How to invade the Baltic countries and get away with it

I'll lay out a basic plan for how to invade the Baltics (as Russia) in the near future
and get away with it.
Parental advisory: Please do NOT try this at home. I mean it!

Before the invasion

Sleeper agents and malware infections particularly at infrastructure and (electrical power) utilities companies were prepared.

There were but a few early indicators that could have served as warnings about the timing of the invasion:
Russian corporations chartered RoRo and other ships as well as heavylift aircraft such as An-124 for not very profitable endeavours for more than a year to desensitise Western intelligence, and finally there were two spikes in such chartering activities; one was a test to see whether the West would react and the second was for the actual invasion date. This way the West was deprived of many RoRo ships that could have sealifted especially UK land forces and also of many most valuable heavylift aircraft that could have supplemented the military heavylift aircraft to speed up Western counterconcentration of forces.

Many Western pundits and 'experts' expected "hybrid warfare" of Russian troops without national patches (as on the Crimea and in the Eastern Ukraine) and armed ethnic Russians living in the Baltic countries to be important parts and early indicators of an invasion, but almost no such thing happened. Instead, the Russian public was merely prepared by more or less bogus reports about Estonian men raping ethnic Russians and other events that supposedly proved that Russians were in danger in the Baltic region and painted the Baltic states' governments as dysfunctional, corrupt and fascist.
One such event shortly before the invasion was staged to provide a final (fake) motive for invasion.

Likewise, Western pundits and experts had expected that a major exercises would be used to conceal final invasion preparations, but the only Russian exercise planned for the time of the invasion was a VDV (airborne forces) exercise. The land  and air forces had been drilled for quick deployments by rail and air respectively during the preceding years, though.

Secrecy was ensured by Russian military planning for many contingencies, including scenarios against NATO. Western intelligence services were content to have infiltrated this and enjoying redundant and thus confirmed insider reports. These plans made at the regular HQs were but a cover for the real invasion planning which was done by a staff of a mere hundred officers. They drew on preparations done for the HQ plans, but developed a very different plan while being confined at and in fact locked up in a remote previously vacated mining settlement with no military past. This plan would lack the early warning indicators that the HQ's plans had.
This plan was held back until days before the invasion, and even then all but a few orders were still sealed and encrypted. The leaders of the regular military forces that led the invasion only learned about their orders in the evening before the invasion.

Putin himself made the preliminary decision on the invasion date only a week early, and gave the order for the actual invasion date only hours before it began. Reliable early warning was impossible. Even if NATO/EU had reacted on suspicions, they would have been desensitised to the threat of invasion by it never happening while they were expecting it. This game couldn't end other than in favour of the invader because but one party was intent on invasion, and it was in no hurry.

The invasion

The time of invasion was on a Sunday, 0100 local time. It was February and all rivers and lakes in the Baltic region as well as the Gulf of Finland were frozen.

The token foreign NATO forces in the Baltic region were blown up by air and missile strikes within 20 minutes, including the puny air policing fighter flights.

A salvo of Iskander and Klub missiles launched from 'supply' containers stored in Kaliningrad knocked out the majority of Polish Air Force F-16C/D fighters, destroyed many Leopard 2 tanks and knocked down all heavy duty Vistula bridges, while much of the rest of Polish military was spared from this early strike because much of it was obsolete or in disrepair anyway.
Artillery of the Russian forces in Kaliningrad did hit the foolishly close Polish army bases of the 9th Armoured Cavalry Brigade, 20th "Bartoszycka" Mechanized Brigade, 15th "Giżycka" Mechanized Brigade, though. Guided rockets were used to hit buildings and vehicle parking/storage areas early on, whereas later on unguided munitions were used to keep any presence and activity in those military bases very hazardous.
Task forces of the Russian army reached those Polish brigades at daybreak, and defeated the still not combat-ready troops swiftly. A third of the Polish army was defeated within hours, and the Polish air force became largely irrelevant.

