Russia’s Threat to Lithuania in the Next 24 Months

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has ushered in an unprecedented level of alarm for the European continent. Lithuania is a former Soviet bloc nation that finds itself near Ukraine, among other points of key terrain Russia could use in the event of its military campaign moving further East. Therefore, Russia’s threat to Lithuania is worth paying attention to.

Key Judgement 1: In the next 24 months, it is unlikely the Russian threat to Lithuania will take a conventional form.  

  • Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine displays a military force that is currently incapable of proficiently conducting conventional warfare against a smaller and less equipped force. 

  • The performance of Russia’s conventional military operations in Ukraine is inferior to pre-war analysis and scenario generation. Russia has suffered a catastrophic loss in both equipment and personnel since the initial invasion in late February 2022. Ukrainian resistance has shed light on the lack of military prowess and combined arms coordination coming from Russian units. Although the decision to invade Ukraine is a tactical blunder, it is unlikely the Kremlin will risk a conventional war with NATO forces that would occur if Lithuania was to be invaded. 

  • In contrast to Ukraine, Lithuania is a member of NATO. Any future military action against Lithuania will invoke the organization’s Article 5 “collective defence” doctrine. That action would bring other NATO partners into the conflict, which is unlikely to be a desirable outcome for President Putin. (source)

Russia's threat to Lithuania
Lithuanian Honor Guard Company (source)

Key Judgement 2: In the next 24 months, it is likely Lithuania will take proactive steps in bolstering the defence of the Suwalki Gap. If that action occurs, there is a realistic probability the Russian threat will increase. 

  • As determined by NATO, the Suwalki Gap is a piece of key terrain that would give Russia a strong battlefield advantage with a future European invasion. This makes it a point of friction in NATO’s regional military strategy, as well as a piece of land that requires a strong defence in the wake of Russia’s current aggression. 

  • The Suwalki Gap is a strip of land that traverses the borders of Lithuania, Poland, and connects the Russia-aligned Belarus with Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad is a Russian territory that rests between the Baltic States and the other European NATO members. The territories importance to Russia is highly strategic: it connects Russia to the Baltic Sea, and it used to house an array of Russian military forces and hardware. 

  • Although Russian military action against the Baltic States is unlikely, it is likely Lithuania will join Poland in bolstering the Suwalki Gap’s defence. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine is an irrational geopolitical action that signals a need for Lithuania to prepare for seemingly unlikely future military scenarios. Preventing a Russian takeover of the Suwalki Gap is paramount to regional stability. (source)    

Russia's Threat to Lithuania
NATO forces conducting a training exercise in the Suwalki Gap (source)

Key Judgement 3: In the next 24 months, Russia will highly likely increase its use of disinformation as the Kremlin seeks to project soft power over the Baltic states, posing a persistent Russian threat to the Lithuanian population.

  • In recent years, Russia has sought to use soft power to gain influence in the Baltic States, including Lithuania. Disinformation is the primary Russian threat to Lithuania.

  • Lithuania is a prime country for Russian disinformation. Although 5.8% of its population is ethically Russian, and 8% of its population speaks the Russian language (source), the Kremlin does not forget its status as a former USSR territory, along with its strategic geographical location. Lithuania’s inclusion into the EU and NATO has resulted in a Westernization of its culture, which opposes Russia’s cold nationalism and opposition to liberal democracy.

  • Russia seeks to gain influence over the Lithuanian population using similar means to its information warfare campaign during the 2016 national elections in the United States. The string of military defeats and lack of a coherent strategy in Ukraine has resulted in an international reprimand towards Russia. Disinformation is the only tool that can help mitigate the negative attention that its activities in Ukraine have garnered. 

  • Lithuania will likely continue to be the spearhead of the Baltic State’s fight against Russian disinformation. The fragile and fractured state of Lithuania-Russia relations, along with the international backlash against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will highly likely continue to drive the Kremlin’s disinformation operations into the future, as it seeks to convert Baltic residents into sympathy for its cause. (source) Recent measures in Lithuania have included the government requesting tech companies remove a Yandex aligned ride-share application from its national store that holds the potential to give Russian security services Lithuanian data. (source)

    Intelligence cut-off date: 6th of May 2022

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