5 Dark Realities When Putin Wants To Invade Your Country
The idea of an actual all-out war with Russia seems ridiculous to most of us here in the United States -- even if the notion seems to grow slightly less ludicrous every day. But if it ever does happen, at least we have resources to learn from. We can look to Estonia, a small European country with a legitimate reason to fear that a Russian invasion could happen any day now. In fact, they actively prepare for it.
Red Dawn Could Happen Here
Red Dawn (No, we're not talking about the remake. What are you, simple?) focuses on a surprise Russian invasion of the U.S. via Mexico. Hendrik lives in Estonia, a small nation bordering Russia, and pretty much figures the only fictional part of Red Dawn was the location. See, in 2014, the nation of Ukraine broke out in civil war. Russia basically slapped Ukraine around for a bit while chanting, "I'm not hitting you!" and then tired of the game and annexed Crimea.
It's the Russian version of flipping the board over.
Really, it's not fair to say Russia annexed Crimea, the decision was Vladimir Putin's. And it was part of a growing pattern. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia (the nation, not the home of America's second best barbecue) under the justification that they'd been aggressive toward two breakaway "republics" within Georgia, both of whom were heavily backed by Putin's government. Hendrik isn't crazy to think it could happen to his country next ...
"I'm more than sure that nobody in the west believed that in a 21st century Europe, something like what's happening in Ukraine right now would go down." He thought it would be difficult for Putin's government to "orchestrate" a Ukrainian-style civil war in Estonia because, "We are in the EU and NATO, and the NATO units that are in Estonia give us a good amount of security."
Uh, about that ...
Hendrik now feels that, "If the EU keeps cracking like it started to with Brexit, and if Trump with that walking snotball of a man Newt Gingrich stay on the opinion that Estonia might not be worth defending, then that might give Russian leaders confidence to maybe go through with something more drastic."
The Soviet Union first ate Estonia in 1939, as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But Estonia regained its independence in 1991. According to one school of thought, Vladimir Putin's main life goal is to reunite the severed nations of the USSR. And last October, a Russian warplane violated Estonia's airspace ... for the fourth time.
Fool you four times, Russia on YOU.
"The only thing really comforting me in this is the knowledge that nobody in the west wants a war in their yard, the further away they keep the 'shit + a fan' thing from their borders, the better for them."
But if Putin's poop does head for a European fan in the next few years, there's a fair chance it'll splatter onto Estonia.
In Estonia, Everyone Is Training For Insurgency
Estonia is not very big.
Not much is, beside Russia.
They put a solid amount of their GDP into the defense budget (relative to their size), but that still only works out to around a half billion dollars per year. In the U.S. military we'll burn that much on two toilet seats and a bent screwdriver. Clearly, Estonia's not going to win any outright fights with the Russian army. So they're planning for a guerilla war.
"My superiors would often use the conflict with Russia as an example to remind us why the mandatory service in Estonia is so important. Ukraine ended its conscription in 2013, and went back to it when the crisis started."
If they weren't in uniform, these dudes would revolt, basically.
Estonia's conscript army isn't supposed to be a deterrent. It's meant to prepare regular citizens for a potential war with Russia, where they'd be work with NATO forces and fight as insurgents against vastly superior firepower. They're looking at how Vietnam went for the Viet Cong and thinking, "OK, how do we prep for that ahead of time?"
"Whatever unit or position you will be assigned to in the future, the first three months are the same infantry training for everyone. Most important stuff is discipline and knowing how to survive -- how to find your way from point A to B without a map and/or a compass, how to keep out of sight, putting on full camouflage of twigs and earth the first thing when going on any sort of a mission. [That] was a big surprise to the members of U.S. Army stationed here, because they don't need to concentrate on that. For them, it's a Special Forces thing. All that sort of stuff. First aid is also very important during that time."
Estonia hosts "war games" every single weekend. These are an occasional requirement for the 25,400 volunteers of the Estonian Defense League, which is basically a militarized Rotary Club. Attending one means going through 24 hours of competition to "find the medical herbs," "assemble the machine-gun," and "lie in wait for the convoy of enemy soldiers." It's like larruping Metal Gear Solid, only with the horrifying specter of imminent war looming over your every action.
NATO Is Trying To Stop It, But They May Be Inadvertently Spurring The Invasion On
Since Estonia is part of NATO it enjoys the protection of the United States. For now ...
"After Ukraine, NATO sent a company-sized U.S. unit here as a method of deterrence. The Baltic states have also asked at least a brigade-sized unit to rotate around the border."
Here's how that support's been interpreted by the Russian state media (which is controlled by Putin and his Lil' Putineers):
Hendrik says this is "good fuel for the Russian propaganda machine that already blames their economic state on the west and the sanctions put onto them for Ukraine."
