One is to rehearse the capability to seal off Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and deny access to the Baltic Sea to NATO forces attempting to come to their rescue. The other is to present a strategic challenge to U.S. and NATO leaders by demonstrating the high cost of defending the Baltics, thus sowing uncertainty about the viability of the alliance. “We in Estonia already live in constant fear. This is the predominant feeling in society, fear. If society feels threatened, you can manipulate it,” said Dmitri Teperik, chief executive at the International Centre for Defence and Security in Tallinn, Estonia. Confidence in NATO took a hit in the Baltics after the election of President Trump, who repeatedly characterized the alliance as “obsolete.” But the arrival early this year of four multinational NATO battalions, one for each Baltic state and Poland, helped ease worries, as did repeated visits from Trump deputies who are more clearly committed to the alliance than the president is. During the Zapad exercises, an additional company of U.S. forces will be present in each Baltic country, a presence that is symbolically important, Teperik said. “The flag tells Russia that if you have a problem with Poland or Lithuania, you have to take it up with Washington,” he said. “The campaign rhetoric was worrisome, but actions have proven that America as a state and as a society was committed to the alliance.”
Read more from the article in the Washington Post.