Belarus was not actively involved in the scheme. Secrecy would have been too much of a challenge, and the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko was rather intent on building a dynasty with his son rather than recreating the Russian Empire, which no doubt would have swallowed Belarus. Belarus did help Russia passively, though. Russia was able to use military bases in Western Belarus that -under the cover of this country's neutrality - proved valuable as forward electronic listening posts. The bet was that NATO would not want to pull Belarus into this conflict, for this would widen the front, escalate the conflict, constitute an aggression and offer Russia many more bases as well as adding the army of Belarus to the conflict at a time when NATO member Poland would be desperate about protecting its capital Warsaw.

The VDV reinforced the isolated Russian brigade at Kaliningrad through airlift of an entire brigade before dawn, with most personnel jumping at low altitude to save on airfield capacity.

The main thrust into the Baltic region was aimed at crossing the only major obstacle - the Daugava River - as soon as possible.The distance to the Russian border was little more than 100 km, but the Russian 6th Army was located around Saint Petersburg, and even the all-wheeled task forces of both the 138th Guards and 25th Motorised Rifle Brigade first had to travel more than 300 km within Russia.
The eventual crossing of the river was greatly eased by it being frozen enough to walk on it. Russian army engineers laid metal carpets to distribute the mass of vehicles on the ice and thus allowed light motor vehicles to cross the river almost immediately. They also dragged pontoons over the ice and linked them up to allow heavier vehicles to pass the river. No bet was made to capture bridges intact, though a battalion-sized Spetznaz air assault was conducted to try to secure a bridge at Daugavpils. This one was destroyed later on the first day by a large salvo of Royal Navy cruise missiles, though.

The 6th Army's thrust towards the Lithuanian-Polish border and Kaliningrad Oblast was supported by "go" drugs and completed within 60 hours. All opposition they encountered were token "tripwire" forces (that had suffered badly under the initial missile barrage), as well as the weak Lithuanian and Latvian regular and paramilitary forces. The push was this quick because the capitals were not taken directly, but circumvented. Both Latvia and Lithuania had much of their feeble land power concentrated in their capitals.

The Russian Air Force demolished what little manoeuvre forces existed in Latvia and Estonia during day one and two, and allowed Russian paramilitary troops that had been flown to Saint Petersburg with civilian aircraft to flood into all three Baltic states and to occupy them within days. These troops weren't in control everywhere, but they were dominant everywhere. The civilians were under a curfew.

A notable air assault took place on the Estonian islands. They were accessible by land over the ice anyway, but the presence of VDV forces was meant to deter NATO from establishing a foothold there.

Supporting actions

The Finnish government was informed on the first morning that Russia would perfectly respect and guarantee Finnish sovereignty if both Finland and Sweden abstained from any support to NATO or EU, much less turning hostile themselves. The Finnish government then contacted the Swedish government and reached an agreement to mobilise and wait for further developments. No NATO air power was allowed into Swedish air bases.

Agents badly damaged the majority of the few dozen NATO and British E-3 Sentry (AWACS) aircraft on the ground with small guided missiles and mortars as well as by sabotage.

Electrical grids failed in Poland, Germany and Denmark due to sabotage by agents and malware, and a combination thereof. The electrified railroad lines in Germany and Poland became useless for days due to sabotage of the signal system and power outages.

Cruise missiles launched from a freighter that departed from Murmansk into the Baltic Sea knocked down all Oder river bridges and destroyed dozens of Typhoon aircraft on German Luftwaffe airbases in their hardened shelters (which had been under observation by agents) and in airbase maintenance hangars.

The Russian intelligence had a ship placed over the Eurotunnel that quickly drilled to the Eurotunnel and emplaced a one kiloton nuclear mine right on top of it, then plugged the hole. The explosion occurred hours later, opened the tunnel and flooded it. The UK could not send its military assets or supplies through this tunnel any more for months to come.

Additional bargaining chips

The airspace over Kaliningrad had become too dangerous for airlift operations after two days, but the transport aircraft assembled were not left unused. A parallel invasion of both Iceland and Svalbard was launched with VDV forces that enjoyed the best cold weather training and equipment.
Afterwards, an entire S-300 regiment, coastal defence missile batteries and field artillery were flown to Reykjavík. It would take many weeks for the U.S.Navy to amass enough amphibious warfare capacity in the North Atlantic to liberate Iceland. An airborne invasion was out of question because the airborne forces available to NATO lacked both armour and reliable artillery support.

