With Donald Trump leading in many of the polls for the upcoming US presidential election, his comments about global security and foreign policy have to be taken seriously.

In February, Trump flippantly remarked that he would encourage Russia to do whatever it wanted to Nato states that failed to pay their bills.

In a follow-up interview on GB News this week he warned allies “not to take advantage” of the US.

Nowhere is this causing more concern than for the countries in the Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.


This article is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal. If you would like to submit your own article on this topic or any other, please see our submission guidelines.


Not only does Trump, sometimes, say he wants to halt all US military aid to Ukraine, but Trump wants to undercut article 5 of Nato’s treaty – the principle of collective defence – something that has become increasingly important in the wake of Russia’s aggression. British military sources are worried that Trump’s remarks will strengthen Putin’s resolve over Ukraine, and could result in him advancing on even more territory.

Even before Trump emerged on the US political scene, the Baltic countries have been especially concerned about Russia’s growing ambitions. They have, after all, been invaded and occupied by Russia before, in 1940, and then forced to become part of the Soviet Union. There’s plenty of people who can still remember life in the Soviet Union.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Baltic states have been the loudest voices sounding the alarm about the existential threat posed by Russia, and all three countries increased their military spending to more than 2% of their GDP, and recently agreed to raise it to 3%.

Building shared defences

Amid growing security concerns, the defence ministers in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia also agreed in January to set up a common Baltic defence zone on their borders with Russia and Belarus. This would consist of building physical defensive structures such as bunkers.

Estonia will begin construction of 600 bunkers in early 2025. The nations will also cooperate in developing missile artillery, and ensuring that their equipment, ammunition and manpower is updated.

Estonia has also doubled the size of its territorial defence force to 20,000 people, while Latvia reintroduced conscription in 2023 after becoming the only Baltic state to stop mandatory military service in 2006.

Latvia also plans to double the size of its armed forces to 61,000 by the year 2032. Meanwhile, Lithuania has made an agreement with Germany to allow a permanent brigade of 4,800 of its troops to be combat ready on the Russian border by 2027.

Putin’s pledge to Russian speakers

But given that Russia borders 14 countries, why are the Baltic states especially concerned about their security? In addition to being geographically close, a notable number of ethnic Russians live in the Baltic countries (5% in Lithuania; 25% in Estonia and 36% in Latvia. In the eastern Estonian city of Narva, 95.7% of the population are native Russian speakers and 87.7% are ethnic Russians.

This matters as Putin has argued that having substantial numbers of ethnic Russians living outside of Russia, due to the “catastrophic” dissolution of the Soviet Union, represents a “humanitarian disaster of epic proportions” as it left Russians cut off from “their motherland”. Putin has vowed to actively protect all “Russians” living abroad.

In particular, Putin has said he was concerned about how ethnic Russians are being treated in the Baltics, remarking that the deportation of ethnic Russians (most notably in Latvia where there have been recent changes to its immigration laws), poses a threat to Russian national security.

The Kremlin has also protested the demolition of Soviet monuments in the Baltics, placing Estonia’s prime minster, Kaja Kallas, on its wanted list for doing so.

But these claims about wanting to protect Russians abroad, are really just a pretext to justify escalation with the Baltics, which will test Nato’s alliance and destabilise the organisation. So it’s not just important that there are ethnic Russians living there – there are strategic reasons as well that make them an easy target.

Even with the Baltic countries strengthening their troop numbers, Russia currently has 1.32 million active military personnel, and two million active reserve. Combined this is greater that Lithuania’s entire population of 2.8 million people, and far greater than Estonia and Latvia which have populations of 1.3 million and 1.8 million people, respectively.

For Lithuania, which borders Belarus and Russian-run mini-state Kaliningrad, there are concerns that it could be taken over first by Russian forces, which would then physically isolate Lithuania from the rest of the Baltics. The Kaliningrad region has become increasingly militarised in recent years, with Iskander ballistic missiles and S-400 systems installed. With Trump suggesting he would weaken the US’s commitment to Nato if elected, there won’t be much of a deterrent for Putin to grab low-hanging fruit.

