News out of Prague, the Czech Republic, indicates that the tensions between Russia and the European NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) nations have prompted that country to not only send troops to Lithuania to join in the military exercises there but to also consider sending additional troops to train in NATO military exercises as early as 2018. Is the move a fearful act that only escalates the mounting tensions, or will it be seen as an act to add balance where the Russian military appears to be dominant?
The Prague Daily Monitor reported earlier in the week that Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky told journalists on Friday that the Czech Republic had committed to sending 150 troops to Lithuania early next year to join in joint military operations to be conducted throughout the year. The Czech troops will be part of the exercises for three months.
According to Stropnicky, the decision to send troops to train in the area was agreed upon by the Visegrad 4, an alliance of eastern European nations of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Lithuania, which is separated from Russia by tiny Latvia to its north and east and Belarus to its south and east, has been living under the constant fear of Russian invasion for years. And with the recent escalation in military exercises and drills, the massive Russian military build-up and modernization in the past-half-decade, and warnings from think tanks like the Atlantic Council (as previously covered by the Inquisitr) that the Baltic States (which, along with Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania is a geographic part) would be a prime target for a Russian territorial expansion, the fears that an imminent invasion from the east have only grown. In fact, Stropnicky admitted as much -- that fears shared by the Visegrad 4 of an eventual Russian invasion precipitated the troop involvement -- on Friday.
All four nations of the Visegrad 4, the Defense Minister stated, would provide troops next year in a revolving manner.
NATO's four major nation constituents -- the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany -- have all agreed to send troops into the area for a large multinational series of military exercises in 2018. The actions are meant to act as a counterbalance to what has been considered a build-up in Russia's aggressiveness, especially the nation's propensity in the past few years to reacquire territories that were once part of the greater expanse of countries that comprised the former sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
All of the Baltic States and the Visegrad 4 fall within that particular distinction. As part of the Warsaw Pact of nations, the members formed a mutual defense league that was aligned with the USSR. After the break-up of the Soviet Union beginning in the early 1990s and the re-establishment of independence among the separate states (not to mention the addition of other states with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia into several different nations), those same nations have realigned with NATO in a mutual defense pact. Many of those nations are considered a buffer zone between the rest of Europe and a possible invasion force out of Russia.
But an invasion against any NATO member nation, as far the mutual defense pact created in the treaty, calls for the reaction of other member states to the aggression as an act of war against the collective. Therein, succinctly, is the foundation for anxiety in eastern Europe over a possible invasion escalating into World War 3.
The Czech Republic, as well as its eastern neighbor Slovakia (both of which once formed Czechoslovakia), was the subject of a Russian-led takeover and occupation in August of 1968. As recorded by the U.S. Office of the Historian, after a few years of moving toward strong democratic government following World War II and the installation of a restrictive Marxist-Leninist element, the USSR led a coalition of Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia to unseat the pro-democratic factions and re-install political elements more in line with the politics in Moscow. The move surprised the West, as the United States was involved in the Vietnam conflict, and NATO nations saw the crackdown as an internal political/military situation that required little more than a condemnation at the United Nations from countries around the world.
But the USSR had led the quick invasion under the guise of conducting military exercises in the region near Czechoslovakia.
History sometimes stokes the fires of fear. In this case, it stokes the fears of World War 3. And with warnings of an imminent invasion coming from various sources (and the Atlantic Council's specific warning that a Russian invasion could be launched under the pretense of conducting another military exercise along its western border), the Czech Republic -- and by extension the Slovakia, the rest of the Visegrad 4, and the Baltic States -- understandably has reason to fear a suddenly refurbished Russian military. And with that in mind, the entrance of the Czech Republic and the Visegrad 4 into the arena of military exercises could very well be seen as a move to provide some military balance -- and somewhat ameliorate concerns over a looming World War 3 conflagration -- in an area where Russia has amply asserted its military capabilities.
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