Russia will continue to threaten NATO, but the probability of military conflict escalation remains low / Article

Russia will continue to threaten NATO, but the probability of military conflict escalation remains low / Article
Russia will continue to threaten NATO, but the probability of military conflict escalation remains low / Article

Threats by Russian officials to NATO are a part of everyday rhetoric

Russia’s relations with Western countries have gradually deteriorated since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the start of hostilities in the eastern regions of Ukraine. The extensive Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, which included the targeting of civilians both in the conquered territories and targeted attacks on Ukrainian civil infrastructure, has further increased the antagonism between the two sides, SAB assessed.

Historically, Russia has perceived NATO as a threat. This can be explained by NATO as the world’s strongest defense alliance, as well as developments since the end of the Cold War, when the majority of Eastern European countries chose to ensure their defense through NATO membership. Such choices of European countries have reduced Russia’s ability to influence the political choices of the respective countries and led to a decrease in Russia’s influence in the region, SAB said.

Reducing NATO’s role and presence was a central element in Russia’s ultimatum to the United States and Western countries in December 2021, when Russia had already begun a large-scale deployment of troops along Ukraine’s borders.

Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, anti-NATO statements have become part of the daily rhetoric of Russian officials. Some of the statements also include direct threats to the NATO alliance and its member states.

How Russia will shape its future relations with NATO can be influenced by a number of factors – Russia’s ability to renew its military forces and military industry; Russia’s economic situation and political considerations. Further development of NATO’s defense and deterrence capabilities is equally important.

Russia’s readiness to use nuclear weapons in the short to medium term is unlikely

SAB noted that Russian high-ranking officials regularly come up with threats to use nuclear weapons, including linking them to the course of hostilities in Ukraine and Western countries’ support to Ukraine. The threat of using nuclear weapons is more intensively used by Russian officials in cases when the Ukrainian army has succeeded in achieving success on the front, or when the political discussion in Western countries about providing new support to Ukraine becomes more active.

In SAB’s assessment, the nuclear threat can be considered Russia’s attempts to deter Western countries from providing further support to Ukraine, as well as more active decisions to strengthen NATO, in particular to strengthen the presence of allies in the east of the alliance. With the help of aggressive nuclear rhetoric, Russia also seeks to raise the level of anxiety in the societies of Western countries.

In general, Russia’s readiness to use nuclear weapons in the short and medium term is unlikely, SAB assessed.

The use of nuclear weapons would certainly provoke a negative international reaction even from countries that are currently neutral or friendly to Russia, such as China, according to SAB. The use of nuclear weapons would further consolidate the Western countries, as well as could facilitate the delivery of new types of weapon systems to Ukraine, the Latvian intelligence service said.

The primary interest of Putin’s regime is to strengthen or maintain positions of power

In SAB’s assessment, the primary interest of the Putin-led regime is to strengthen or maintain its power positions. Russia’s domestic and foreign policy actions are planned with the aim of making less possible actions that can directly threaten the stability of the regime. On the one hand, the regime can use the conflict situation for further mobilization of society, but on the other hand, in case of losses, the risks for the regime to maintain power increase, SAB said. The risks for the regime may increase, despite the regime’s extensive propaganda apparatus, which already during the Ukrainian war is unable to limit socially active groups of society, such as soldiers’ mothers.

The unsuccessful course of the war in Ukraine, including Ukraine’s ability to resist much larger Russian forces, makes it necessary for the Putin regime to reassess Russia’s ability to conduct such clashes and achieve the planned result.

Russia will continue to maintain a confrontational policy towards NATO

In the SAB’s assessment, in the short and medium term, Russia’s readiness to start an open conventional military confrontation with a stronger opponent like NATO is unlikely.

SAB explained that the maintenance of an external threat is one of the most common tools of public mobilization in authoritarian countries, which has been used for a long time by the Russian political regime. NATO has also been described in Russia for a long time as an organization with an aggressive attitude towards Russia, and in the medium term it is more profitable for Russia to maintain the image of NATO as an aggressor, thus continuing to mobilize public support for the political regime.

Russian officials will continue to spread messages about NATO as a threat to Russia and the need to continue a confrontational policy on the part of Russia in public communication with varying intensity.

Russia’s relations with NATO and the possibility of confrontation, SAB calls for evaluation also in the context of other regional and global political processes. Regionally, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reduced Russia’s influence in regions close to it, such as the South Caucasus or Central Asian countries. SAB predicts that an open confrontation with NATO will further force the countries of the region to look for alternative directions of cooperation, thus reducing Russia’s role in the region. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased Russia’s dependence on China. China continues to strengthen as a market for Russian energy resources, and the presence of Chinese goods in Russian markets is increasing. As China’s economy continues to grow, in a situation where Russia’s economy is stagnating, there is a high probability that Russia will have to pay more strategic attention to China and how to limit its growing dependence on it.

The probability of a conventional military confrontation with Russia remains low

The progress of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised questions about the further scenarios of Russia’s actions, including a possible open confrontation with Western countries, including NATO members. Announcements about reforms of the Russian armed forces, aimed at strengthening the military presence in the western regions of the country, regular threats of using nuclear weapons issued by Russian officials, as well as the generally confrontational tone maintained by Russia, give the impression of the inevitability of an open military confrontation.

On the other hand, the review of the actual situation in Russia shows several factors that do not confirm what is expressed in Russia’s rhetoric, SAB said. First of all, the primary task of the Russian defense sector is the war in Ukraine, to which the majority of the armed forces, the resources of the military-industrial complex and the armament reserves accumulated over the years are directed. Russia will need time to restore the equipment lost in the war, train soldiers, as well as restore reserves. These actions will have to be carried out in conditions where the Russian economy will continue to face challenges and the country will have to evaluate which needs to direct its limited resources to.

Although Putin’s regime remains stable, the war in Ukraine has increased pressure on the regime, including creating new types of risks, as demonstrated by the June 2023 coup of former military leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. The Putin regime’s primary goal is to maintain its power and , although a confrontational policy with the West promotes public mobilization and support for the regime, a potential escalation or an open military conflict may have unpredictable consequences, SAB noted.

Therefore, in the SAB’s assessment, in the short and medium term, Putin’s regime in Russia will continue to maintain confrontational relations with Western countries and NATO, including threatening conflict escalation, including the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary.

but the likelihood of open conventional military confrontation with Russia remains low.

Most likely, Russia will continue to use hybrid methods of various nature against NATO members, including information and influence operations, as well as cyber attacks, predicted Latvian intelligence.

The article is in Latvian

Tags: Russia continue threaten NATO probability military conflict escalation remains Article


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