Latvia warns of cyber attacks
Covert Russian cyber attacks against Nato members could lead to deaths and potentially escalate into military conflict, Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics argues.
He told the Daily Telegraph that Russia may use this month’s giant Zapad (meaning “west”) exercise to probe Nato’s resilience to “hybrid” warfare, including propaganda and cyber attacks that Moscow tested against Ukraine and other neighbours.
The giant exercises are probably being designed to intimidate neighbours such as Ukraine, Poland and the three Baltic states. They aim to highlight the modernisation of Russia’s armed forces over the past decade and remind Belorussia’s President Alexander Lukashenko against further ties with the west.
The minister said deaths from deniable cyber attacks designed to test “resilience and resolve” by hitting key infrastructure like power grids could lead to Nato retaliation.
“What I am rather worried about is that this hidden cyber warfare can escalate to a level of cyber warfare where we are not going to talk about bank attacks or ransom payments. At some point people are going to die,” Rinkevics said.
Russia last week pledged that it would not use military exercises in western Russia, Belarus and and its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad as cover to invade one of its neighbours.
The 2008 invasion of Georgia followed military exercises in the Caucasus, when the drills were formally over and the troops were packing up. A “snap” drill in 2014 was used to launch the annexation of Crimea.
Russia says Zapad, which starts on September 14, will involve only 12,700 troops but it has previously dodged commitments in the Vienna Document, which obliges it to invite large numbers of foreign observers to any exercise involving more than 13,000 personnel. Instead it will probably hold multiple, formally separate, drills in parallel.
Observers say Zapad could be the biggest exercise in Europe since the Cold War. Similar drills in the past three years in Russia’s eastern, central and Caucasus regions have exceeded 100,000 personnel. The previous Zapad, in the western military district, exercises and associated drills in 2013 involved an estimated 75,000 people, six times the number announced by the Kremlin. The scope of preparations to date suggests this month’s deployment could be at least as large.
But Russia has not been carrying out its trademark propaganda campaigns to create a justification to cross a third international border in 10 years. While Putin might benefit from a limited military victory six months before he runs for re-election, a conflict with a Nato member would probably not be small or limited.
The open “death door” of a Russian army BTR-70. Picture credit: Wikimedia