Putin's dangerous games in the Baltic
NATO war-gamed this issue. Russia could control the Baltic capitals within 60 hours. It is then thought Russia would use a tactical nuclear device on a land base or naval force. What would NATO do then?
The old KGB headquarters in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, is a sinister place, full of ghosts. It is a solid 19th-century neoclassical building with walls thick enough to have muffled the screams of those under interrogation. The cells in the basement are as cold and damp as they were in Soviet times and there are stone steps down to an airless, claustrophobic chamber where prisoners were executed, a thousand of them, the wall still pock-marked with bullet holes. You can imagine people hurrying by on the other side of the road in the old days, not daring to look up at the pale grey façade, knowing what took place behind it.
The building now houses Lithuania’s Museum of Genocide Victims, a monument to the one third of the country’s population killed or deported to Siberia during the-Soviet occupation. Lithuanian army recruits are taken there just as Israeli conscripts make a ritual visit to the Holocaust-museum near Jerusalem. ‘We feel the same,’ said my friend, a senior officer in the Lithuanian army, who was showing me round. ‘Never again… We will not repeat the mistakes we made when we allowed Lithuania to be occupied by the Soviet Union without one shot fired. It took an enormous effort for the freedom fighters after the second world war to resist and take that shame away.’
Russian tanks rolling into the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — once again? It seems a mad idea, but Lithuania thinks it real enough to have reinstated conscription. This is more than just Baltic alarm: Sweden signed a defence pact with the United States in June, and Finland is-trying to do the same. A recent Norwegian television drama imagined the country under Russian occupation. Meanwhile, in real life, Russia has formed three new motorised rifle divisions, with more than 30,000 troops, many of them to be sent close to the Baltics. And short-range missiles that can carry nuclear bombs have been delivered to Kaliningrad, the neighbouring Russian enclave.
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