The folks over at The Infographics Show have asked a question that’s come up repeatedly over the last few years: If NATO and Russia actually get into a full-on war, could Russia successfully invade Eastern Europe and hold it for its own use or use it as a bargaining chip for greater power at the peace table?
Can Russia Invade Europe?
(Jump to 6:30 in the video to skip the intro and political discussions and go straight to the potential military campaigns.)
For countries that were part of the U.S.S.R., this can be a true, existential threat. Ukraine used the be the heart of Russia’s shipbuilding industry, but most of the country doesn’t want to return to Russian rule. And Estonia first earned its independence in 1918, but then spent decades under Nazi and Soviet rule during and after World War II. It’s not exactly nostalgic for that period.
And with Russia becoming even more aggressive than it was in the already-tense last few years, countries both inside and outside of NATO are looking westward for strength and comfort.
So, if Russia goes from seizing Ukrainian ships on the Sea of Azov to seizing cities in Lithuania and Latvia, what happens next?
On a rural highway in northern Estonia, a pilot flies an A-10 Thunderbolt II from Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, while practicing austere landings and take offs during the Exercise Saber Strike 18 on June 7, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Kujawa)
In their video above, The Infographics Show postulates that Russia will attempt to seize Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia before invading Finland, Sweden, and Norway. NATO has openly practiced for just this scenario, but Russia would enjoy large advantages in the early days of such a conflict.
While the U.S. military is much larger and more technologically capable than Russia’s, it would take weeks or months to build sufficient strength in Europe for NATO to seize back the territory if Russia was successful in its early drives. In the meantime, Russia would build up its defenses in seized territory, just like it did when it grabbed Crimea from Ukraine.
The real question at this point becomes one of political will and nuclear brinkmanship. Crimea is part of Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, so fighting a resurgent Russia for it would’ve required a lot of political will from nations that weren’t obligated to protect it.
American and European tanks wait for their turn to compete in Operation Iron Tomahawk, a shoot-off between tank crews in Latvia.
(U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Haynes)
Fighting for Estonia, on the other hand, is a requirement for NATO, but it still takes a lot of political will to send American tankers to Europe. And Russia may seek the peace table right as NATO builds sufficient combat power, offering to give back territory in some countries if it can keep what it’s already gained.
See the video above to see how one situation, an invasion of Eastern Europe and the Baltics, in which Russia seeks to gain some territory and then end the fighting.