Securing the flanks

Georgia was overrun by Russian forces from the Southern Military District in a repeat of 2008, and the government of Turkey was promised by Putin that Turkey would not be attacked and Russian forces would leave Georgia - save for Abchasia and South Ossetia - within a month if Turkey promised to limit its article 5 support to NATO's cause to what it could do from home, and not tolerate any foreign air power in its country. Caliph Erdogan agreed in secret, being fed up with European and American politicians who previously had criticized him for human rights abuses and for his foreign policies.

The air war

The air war was waged by NATO from bases in Germany and the Czech Republic mostly, and heavily dependent on tanker aircraft. Radar planes such as E-3 and E-8 - if still available at all - were pushed back by Russian long range missiles (S-400 surface to air missile system and various fighter-launches long range missiles). This limited their use to the area controlled by friendly ground forces and the Western Baltic Sea.
Hardly any long-range intrusions into Russian-dominated airspace were attempted by NATO despite its material superiority: The risk that NATO combat aircraft would be attacked with surprise by Russian aircraft (which benefited from the few Russian AEW&C aircraft and the many S-300 and S-400 regiments' radars) was too great. There weren't very many targets more valuable than individual tanks in range anyway. Too few tanker aircraft were available - in part because they kept suffering losses to Russian agents in particular during take off and landing since they had to make use of civilian airports while combat aircraft were based on the crowded active and former Cold War military airbases, most of which were in rural and thus more easily secured areas.

Russian satellites began to emit signals to jam both GPS and Galileo signals, making both satellite navigation systems largely useless in the theatres of war. Powerful land-based lasers were used to dazzle and permanently blind espionage and scientific earth observation satellites. Even radar satellites were jammed.
The United States did quite the same to Russian satellites, of course.

Aircraft losses were atrocious on both sides during the first week, but afterwards NATO had defeated the integrated air defences that had been set up in Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania enough to force them into survival mode; with few radars and modern missiles left, the area air defence were only activated on particularly promising occasions and Russian combat air patrols typically circled along the Russian border.

Camouflage, deception, numbers and short range air defences made it very difficult to reduce the Russian ground forces that were still facing mostly Polish forces with few German, American, French and Czech forces in between. The American and French forces were mostly on wheeled armoured vehicles only and suffered badly whenever they attempted offensive manoeuvres or were reconnoitred for Russian artillery strikes. The German forces awkwardly avoided Kaliningrad Oblast and were deployed to protect Warsaw, mostly facing Belarus. This was driven by political directions from Berlin, since the German government only slowly digested the news and hoped for a quick, seemingly self-evident armistice as had been demanded by the UN General Secretary. German Typhoons had mostly flown defensive combat air patrols, being short on modern missiles and weakened by the early strikes. Some German Tornado ECR aircraft had participated in the reduction of Russian SAM radars, but soon ran out of missiles - just as other NATO air forces. Anti-radar missiles had to be flown in from distant carrier groups, Pacific and North American bases to replenish the quickly exhausted supply. There were too many Russian radar decoys and too many Russian radars were switched off in time to avoid a missile hit.

The war at sea

There was no real war at sea in the Baltic Sea. The German, Dutch and Danish navies focused on closing the Danish waters and thus the entry/exit of the Baltic Sea, for Russian submarines.
The war in the North Atlantic was all about the Russian navy trying to protect its SSBNs north of Russia and NATO SSNs sprinting to blockade missions around Iceland and Svalbard. No attempt was made to destroy SSBNs, since this would threaten a second (retaliation) strike capability and might thus lead to a preventive nuclear strike.
French, British and American SSBNs left ports and went on patrols for deterrence of strategic nuclear attacks.

A frustrated U.S.Navy launched hundreds of cruise missiles at targets on Iceland, Svalbard, in and around Murmansk and in the Caucasus region with little effect. This had been anticipated and much valuable equipment had been moved, replaced in place by decoys.
Probing by Russian air power including the sinking of an escort on air defence picket duty forced the single U.S. carrier group in the Atlantic to focus on self-defence until additional carriers would arrive and bolster naval air power strength. The only carrier that arrived in the first week was the HMS Queen Elizabeth, which had no fighter aircraft yet and served as little more than an alternative refuelling point for naval helicopters.

