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Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia: Putin's Next Target
So, Putin has seized Crimea to secure the only warm water Russian port. He did this without firing a shot and using military force as a threat weapon near the borders and internally. You must admit, it was picture perfect in execution. All the West could do is do what they did with Hitler before WW2 to contain him, talk and negotiate. The West had little to threatened Putin with. The sanctions are scoffed at by Putin. He is calling Obama's bluff.
Putin very well may seize by force the eastern Ukraine because what is NATO going to do? So far, it has been a paper tiger. Sometimes, actions are needed when words are ignored. Putin only understands military prowess. He wants to make Russia "whole" again after the breakup in 1991. But, Putin has other options: The Baltic States.
These states were part of Russia before 1991. Unlike the Ukraine, however, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, are part of NATO now. This might be the "red line" once again, this time, NATO would have to act. As the Ukraine is still up for grabs, Moscow has been using political and economic pressure on the these states. Putin views these states as a threat from the West. Putin ordered to stop exports and imports of food to Lithuania.
Putin is using the same tactics of having pro-Russian supporters in Riga demonstrating for unity with Russia. Russia is one of the largest suppliers and business trade with these Baltic states, so all he would have to do is to stop it and the three small states would be very hard pressed unless the EU rescued them. All of them have a high ethnic Russian population of nearly 25% Russian speaking.
The Ukraine crisis is for Putin all about the defense of ethnic Russians. He has complained about how Latvia is mistreating ethnic Russians. He said that about the Ukraine. The Ukraine is not over, in fact, it is in a TBD mode. Russian troops are poised to roll into eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian military has called up 20,000 men for defenses. If there is a battle, it would be reminiscent of Poland in 1939, the German army steamrolled over the Polish Army in a few days. Putin may feel this is time to take the best part of the Ukraine-the eastern portion where most of the industry is. It is free for the taking. NATO will do little to prevent it.
The Baltic States are different since they are part of NATO. Already, US aircraft fighters have been based Lithuania.Symbolic, yes, but would Putin push his luck? He might because he hates NATO being so close to Russia and considers the organization pathetic with little guts.