He's afraid that more NATO forces will just build public support in Russia for an eventual invasion of Estonia. As many as 85 percent of the Russian people support the annexation of Crimea, so it's entirely possible that Hendrik's right. If NATO keeps stationing troops in Estonia, the Russian government may take that as provocation. And if NATO and the U.S. pull back, Putin may take that as a tacit blessing.
Vlad if you do and Vlad if you don't.
"But Cracked," you say, "the U.S. would never let an ally be invaded without stepping up in their defense."
To which we say ...
In Fact, Russia Has Already Attacked
Cyber warfare has been a low priority in America, the same can't be said for Russia. Their 2008 invasion of Georgia began with a massive DDOS attack, which kicked most of the country offline. Putin also used his massive propaganda apparatus as a first-strike weapon. The invasions of both Georgia and Ukraine were preceded by what amounted to fake news "blitzes" aimed at inflaming separatist movements and reducing support for the government.
And now you know why Russia appointed Jeff Sessions.
We asked Hendrik if he'd seen any signs of that. Back in 2007, "There was a Soviet-era monument in the center of Tallinn that the government decided to relocate, because over the years it had created too much tension between local Russians and some of the more nationalistic Estonians."
The government wanted to move the monument, a statue of a soldier, to a military cemetery. The whole country harbored pretty strong feelings about that -- and by pretty strong, we mean:
Yeah, that's how the government responds to "feelings."
"That turned into three days of riots in Tallinn, nothing that has ever been seen in Estonia before. Just days before the riots there was a big rise in Russians entering Estonia, many of whom had connections to the group that organized the riots. The leaders of the group have close connections to Kremlin and the group itself was funded by it."
It's hard to discern the truth of that allegation -- the President of Estonia officially backs it up -- but it's also not like the Estonian government came off looking like a rose, either. There were some allegations of police brutality during the riots, and that's putting it lightly. But whether or not Russia sent in provocateurs, they certainly sent in tanks:
With the hammers and sickles tastefully filed off.
According to NATO, those are unmarked Russian tanks entering Ukraine -- an allegation that Putin, of course, denies. He also denies the Russian cyber attack that knocked out Estonia's digital infrastructure for three straight weeks.
"The event also triggered the creation of the NATO Cyber Warfare Center here in Tallinn, after attacks on Estonian governmental and media servers came from Russia during it all."
For the next attack, Moscow knows where to hit first.
That was actually the most powerful attack in the history of cyber warfare and it took the most wired nation in Europe completely offline. Estonians -- who relied on Skype more than their phone service, which was even voted over the internet -- were utterly disoriented. Just imagine how you'd feel if your smartphone abruptly bricked for a month. The lack of access to puppy GIFs alone would send most of us spiraling into madness.
Russians Are A Huge Portion Of Estonia's Population
A large number of Estonians are old-fashioned, red-blooded, Bond-hating, ethnic Russians. Russia's strategy in both Ukraine and Georgia relied on gaining the support of the local Russian population first. Not a difficult trick, as anti-Russian sentiment had been making ethnic Estonian Russians feel estranged for a while.
"When I was a kid, after we regained our independence from the Soviet Union, the Russians were the 'enemy'. They were the bad guys. Hell, telling another Estonian that they were a Russian was a good way to insult them. After occupying us, the USSR brought in a massive amount of Russians to slowly kill our culture and language, they did it in most of the countries they occupied."
They mandated that everyone get a performing bear, which was just weird.
Stalin's government killed five million Ukrainians through starvation, just to open up Ukraine for native Russians. Estonia didn't get it quite as bad, but there was no love lost, "Distrust back then was guaranteed, because it was personal."
Around 320,000 of Estonia's 1.3 million citizens are ethnically Russian, a whopping 25.2 percent. Ukraine's separatist movement/invasion kicked off in the mostly Russian eastern chunk of the country. And only 17 percent of Ukrainians are native Russians -- so on paper, Estonia is practically in Putin's pocket already.
Hendrik disagrees. "A lot of time has passed and the funky thing with time is, that in one way or another, it is a very good painkiller. Most of the heavily affected parties have either died or found understanding/peace. And, the new generations who grow up going to schools with kids who might have different ethnic backgrounds but have similar dreams have trust between them. Many of those ethnic Russians identify themselves as Estonians."
Borscht is the ultimate melting pot.
Indeed, most Russian Estonians seem pretty happy with the freedom and comfort that Estonia offers. As you may have guessed from that "most wired country in Europe" thing, Estonian life is actually pretty sweet.
"In a conflict situation, which side would I think they'd choose? Hell, those who have grown up here, this is their home. There was this instructor (whose both parents are Russians) that gave us lessons during our NCO course, and he gave us a good way of looking at it. If someone comes into your home, kicking down doors, eating the food in your kitchen and going for your wife you don't sit idly by, or help him do it. You fight back."
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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