The end

Within a week Russia had occupied what it wanted to conquer and gained enough bargaining chips. It was about time to end the conflict before superior NATO conventional forces would arrive despite all delays and crush the thin defence mounted by the Russian army and air force.

A threat was made:
Invade Iceland and nuclear weapons would be used on ship targets and ultimately on Reykjavik itself.
Invade Svalbard and nuclear weapons would be used on ship targets and land forces.
Try to reconquer any Baltic state and tactical nuclear weapons would be used on land and air power targets.
The mini nuke used to flood the Eurotunnel was mentioned as evidence for Russian readiness to use nuclear munitions.

The President of the United States, the UK's Prime Minister and France's President were too stubborn or proud and didn't signal their readiness for a truce in the demanded time window.
As a consequence, a Norwegian destroyer was engulfed by a 10 kt nuclear explosion at sea. The Russian armed forces previously visually confirmed the ship identification with a swarm of drones too large to be shot down with missiles and too distant to be destroyed by guns. Putin directly ordered that only a single small power warship would be destroyed, not a nuclear powers' warship.

The risk of escalation towards mutual destruction became unbearable, especially considering that but a few million people lived in the Baltic region, and those would likely suffer more from continuation of the war than from a truce. There was nothing to be gained from war for NATO.

Finally, a compromise was made: Russia evacuated Iceland and Svalbard, but kept the three Baltic countries occupied. There would be no formal peace treaty since there was no formal declaration of war, but Russian control of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became a fact.


Both NATO and Russia entered a decade of arms racing, with NATO recovering from the blows and addressing its weaknesses. A line of dispersed military bases would be established from Poland to Romania, and a series of arms control treaties would be negotiated with Czar Putin to cool the continent down again.

Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians were under the terms of the truce free to leave their countries. Many Lithuanians emigrated to Poland, Germany the United States and Canada. Many Latvians emigrated to Germany, the United States and Canada. Almost a majority of ethnic Estonians fled to Finland. Poland received huge assistance from the EU to host the Lithuanian refugees and rebuild after the war's devastations.

NATO was dissolved by members leaving it because NATO 2.0 was founded, this time excluding Turkey and of course Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

- - - - -

The entire invasion scenario rests on surprise and the few Russian land forces (that were either in the region or deployable by air) being able to outweigh what forces NATO has in the region and can deploy in time. The window of Russian conventional superiority was measured in days in the air and at most weeks on the ground. Reconquest could only be prevented by means of nuclear munitions and 'diplomacy'.
On one hand a limitation of the conflict (keeping Finland, Belarus and Turkey out) kept it somehow manageable from the Russian perspective, while on the other hand an escalation (Iceland, Svalbard, Georgia) beyond the region of interest provided bargaining chips.
NATO was too much surprised to collect bargaining chips of its own.



  1. The operational and tactical reasoning is sound, but it doesn't fit into the overall Tsarist strategy. Such a move would unite the opponents, while not providing Russia with much. Some nice real estate for sure but nothing that would make it worth it.

    The more likely strategy would be to pursue the Baltics as a bargaining chip for Ukraine for example.

    1. To "not make it worth it" is the essence of deterrence. From our perspective it's a feature, not a bug, of the scenario.

    2. The problem is, it is a perfectly fine counter move to a lot of possible scenarios. USA bombs Assad, operation Baltic starts.
      The good part is, it is a move that is best left not played, as the threat is stronger then the move itself.

      As a side note, the western allies are doing they best antagonize Turkey routine with the support for the Kurds.
      The question is just is it calculated poking or just by chance.

    3. Rereading it I wasn't clear, the Baltics need a permanent defence force that is on par with the western district. Not tripwire, not mixed show of force, not a mobile quick reaction force for everywhere.

    4. Much of the Western MD has forces at Nizhny Novgorod, farther from Lithuania than Germany. The 6th Army at Leningrad and parts of the VDV matter instead.

      I suppose Lithuania should be subsidised into a 2nd Israel, with at least a divisional equivalent + urban militia.

      Estonia and Latvia don't matter so much IMO.

      Poland needs to relocate its army bases. Neither the concentration close to Kaliningrad Oblast nor the concentration at the German border make any sense.
      Its air force is obsolete and meaningless, its tiny navy is meaningless as well.

