The brazen acts of hooliganism by Russian fighter jets within a couple days in the Baltic Sea have irked Lithuanian politicians, but do not surprise local analysts: Russia sees the Baltic Sea as its own, so such incidents are likely to happen again. With the Baltics clamouring now for more funds to ramp up the sea defence, additional money to the Baltic region won’t come, Kęstutis Girnius, a US-born Lithuanian analyst is convinced.
Russia is blamed but defends its actions
For Arturas Paulauskas, a Lithuanian MP and chairman of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence (NSGK), the hostility in the Baltic Sea is nothing less than acts of brazen provocation.
«What Moscow is trying to show is that the real master of the Baltic Sea is Russia. It demonstrates that the marine territory is their zone of influence and that no foreign ship can cross it without Russia’s permit,» Paulauskas told BNN.
To remind, in the encounter Tuesday last week, the US Navy missile destroyer USS Donald Cook got a scare from a Russian jet which flew by within nine meters of the ship’s construction. US secretary of State John Kerry has described Russia’s action as «reckless and provocative» and insisted that the American missile destroyer was entitled to «shoot down» the aggressive intruder.
Then, in the incident last Thursday, a Russian jet, according to a US Navy official, «performed erratic and aggressive manoeuvrers» as it flew within 50 meters of the U.S. aircraft’s wing tip. Some American experts said, however, the US ship and the reconnaissance plane were not in immediate danger.
Meanwhile, Russia has defended its actions with the Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed following the incidents that Russia acted «in accordance with international rules» when its unarmed fighter jets buzzed the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.
What if there had been Turks instead?
According to Paulauskas, the US Navy missile destroyer USS Donald Cook was on the way to the Lithuanian Baltic seaport of Klaipeda secretly when it was located by Russian fighter jets.
Reports claim that they buzzed by the US ship 11 times.
«The number of so many fly-overs exhibits their provocative nature. We were told by Americans that they (Russians) were simulating an air attack. It’s a good thing that the Americans were cold-minded. Imagine what would have happened if there had been Turks?» the NSGK chairman asked rhetorically, referring to the deadly incident last November, when a Turkish fighter jet downed Russia’s SU-24 fighter jet.
In the wake of the headline-grabbing incident in the Baltic Sea, Lithuania announced it will not launch a probe into it as the incident occurred in international waters.
Paulauskas also pondered that the Russian provocations also aim to deter Americans from providing military and reconnaissance assistance to Lithuania.
«Alas, it was not the first incident with Russians’ engagement, so these kinds of events aren’t already a big shocker,» the parliamentarian noted.
MP: hooligans are everywhere
Following the report of Lithuania’s intelligence on national threats in early April, Paulauskas stirred a major hoopla in the country after admitting that Russian paratroopers may possible have landed in Juodkrantė, a lush settlement on the picturesque Curonian strip which connects it with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. No evidence has been provided though.
Rasa Juknevičienė, former minister of Land Defence, also sees the Russian actions as acts of «hooliganism», which, she believes, hurts Russia itself.
«There are many hooligans out there on the streets. But hooligans at seas should be viewed appropriately. As the ship was coming on a friendly mission, such its hostile interception and demonstrating of power makes harm to Russia and puts it, as a state, in the margins,» Juknevičienė told Lithuanian media.
Concurring with the NSGK chairman, she also underlined that the Kremlin is wielding power and sending cues that the Baltic waters are its territory.
«I’d say it falls very well into the same mold as all the cyber-attacks and attempts to land in foreign territories (reference to the possible Juodkrantė incident; Juknevičienė was particularly fiery after the Paulauskas revelation and insisted that the penetrator should have annihilated -L.J.), as well as all other permanent provocations and information wars. All of that are key elements of the hybrid war, aiming to bring confusion and tensions and fret people in the Baltic region,» the MP believes.
PM: international treaty was breached
Weighing in on the Baltic Sea incident, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius reminded that, back in 1972, the-then Soviet Union and the United States of America signed a treaty envisioning certain rules of behaviour in international waters.
He, however, declined to comment anything else on the incidents, saying that they were the primary prerogative of the Commander of Lithuanian Armed Forces.
Meanwhile, Nerijus Maliukevčius, a lecturer of political sciences at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences, says that, by the aggressive behaviour, Russia sends the US a clear message that American warplanes and warships are under constant surveillance in the Baltic Sea.
«Another message is that Russian pilots are courageous professionals. Lithuanian can win from the hostility, however, as the incidents may induce the US military planners to ramp up US military presence in the region,» Maliukevičius told Lithuanian media.
In his mind, the belligerent sea actions could also be used against, or to support, the US presidential hopeful Donald Trump who is preaching US’s more isolationistic stance on the international arena.
Two super powers tend to avoid tension escalation
Agreeing with the notion that Russia in the Baltic Sea feels as a single boss, Kęstutis Girnius, a political scientist of American descent, paid attention to the fact that the Russian jets, which flew within the reach of the USS Donald Cook, did not contain warheads.
Girnius did not want to get into the guessing game how different the situation could have evolved if the crew of the American warplane had downed the Russian jets as the Turks did at the end of last year.
«All American servicemen and the ship commanders, too, are a lot more cold-bloodied than the Turks. Even in the most horrible scenario, I mean with the Russian jet downed, parties would have tried to avoid escalating a head-to-head encounter,» Girnius told BNN.
Baltics cannot expect more security assurances for now
Remembering the deadly downing by Russians of a South Korean airliner back in the 1980s, Girnius emphasized that, despite the tense cold war atmosphere, the US did not engaged in retaliatory military actions against Russia.
«In spite of the fact there was a US diplomat on board,» the analyst underlined.
As the US has recently pledged 3.5 billion US dollars to bolster the defence of Eastern Europe, the Baltics cannot expect any additional money for the regional defence, he is convinced.
«It is understandable that the highest Lithuanian echelons of power, especially the President, take advantage of every chance to pay the NATO’s and US’s attention to what is going here. Now I hear President Dalia Grybauskaitė talking about necessity to ramp up Baltics’ defence capabilities on her visit to Germany, but the requests are not heeded. Many Western countries- and Germany, too- understand that the confrontation with Russia is dangerous and that it should be shunned if it’s possible,» Girnius underlined. «I do not think we can expect any extra military reinforcement in Eastern Europe, and Baltics, for quite some time after the 3.5 billion USD allotment.»