The current Nato response force consists of approximately 40,000 troops, with plans to upgrade to 300,000 troops. But quick-reaction units could still be too slow to protect the Baltics from Russian forces as, ironically, moving large units, vehicles and ammunition across borders is bureaucratic and takes time. It would be important to have excellent intelligence and to move quickly, something that will be made more difficult with the US potentially opting out of its commitments.

Though Russia has plunged much of its resources into winning the Ukraine war, Putin still aims to expand Russian sovereignty across the post-Soviet states and to effectively dismantle Nato, something that Trump takes no issue with. As Russia has been ramping up its war machine, the Baltic states firmly believe that Russian aggression will not stop at Ukraine, and that they could be next.The Conversation

Natasha Lindstaedt, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Markam
Markam
16 days ago

Slightly controversial, but I am happy Trump is taking US NATO allies to task over spending. Whether he is doing it with good intentions or not, forcing Europeans to spend more on defence and develop independent military capabilities is for the best in the long run and the US has to focus on the face off against China, or we are all screwed.

Jonathan
Jonathan
15 days ago
Reply to  Markam

I do not disagree that NATO nations need to spend more..but the way trump is going about it potentially gives our enemies the idea that NATO is politically weak..Russia and especially china have a great focus on the political warfare side of things and if they think NATO is politically weak…they will not be deterred from attacking ( believing they can use the political domain to win).

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Indeed anyone naive enough to think they can ignore Russia to concentrate on China is naive I would claim stupid beyond belief, it’s why you don’t allow one eyed businessmen especially incompetent ones run World political and strategic strategies. It’s why back in the day Roosevelt accepted the priority was defeating a Hitler over Japan Russia has the greater immediate strategic and political expansionist goals presently and if it gets away with conquering and/or suppressing much of Europe Chinas longer more subtle quest for World domination will succeed however much the US tries to bottle it up in the short… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
13 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Yes NATO and the western/liberal democracies power are intrinsically linked together, as is our are common enemies..the reality is that split into its component parts western nations and western hegemony would collapse if the anti western powers then acted in some form of concert ( which the are more and more doing so)…isolate the European powers and they will need to be wholly focused on Russia…isolate the U.S. and it becomes potentially at risk of losing a pacific war to china…. Even if NATO and the western powers stay United we now face the possibility of a wold war that… Read more »

Jim
Jim
15 days ago
Reply to  Markam

Trumps undermining article 5 every time he opens his mouth. NATO has a vast military force but if you under mine article 5 then it’s all a waste of time.

Most members near Russia are spending 2% so unless he thinking of letting Russia invade Portugal he is achieving f**k all.

China and Russia doubt his resolve quite rightly as do all the US allies.

What’s the point is spending $800 billion a year if your enemies think you’re too weak willed to use it.

Math
Math
15 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Right, but the look of US toward Nato is changing. While it was seen as a piñata for Lockeed Martin and other similar companies, US think tank are now ok for European defense industry to exist. So I think we will see the alliance a little less preoccupied with winning contracts and a bit more taylored towar security. Meaning that Europeans will see defense spending less as a burden and more as an invaluable way to protect their existence. US spend 800 Bn$ on defense: look what they get for it, look at what China get for it. Defense is… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Math

I do wonder what level of forces the US could ultimately put in the field, Europe too for that matter both have markedly bigger populations than Russia but as Russia sees its assets as mere meat and the population will accept the grinder well beyond their present terrible losses it seems to me that unless the US and Europe both struggling to recruit, stay united and committed things could get very bad. Meanwhile how would the US match up with China who have a massively bigger population whatever its own ability to exploit it militarily, either way it’s difficult to… Read more »

Chris
Chris
14 days ago
Reply to  Jim

They obviously don’t doubt him, or they wouldn’t be taking his statements seriously and we wouldn’t be reading this article.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Spot on. That way leads to capitulation or WW3. Russias real goal is to humble America and Trumps behaviour whether he is serious or not brings it closer through outflanking manoeuvres that if successful will leave the US in a no win situation and decline. Russia claims all lands it once occupied which not only includes Alaska but parts of northern California too remember, so probably best not to let them out of their box.

