Russia preparing for long-term standoff in Baltic, Lithuania’s spy agencies say

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Russia’s military is preparing for a protracted standoff with NATO member states in the Baltic Sea region as the Kremlin expands military capability westward, Lithuania’s spy agencies said.

President Vladimir Putin’s military is increasingly using air, naval and nuclear forces to project Russian potential in the Baltic, according to a joint report by the Baltic nation’s military and domestic intelligence agencies. The development is part of a major realignment of Russia’s armed forces in its western regions, the report said.

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Still, building the necessary infrastructure and equipping units with personnel and weaponry will take “at least several years.”

“It is both compensating for its losses in Ukraine and creating new capabilities for a long-term confrontation with the West,” the Lithuanian intelligence report said.

As Russia’s campaign in Ukraine moves into its third year, NATO members on the alliance’s eastern flank have increasingly raised the potential of a direct threat to the West. In a recent report, Estonian intelligence forecast that Russia would need three to five years to rebuild its military machine enough to pose a direct threat to the military alliance.

Citing a further threat in the region, the report said that Belarus has made progress in establishing a “credible nuclear capability” on its territory after Russia announced last year it would deploy non-strategic nuclear weapons in the country.

Since then, the government in Minsk had nuclear storage infra-structure renewed and its military personnel trained to operate nuclear systems. Belarusian forces have two potential nuclear delivery means -- the Su-25 attack aircraft based at the Lida airbase, close to the Lithuanian border, and mobile Iskander-M missile systems at Asipovichy in central Belarus.

“Russia is increasingly resorting to blackmail and threats, including the use of nuclear rhetoric, to force the West to scale back its support for Ukraine,” the report said.

In a sign of disapproval of Finland’s accession to NATO, Russia last year deployed vessels capable of carrying Kalibr cruise missiles on Lake Ladoga, a body of water in the Karelia region near Finland’s southeast border.

The Kremlin also had Tu-22M3 heavy bombers conduct five flights over the Baltic Sea in 2023, compared with none the previous year.

Intelligence agencies in both Russia and Belarus are becoming more aggressive in finding recruitment targets, with a growing Belarusian diaspora at the greatest risk of being pursued by agents, the Lithuanian agencies said.

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