The Russian Bear, On the March

Russia is carrying out a cyber attack on Ukraine, and it is reported–rather casually, it seems to me–that Russia is likely to invade soon:

U.S. intelligence officials have determined a Russian effort is underway to create a pretext for its troops to further invade Ukraine, and Moscow has already prepositioned operatives to conduct “a false-flag operation” in eastern Ukraine, according to the White House.
“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human-rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives,” [Jen] Psaki said.
The U.S. intelligence findings, which were declassified and shared with U.S. allies before being made public, estimate that a military invasion could begin between mid-January and mid-February.

Any day now, in other words. Today another news story caught my eye, in what may be a case of life imitating art. In 2018, Brad Thor published the 17th book in his Scot Harvath series, titled Spymaster. In Spymaster, Russia plans an invasion of the Baltic states. Key to that strategy, in the book, is occupation of the island of Gotland, strategically located in the Baltic:

From a review in the Federalist:

It all is part of a plot to soften up the already sagging national will of European nations and to prepare the ground for a military invasion via Scandinavia.

To do that, Russia plans to bottle up the Baltic Sea by taking the Swedish island of Gotland. The military attack on Europe is imminent, and the GRU spymaster behind the PRF has a years-in-the-making sleeper cell in place on Gotland. He activates it. And it’s on this charming semi-rural island…where Harvath’s team sets up shop and the bulk of the action takes place.

The idea of a Russian invasion of the Baltics and Scandinavia with Gotland playing a pivotal role stuck with me. So this headline in Sweden’s English language Local site jumped out at me: “Sweden rolls out tanks on Baltic island over Russia tensions.”

In an unusual move, Sweden deployed armoured combat vehicles and armed soldiers to patrol streets on the island of Gotland on Friday in response to increased “Russian activity” in the region, the military said.
The move came after three Russian landing ships sailed into the Baltic Sea through the Great Belt Strait in Denmark this week, and amid increased tensions between Russia and NATO.

“The armed forces are taking the necessary measures to safeguard Sweden’s integrity and to demonstrate our ability to protect Sweden and Swedish interests”, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told AFP in emailed remarks.

In a statement late Thursday, the military said troops would be deployed “to reinforce operations in multiple locations” due to “increased Russian activity in the Baltic Sea”.
Hultqvist also told news agency TT the increased patrols on Gotland showed Sweden was taking the situation seriously and would “not be caught off-guard.”

“We are not unaware of the security risks that exist.”

In foreign policy as in domestic affairs, Sweden is not the leftist paradise that American liberals often imagine.

What are we to make of these news stories? It seems that Vladimir Putin is probing Western defenses with a view toward launching one or more military strikes. For some reason, news coverage has been minimal. If war comes, it will be a shock to most Americans. Meanwhile, on Thursday Senate Democrats–within, what? 24 hours after denouncing the filibuster as “racist”–filibustered a proposal to impose sanctions on Russia over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, another Russian geopolitical initiative.

I am a biased observer, but it seems likely to me that Russia’s aggressiveness is driven in part by the fact that the President of the United States suffers from senile dementia. If I were Putin (or Xi, but that is a matter for another post), I would view the Biden administration as a once-in-a-century opportunity to make strategic gains that will be difficult or impossible to reverse. I fear that is what we are seeing.

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