Jonathan
Jonathan
13 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

The big problem is china and what china thinks…at present china thinks the west is politically weak…letting Russia defeat Ukraine will almost inevitably lead to china striking the U.S. in its bid to reunite with tiawan…I don’t think many people realise how important reunification is to the Chinese…and just how weak and vulnerable they are starting to see the west…unless they are convinced there is literally no hope whatsoever of reunification via violence they will use violence….essentially it will be a world war if the U.S. and the west have not by 2027: 1) convinced china that the entire western… Read more »

AlbertStarburst
AlbertStarburst
15 days ago
Reply to  Markam

Yes, it is a tricky balance. On the one hand Trump is sort of right about Nations not spending enough on their own defence (including the UK). On the other hand – like many American right wing pundits – he is either unaware of the actual details of world events and stated aims of Putin, or they are somehow being controlled by those who see the interests of Russia, China and Iran et al become the new world order.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago

‘Nail on head’ there and it’s difficult with a clear mind to actually believe the useful idiots really are threatening to take over the Asylum.

AlexS
AlexS
15 days ago
Reply to  Markam

The text it is as expected the usual intelectual dishonesty of Western Euro mainstream political complex.

Criticising European countries that do not invest in defence of Europe is it seems putting at risk European defence…

The text tells me more about Natasha than anything . I question first that if Natasha even cares about European defence at all.

Andrew D
Andrew D
15 days ago
Reply to  Markam

Well speaking for the UK we’ve got a Conservative government and a Labour party so think we are pretty much screwed when it comes to Defence 😞

Math
Math
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Engineering instead of finance may be a way to look at that matter. It may be blunt, but what if UK needed less people in the city and more in design bureau… You can throw as much money as you want into defense program, if you don’t have the smartest guys as senior architects, you will end up with waste of ressources. Perhaps UK could consider forming more and more engineers…

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Math

As was always made clear even when I was a student back in the 80s, in Japan the population and powers that be see you as something to aspire to, top of the societal pyramid, while in Britain you are deemed nothing more than a better off blue collar worker. Shame on a Country that brought modern engineering to the World.

Math
Math
13 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Given the level of UK university, nothing is impossible. But may be in the mindset of people, working on a common good rather than only self wealth is something we should cherish more and more in France, my country and perhaps may be also in some other European countries. Things are on the right path again. Value system are going back to what is essential. I am confident.

Posse Comitatus
Posse Comitatus
14 days ago
Reply to  Markam

He’s not really taking them to task, he’s simply doing Putins work for him by helping destabilise the alliance. He knows nothing about defence of a country, Mr heelspurs wriggled out of his national service draft.

Chris
Chris
14 days ago

The alliance isn’t an alliance at all when it involves one party protecting the other 30. It’s a dependency.

Math
Math
13 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Correct. And one part of the alliance has a 40% share and all others have at best 8 or 9%, it cannot work properly. Though it did.
But anyway, the issue is not this. The issue is that US perceive it’s interests in Asia.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Chris

That’s delusional US defence is reliant on European defence, otherwise the new Chino/Russian World order is a certainty. Had Europe fallen in 1940 America would never have been in the position to take advantage and dominate the following decades, to think it might ignore that fact and make that period simply a delaying of the inevitable over the next generation is depressing. Just because the US enjoys re writing history this past 200 years to suit its own view of what history it prefers, doesn’t mean actual history doesn’t happen beneath the fluff. The Russian Chinese alliance if the US… Read more »

Christopher
Christopher
13 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Europe did fall in 1940, the entire continent, ok there were a couple of neutrals, but outside of that the whole lot fell. The obvious exception being the sceptered isle 🙂

Math
Math
12 days ago
Reply to  Markam

Yes, me too. It helps everyone realize the empty promises of USA. NATO is for selling weapons and has been for some times now. Times are changing. I don’t think Trump wants to reforge the alliance. I think he wants to leave it. Demographics dynamics in YS surely play a role. So here we are. It is now time to remember warriors we are, look at that old gun, in the backyard. Look at the inévitable war to come and get ready for it. No way we’ll dye in a bed.