    5. That is only true in the surprise strike scenario. While a viable worst case scenario, for most scenarios where the units can be dispersed it creates big headaches for the Russian planners.

      WD has 3 skeleton corps, with one at Novgorod, Moskau and St. Petersburg.

      It is very likely all 3 will be expanded to include more then 1 or 2 maneuver brigades.

    6. NATO strategy is counter-concentration. A slowish concentration by Russian forces would be met by NATO counterconcentration (in theory). Thus the nervousness about Russian large scale maneoeuvres and my emphasis in very quick scenarios.

      It's questionable how quick the counterconcentration would be (not least because of political decisionmaking lag - the Bundeswehr would not easily be sent off into Poland in force), but to test this makes little sense for Putin. A NATO counterconcentration once established a single time will likely persist for a while, and wither away only over years. That's not a price Putin would like to pay for a mere test of NATO's lags.
      The Russian military is badly stretched without having much land power in the Western MD already.

    7. Well the Russian concentration is so slow that it might not be seen as such, but it is in fact happening.

      There are three new divisions being formed, with the central district providing the nucleus brigades.

      While mostly based on Ukraine, it adds a brigade in Velike Luki and Smolensk. Unless you consider the tripwire forces an answer there isn't much counter concentration.

  2. Sven, have you seen the Norwegian series 'Occupied'? It seemed like a realistic take on a Russian invasion of that country.

    I enjoyed your analysis above - do you have any plans to expand on it (e.g.orbat details, etc)?

    1. Not quite my preferred genre.

      I will not expand it with details because I think I've done what I wanted to do. It's meant to make many of my proposals more understandable.
      I also wanted to stress that time is of the essence for deterrence and defence, not mass alone. The total strength is irrelevant in the first few weeks, and all later weeks can be made irrelevant by an aggressor.
      British investments in Trident, Spanish army, almost all U.S. military power, Turkish military ... almost all of NATO's military power is irrelevant for its one least unlikely collective defence and deterrence requirement.

  3. You do not talk a lot about Ukraine. Would Russia just threathen escalation if Ukraine join the country to neutralize them like Sweden and Finland? Or use internal destablisation to further broke the country? Would they try to get some gain about Ukraine in the negociation table?

    1. I ignored it because the Ukraine is no threat to Russia as of now and likely won't be anytime soon.
      It's kinda self-evident that NATO wouldn't go to war with Russia if for example Russia overran and annexed all of Ukraine but a few weeks after using nukes against NATO over a much smaller issue.

    2. The forces the Russians have facing Ukraine now do not need to be redeployed to make this scenario feasible and, to preserve strategic surprise, probably would not be. These forces are entirely adequate to contain any thrust by Ukraine looking to help NATO out.

  4. Maybe Svaalbard, but I dont think they would risk Iceland.
    Unless it was a "zero hour" thing.

    Its a 2000km flight, or more, three, four, more hours, it doesnt take much luck for a destroyer to take a few pot shots, or a couple of fighters flying a picket get in amongst them and, well, probably inflict more losses than Russia would lose everywhere else.

    1. Iceland is essentially undefended, not even an air policing flight is there. There's usually no surface warship in hundreds of nm radius from Iceland, particularly not in February.

      Once again, I like to point out that one shouldn't take security for granted without actually securing the area.
      It's the same with some responses to the UK land forces topic; of course a Russian invasion of Norway is unlikely - because Norway is defended. That's the point. my suggestion was about how to do it more efficiently by applying a specific strategy.

      In the case of Iceland, security cannot be expected as ensured without defence. A Baltic defence plan probably requires U.S. airborne to be allocated to Iceland. I suppose I'm the first to state this publicly.

      All this is similar to the fallacy of the Cold War when planners presumed woodland and cities as unsuitable for possible Warsaw Pact invasion forces - but then did not have enough forced to actually defend these defensible areas - thus de facto opening them as avenues of attack.

      Way too often people think something's safe because it seems defensible, but then forget to think about how to defend it.

      Only a defended obstacle is an obstacle that matters.

    2. "not even an air policing flight is there. There's usually no surface warship in hundreds of nm radius from Iceland, particularly not in February."
      And 48 hours after Russia invades the Baltics?

