Nuclear ‘blitzkrieg’: NATO ally Latvia fears Russia will stage swift invasion using small nukes

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Russian forces have been training for a blitzkrieg operation targeting NATO members under the cover of recently developed nuclear weapons, according to a senior Baltic defense official.

“That is probably the most dangerous scenario,” Janis Garisons, the second-ranked official in Latvia’s Ministry of Defense, told the Washington Examiner. “If you would look at Russian exercises, then you would see that they are exercising for such a scenario.”

Latvia joined NATO in 2004, so any invasion would challenge the Article 5 pledge that requires the United States and all other allies to treat an attack on one member of the transatlantic alliance as an attack on all. And yet, Garisons argued that Western allies shouldn’t assume Russian President Vladimir Putin would shrink from such an operation if he thought he could win quickly.

“If you look also at the Crimea scenario that was recently conducted, it is about actually the copy of [the Nazi] German Blitzkrieg, in Russian implementation,” Garisons said, referring to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine. “Just, during the Blitzkrieg, there were no nuclear weapons invented yet.”

Russia developed low-yield nuclear weapons as part of a plan to “escalate to deescalate,” according to Western officials. At the time, the U.S. military did not have any of the relatively small nuclear weapons deployed. The Russian theory, according to American strategists, was that they could get away with using the low-yield bombs in a conflict because the U.S. wouldn’t want to retaliate with the kind of strategic nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear Armageddon.

“We don’t want someone else to miscalculate that because they are going to use a low-yield weapon, that somehow we would confront [a choice between] ’surrender or suicide,’” then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress in 2018.

If Russia could gain that advantage, the thinking goes, then they might even be willing to risk an attack on a NATO ally such as Latvia or one of the other former Soviet vassal states. Pentagon officials announced last month that some U.S. Navy nuclear submarines would carry the smaller warheads, while the U.S. Army is leading major military exercises in Europe this spring.

Garisons touted the Defender Europe 20 exercises as a display of “robust and profound” display of America’s commitment to protect Europe from Russia and also credited these new weapons with “changing, probably, the Russian calculus.” Still, Latvian officials are enhancing their defenses to ensure that they can withstand a hypothetical Russian attack long enough for the U.S. and other NATO allies to send reinforcements.

“We will not repeat the mistakes of 1940 when we did a quiet surrender,” he said. “We will fight … and, certainly, we hope that allies will be able to support us.”

Jim Gilmore, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, emphasized to reporters at the State Department this week that the Baltic states are NATO members. “The Baltic states are very much a part of … Western society at this point, and we do not believe that there is a threat to them at this time,” he said.

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