Mr Bell
Mr Bell
15 days ago

European NATO nations do need to up their game. The Baltic states should be doing much more themselves and having a maximum force deterrent policy. So if you have a population of 1.8 million then it is reasonable to assume they could field a military force of 200-300,000 trained adults. So conscription, having trained reserves and crucially the hardware and munitions will be key for the Baltics to defend themselves. For Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to claim they are going to increase their military power by around 50% isn’t going to be enough. The starting point of this increase is… Read more »

Cripes
Cripes
15 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

The Baltic countries all have very tiny populations, which limits both the numbers they can field and the defence budgets they can afford. Thr idea of a fortified border makes sense and minefield, anti tank obstacles and supporting artollery snd missiles would all dent any Russian incursion. NATO recohnises how vulnerable these counytie are to attack, hence the 3 EFP tripwire battle groups stationed there (UK. Canadian, German) and a little flight of fighters. The NATO forward force is realistically too small, it really needs 3 brigades rather than 3 battle groups and I gather that is on the table… Read more »

Mickey
Mickey
15 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

So you are talking about basing in the Baltics what the allies had in West Germany during the cold war? Totally agree.

Mr Bell
Mr Bell
13 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

the Baltic states can and should do more. they are on the frontline, they know that and from my perspective should have much larger armed forces. each of the Baltic states could or more accurately should have armed forces of 60,000 trained professionals and a further 60-80K in reserve. that is a feasible force level.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Bit difficult if between 24% and 39% of your population have Russian connections isn’t it inside of your already small population. And Lithuania by the latest figures from a Lithuanian who is deeply rooted in knowledge of such matters tells me they are now spending a higher percentage on defence than the US. Good enough?

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

Realism at last. The lack of understanding of their situation and efforts here is perhaps indicative of the delusion of some politicians playing childish political games who one might would hope show a modicum of their commitment to the cause and clear thinking.

Math
Math
15 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Maginot line worked paradoxically. It was not crossed. The big mistake is that it did not go to Belgium. Fortress of Avdiivka as been a pain in the … for Russia advance. It depends of what you want to achieve. In this case it is about lasting till reinforcements arrive, it make sense.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Math

Again someone who gets the reality.

Jonathan
Jonathan
14 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

To be fair the Germans went around the line not through it…France left a big hole and the Germans used it….the Russians have shown how profoundly difficult fixed defences are to go through in Europe, especially in eastern Europe where the campaign season limits the time you have to reduce and exploit any breakthrough. The Baltics especially are profoundly crap for mobile warfare and are essentially, bog, forest or boggy forest….it’s a great place to bog ( with a big emphasis on bog) down an invading army…..or interdiction them on the very limited road network. As for Russia poring in… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Let’s get this right Lithuania the strongest of the three, is now committing more to defence, percentage wise than the US is so that is unfair and all three have devoted half their weaponry to Ukraine, they are also at the forefront of organising drone production for Ukraine too. These people stood in front of Russian tanks to gain their independence and democracy remember while many US citizens tried to destroy their democracy. They don’t have the populations to survive a Russian invasion without massive support far better in the current circumstances to work as far as their industrial base… Read more »

Jim
Jim
15 days ago

It’s become clear by fighting in Ukraine that mine fields and trenches are effective against forces like the Russian’s

With the inclusion of Finland in NATO as well the Baltics can now realistically be held if they spend enough on fixed defences to slow the Russian’s and give other members a chance to send in forces.

Jonno
Jonno
15 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Maybe the Macronot line stretching from the Arctic to the Mediterranean is the best answer. Likely the only thing missing will be Macron.