      All it takes is a picket destroyer being in the right place or a couple fighters having the fuel to investigate a radar blip and its a complete disaster.
      You might be able to sanitise a corridor, you might get lucky, or you might not.

    3. Some people have difficulties accepting that easily defensible locations are only defensible if defenders are present.
      There's nothing on or around Iceland that would defend it so far.

  5. Politically, this defensive layout of Poland is rerunning a defense against the WWII agressors. Can it be expected that Germany will be allowed any role in a Baltic defence that entails German forces in Poland? I consider it possible that Germans will be asked to get to the Baltics by other means. It would be paranoia and counterproductive, but in line with the seeming politics behind this Polish deployment.

    1. It's no defensive positioning. The positioning at the border of Russia makes only sense as offensive positioning.
      The Western bases are likely Cold War leftovers.

  6. Guerilla warfare.The Baltics can count on 70000 men in regular forces,reserves or militias.40%+ of the terrain is forrested.The area is 3 times the size of Dagestan and Chechnya combined.They can have easy acces to advanced weaponry like MANPADS and ATGM's,plus support from NATO SOF.

    They may be undefendable,but they're also untenable.NATO might be shamed,but the Russian army and regime might end ruined.

    1. We saw that already happen. In the end, the Red Army subdued the Baltics.
      It may add to the deterrence, but I wouldn't want to rely on it, and it's nothing the allies can do much to support.

    2. Nobody would want to rely on that.But Russia is not USSR.Them not being what they used to be is the reason everyone is so relaxed.We used to count the Soviet Armies.Now we count Bde's or BTG's.20000 KIA seems like an upper limit since A-stan.

  7. Well done, a very interesting read.

  8. Thank you for analysis, I hope it will be widely read and taken seriously.

    I just want to add a couple of notes.

    - Baltic states are not a very valuable asset by itself. There are no coal, oil etc. It’s a matter of proud to have Baltic states under russian control, but hardly more. Especially with a lot of escaping locals, low support for Russia (it’s not Crimae or east Ukraine) and damaged infrastructure.
    - Putin seems very cautios. He’s a spy not a warrior after all. He would try to get loyal government in at least Estonia and Latvia. If it would seem hopeless, he would try other possible ways without triggering response from NATO. It would be too risky to attack other countries. That’s how Hitler got USA into the war and lost after all.

  9. The bombing of the channel tunnel is very risky: you are pretty much guaranteed to kill civilians with a nuke, you humiliate a nuclear power by preventing their contribution to the conventional war, you escalate to tactical nukes, and you do this with a first strike...

    With the monitoring for the comprehensive test ban treaty, and the civilian monitors, the the nature of the explosion will be public knowledge within hours at most. Considering this strike is also deep into western Europe, I have a hard time to see anything stopping a retaliatory strike using a tactical nuke on basically any semi-plausible military target and not much preventing a very expensive deep strike at something symbolic.

    I also think your epilogue is very optimistic, Putin has shown an appetite for using nuclear weapons offensively and unprovoked and you think Hawks would be stopped by this? Of course not, at most two years before some covert plan or other is approved and a liquidation plan is put in effect, maybe old school intercontinetal stuff with some added EW/cyber to prevent a retaliation? Anything goes when your opponent is a mad man with a bomb to kill us all and who already killed your friend.

  10. Thanks Sven for well thought and written scenario.

    I disagree with some commenters that Baltic countries aren't important enough to justify military action. Over the centuries Russian strategy has focused on
    a) having enough territory between Moscow and a potential invader from the west
    b) securing access to the sea.

    Eastern Baltic shore annexed to Russia and ethnically cleansed to contain a majority of Russians would count towards both aims seemingly forever and it's easy to imagine it as a desirable legacy for neo-imperialistic/nationalist administration in Kreml.

    However, limited de-escalatory nuclear war is reckless and stupid idea (which of course doesn't prevent it being planned among powerful military decision-makers). Surrendering oneself to nuclear blackmail once makes sure it will happen again, meaning NATO would be forced to make similar of stronger response. Stir in some cyberwar-boosted fog of war and a full scale nuclear exchange is not just possible but likely.


  11. The russians used nukes against france and the Uk nukes fly.
    End of the world.