATO decision.

“What we would see, unlike Ukraine, is that states would not necessarily wait for NATO to decide to defend themselves. Article 5 of NATO states that states can defend themselves, and partners can help them defend themselves as much as they deem necessary. There is no need to wait for a joint decision,” the professor said.

In Mr Česnakas’ view, a crucial part of Russia’s offensive would be long-range missile strikes, which would help to destroy the air force.

“I would assume that there would probably be very intensive missile strikes because the aim is to destroy the air forces, the air defences of the defending state, so that the aggressor can operate efficiently, without problems in securing the air capabilities,” Mr Česnakas explained.

In his opinion, it would be possible to counter this strike by using NATO’s air forces, which are much larger than the Russian army.

“NATO has a much larger air capability that could help defend and attack an adversary’s air force. This could shock the adversary, who would be forced to rethink his scenarios.

And then the logistics and everything else would come into play – moving NATO forces to the eastern flank as quickly as possible and also trying to keep the sea lanes open to allow for an action where we meet an adversary on the ground while at the same time partners are striking over the horizon, trying to destroy the enemy further away. This reduces the long-term pressure from the enemy so that the forces here can fight back, stop the enemy until reinforcements arrive,” explained Mr Česnakas.

In the event of a Russian attack, the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons is not ruled out, either for offensive purposes or to deter NATO countries. According to Mr Česnakas, atomic weapons cannot be ruled out completely.

“Nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons, is an important issue. They may or may not be used – we cannot be 100% sure about that”, warned Mr Česnakas.

The possibility of a nuclear threat was also assessed by A. Pocius. In his opinion, only the scenario of using nuclear weapons for deterrence is realistic. 

“The most absurd scenario is the initiation of a nuclear war, which would lead to the destruction of the world. It is much more likely that nuclear weapons would be used as a deterrent. Nuclear warheads do not need to be transported nearby – they can be dangerous from thousands of kilometres away,” said Mr Pocius.

Donald Trump could be the one to re- shuffle the deck

Europeans are also concerned about the upcoming US presidential elections, which will determine who will be the next US President as early as November this year.

At the moment, it looks like former President Trump will be the Republican Party’s candidate, as his main rival, Texas Governor Ron DeSantis, recently suspended his campaign.

D. Trump has a history of scandalous, unexpected statements about the Baltic States and Ukraine, including saying that the US would not support the Baltic States in the event of Russian aggression. In this election season, he has said that he would resolve Russia’s war against Ukraine in a day. And Mr Trump himself has previously been notorious for his economic ties with Russia. These circumstances may determine Russia’s decision to attack.

While the first Donald Trump administration-imposed sanctions on Russia and transferred weapons to Ukraine, Professor G. Česnakas believes that the second term could be a more significant departure from the usual course, as D. Trump’s decisions will depend heavily on the advisers he chooses.

“It is difficult to predict, but a second term could differ greatly. In his first term, some people in his administration were keen to maintain a strong US position at the international level. There was a perception that America’s allies were as important to the US as the US was to its allies. A lot will depend on what D. Trump chooses as his advisers. It is hard to say that responsible people who take the international environment seriously would be willing to sacrifice themselves in times of internal disagreement,” said Mr Česnakas.

However, he reminds us that the President’s power to influence NATO is not unlimited.

“Let us not forget that the US President is not the sole decision-maker. Changes have been made in the US, meaning the US President alone cannot withdraw from NATO. But we understand that it is not necessary to withdraw from NATO – a decision not to participate actively can mean a lot”, warned Mr Česnakas. 

 In V. Rakutis’ opinion, it is unlikely that the US will adopt a pro-Russian policy. However, the MEP believes there will probably be fewer dissenting voices in the D. Trump administration.

“The connection between Donald Trump and Russia was most noticeable in Russia itself – when he won the first election, the whole of Russia cheered. He may not have been able to pursue a very pro-Russian policy at the time because the US has many safeguards on defence issues. Now, there will be fewer of those votes, so the stakes are likely to be higher.

I do not think that this is just pre-election populism. He will be looking at his positions, not those of his advisors”, Mr. Rakutis said.  

“Nevertheless, a pro-Russian US policy is tough to imagine in this period”, he added.

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