Cripes
Cripes
14 days ago
Reply to  Jim

The case for stationing 3 NATO brigades there, rather than 3 small, 1 battalion battlegroups, is the difficulty of reinforcing the local troops there in wartime. The problem is that the reinforcement route by road from Poland to Lithuania runs through the narrow Suwalki gap between Kaliningrad and Belarus. It is a vulnerable point that could be closed by Russian missiles and UAVs or by ground forces from both sides of the gap. The sea route is also a no-go, as Russian missiles from Kaliningrad can create a sea denial area in a good chunk of the central Baltic. In… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
14 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

Largely concur w/ your analysis, however not entirely convinced that the Baltic states are defensible, even w/ brigade level tripwires, in a no-holds-barred conventional conflict. There is not only the threat of Kaliningrad in the rear area, but large, (potentially restive?) ethnic Russian populations in Estonia and Latvia. Presumably there will be some time lag before this event, while Mad Vlad and the Orcs are preoccupied by UKR, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the western Balkans and various portions of Africa (overlooked any theaters?) Believe the Finns have begun the process of fortifying their border w/ the Orcs, and judge that they… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
14 days ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

The question of the ethinc Russian populations is a good one and essentially Putins main excuse for kinetic actions and maintaining support at home, as well as a tool he can weaponise…sabotage, terrorist attacks, political and civil disruption are weapons of war the west is shite at using but our enemies are not.

Mr Bell
Mr Bell
13 days ago
Reply to  Cripes

And whilst Russia has made a sea denial area with their anti ship missiles in Kalingrad NATO’s air supremacy are doing what at this time of maximum danger? sitting on their haunches and allowing an attack against the Baltic states and Russia’s missile batteries to dominate and effect an area denial? I don’t think so. I think those missile batteries will be target number one and wont last 24 hours in a conflict vs NATO. They will be on the receiving end of storm shadow, Scalp, brimstone and LGBs from European nato armed forces air forces. As for the Suwalki… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
14 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Agree, and if the plan is to hold the Baltic states, then the major NATO nations need more than a few tripwire battle groups.

maybe to for some form of NATO army on the Baltic.

MattW
MattW
14 days ago

The analysis of European Defence is great, but I think the article underplays the risk relating to Trump. Mr Trump has already demonstrated that he is willing to steal Secret / Top Secret materials, including concerning military capabilities, and supply them to people who give him money – eg Anthony Pratt. And he has just reversed his position on regulation of TikTok, where one of his now biggest political donors is a part owner. FWIW I don’t that happening – Trump is a career criminal, and he will get his comeuppance, and imo he lose the Election due to his… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  MattW

Certainly do NOT want us sharing anything of note with him, it will end up on the table of Putin’s war cabinet. There is little point in Europe spending 2%+ if a prospective US President is effectively acting as a spy for our enemies, and that’s not too strong a word for it. Long history of US leaks endangering British war fighting efforts including Joe Kennedy’s Nazi sympathies and alleged spying forcing his recall and the North African campaign being dogged by compromised American codes revealing plans direct to Rommel’s desk and worse still despite being told about it cost… Read more »

DMJ
DMJ
14 days ago

If Trump gets NATO states to up their game, so much the better.
Importantly, Putin has to see this in action, which might well stop him gambling on another military venture.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
13 days ago
Reply to  DMJ

The Ukraine invasion has been the biggest influence on that, not that it will stop Trump taking credit, but the warnings about Putin were coming form the Baltic States, Poland and others, again not Trump who along with his sheep were expressing admiration for the stability Putin brought to the World. The only plus side might be that Trump is so unpredictable might actually be wary of his foreign policy depending on how he wakes up in the morning and how the usual veiled threats might be counter productive against someone convinced of his own supreme spontaneous insight, but so… Read more »

AlexS
AlexS
13 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

It was Trump Admin that supplied first weapons to Ukraine.
Do i also need to remind you that Crimea invasion was under Obama and remaining Ukraine was under Biden while nothing happened with Trump?

Christopher
Christopher
13 days ago
Reply to  AlexS

Was about to point that out……

John Taylor
John Taylor
12 days ago

Trump concentrates on percentage of gnp spent rather than quality of spending giving a well equipped force or high GNP meaning they can maintain a good force on a lower % of GNP. Case in point we have fewer fighter jets than Germany, France and Italy and with upcoming retirement of the Tranche 1 Typhoons less than Spain despite us spending more on defense.