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NATO Lake - Under 'Ozero' Cooperative's Gaze

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Photo: The stealth submarine "Gotland" during Dynamic Mongoose-24 exercises. This year, the Swedish Navy, a new member of the Alliance, joined NATO exercises in the northern seas of Europe. Source: MARCOM NATO
Photo: The stealth submarine "Gotland" during Dynamic Mongoose-24 exercises. This year, the Swedish Navy, a new member of the Alliance, joined NATO exercises in the northern seas of Europe. Source: MARCOM NATO

Vladimir Putin, co-owner of the prestigious dacha cooperative "Ozero" near Saint Petersburg, likely has his sights set on the Baltic Sea, now dubbed the "NATO Lake" following Finland's April 2023 and Sweden's March 2024 entry into the alliance. NATO is aware of this, as military exercises in the Baltic and neighbouring seas in May already involved Sweden, with a focus on hunting underwater objects. Government leaders of Baltic countries are coordinating their actions even more actively than the overall North Atlantic bloc.


The most notable development at present is the reinvigoration of interaction between Northern European countries against the backdrop of the rapid integration of new NATO members Sweden and Finland into Alliance operations. In May 2024, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson stated that cooperation between Northern European and Baltic countries is currently "deeper than ever." This response comes amidst increasing security threats to countries in this region from Russia, following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.


The process of Sweden and Finland joining NATO began precisely then, even though these countries remained demonstratively neutral towards the North Atlantic Defence Alliance during the Cold War. Kristersson met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and prime ministers of Northern countries in Stockholm, with the venue chosen for the statement being more than symbolic.


Additionally, on May 13, the prime ministers of Baltic countries met in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. All three leaders there equally emphatically declared that Moscow's intimidation would not deter their support for Ukraine.


It seems Europe is awakening from years of illusions regarding the safety of proximity to Russia, with Russia's actions towards Ukraine dispelling those illusions. "For decades, we lived very peacefully and without major threats to Europe. Personally, I believe those times are over," said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on May 13, as reported by Danish broadcaster DR. "With everything we see from Russia, we are at the beginning of a new era. It would be wrong for us as a government to say that you don't need to deal with this in everyday life," she added, during the same meeting in Stockholm.


To ensure her words are taken more than seriously, Mette Frederiksen confirmed at that press conference that the first Danish F-16 fighters would be in Ukraine within months, with a total of 19 F-16s to be provided by Denmark. Ukraine still relies on a fleet of outdated Soviet-era military aircraft, so it still cannot eliminate Russian air dominance. Therefore, receiving relatively modern F-16s with effective Western armaments is seen as a factor capable of changing the course of the game on the front lines. The first few of these aircraft could be received by Ukraine even before the NATO summit scheduled for July, as a symbolic gesture demonstrating the Alliance's determination to halt the Russian threat on distant frontiers.

Photo: Meeting of government leaders of Germany and Northern European countries. Second from the right is Chancellor Olaf Scholz, followed by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on the left. Source: Twitter (X) Ulf Kristersson


Following the conclusion of two weeks of NATO military exercises in the region, a series of high-profile meetings involving leaders from Northern European and Baltic countries took place. The Dynamic Mongoose-24 exercises were intended not only to demonstrate readiness to tightly control the "NATO Lake," as Putin covets, but also to showcase the extraordinary pace of integration of new Alliance members - Sweden and Finland. For instance, one of the central scenarios of the exercises involved training with the Swedish stealth submarine Gotland.


However, Baltic countries - Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia - face the greatest threats. They are practically sandwiched between the Russian enclave, the Kaliningrad Oblast, to the east, Belarus to the south, and Russia's western regions to the east. Experts often warn of the real danger of a military strike from the Kaliningrad Oblast to the south and from Belarus to the north, in order to cut off the region from Western Europe along the Polish-Lithuanian border.


This threat is taken more than seriously in the capitals of Baltic countries. As mentioned earlier, on May 13, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte hosted Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Latvian Prime Minister Evika Silina in Vilnius. The Baltic Council meeting took place there. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was not mincing her words: "Russia has also intensified its shadow war against all European countries. It truly wants to scare and intimidate the free world to deter us from aiding Ukraine." She had more than enough grounds for this, as incidents involving civilian passenger planes due to Russian electronic warfare equipment had occurred recently.


Yet, Kallas summarised her speech more than eloquently: "We must not be afraid."

She was supported by Latvian Prime Minister Evika Silina: "Russia must lose the war for Ukraine, European security, and the global order." "We must remember that we live in a time of war in Europe. This is a war that concerns societies in Europe. And this war is growing right here in our neighbourhood," she emphasized.


The leaders of Baltic countries have to be extremely outspoken to urge NATO and EU colleagues to wake up before Putin attempts to realize his aggressive plans. Or at least to counter his hybrid war, within which the Kremlin persistently undermines the unity of both NATO and the EU. It is enough to recall Hungary's hyperactivity, which blocked the entry of new NATO members last year.

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