Vaidas Saldžiūnas, published in lrytas.lt on 16 June
When in June 1944 the USA and Allied forces landed on the shore of Normandy, France they were met with heavy machine-gun, canon, and mortar fire from entrenched positions. That was the so-called D-Day.
The lengthy battle that made famous the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.
68 years later, in the afternoon of 11 June, the landing operation on the beach of Nemirseta was led by the USA cruiser USS Normandy.
But the Lithuanian troops and USA marines weren’t ‘greeted’ with shrapnel and no blood was spilled either. On the contrary, they were welcomed with the smiles and applause of high-ranking NATO countries’ (and other) officials and politicians.
Obviously, this was just a demonstrative operation included in the agenda of international and Baltops 2012 military training programmes.
A demonstrative – for guests and journalists, conducted during the day with no resistance and with arrangements with the Environmental protection officers and local authorities made beforehand to prevent people from crying about the beach being devastated. But the operation wasn’t just a show.
Hundreds of various NATO troops, sailors, and marines conducted jointly one of the most dangerous and complex operations – landing on a shore.
The kind that troops from different countries, armed forces, and units take part in. Everything had to pitch-perfect. There’s no room for mistakes because they can result in casualties and the overall failure of the operation.
Even during training events or operation simulations like this one the ability to coordinate actions, to land all the troops safely outright is quite a challenge that requires constant preparation. And the benefit of such preparation in real-life situations is invaluable.
During an actual conflict, even if some kind of landing operation took place at Nemirseta beach (the main objective of such training operations for Lithuania is to learn how to receive NATO reinforcements properly in case of a crisis; and for them the best spot to land is not the beach but the city of Klaipėda, namely the large ice-free port, which would be one of the main strategic targets of any enemy of Lithuania) the troops would hardly land on the shore during the day like they did on Monday. In fact, a similar blooper happened to the USA marines in Somali in December 1992 when their ‘secret’ landing was greeted by a mob of photographers who had been waiting even before the dawn, and the operation resulted in an expedient withdrawal of the USA armed forces in 1994.
True, helicopters could hardly fly close enough safely and land troops without heavy air support – the latter was demonstrated in Nemirseta by two B52 bombers that flew from the USA specially for this training operation.
Obviously, the flight over Nemirseta beach at an altitude of 600 metres was just a demonstration and no bombs were dropped, and the two old amphibian vehicles that crawled slowly from the Polish Lublin class landing ships and landed safely the Lithuanian and USA troops wouldn’t have been much of a threat to a serious adversary. One interesting thing is that the Mistral class ships that Russia bought (the purchase resulted in an uproar) are equal to at least four of such Polish vessels that are similar to the ones Russia has in Kaliningrad and deployed during the landing training operation Zapad in 2009.
One could say that such demonstrations are only meant to amuse children and politicians. But that’s not true. A similar power-demonstrating operation was conducted in Somali a few weeks ago when the EU forces landed ashore for a short period of time, destroyed a few pirate boats, and returned. In other words – sent a message. That is one of the most important goals of such operations.
Before starting to mock and prance giving an example – the landing training operation Zapad 2009 in the region of Kaliningrad that had explosions and firefights, remember that such show-offs belong more to political symbolism. Though they could be of use to the military as well.
After all, when Russian leaders stood on a platform and watched the enemy (which almost without any attempt to mask was obviously the Baltic States) being crushed on the beach by the dashing Russian marines, there were plenty show elements impossible during a real operation.
And yet the most important thing here was not the interaction between different units (the Russians are really having a hard time at this) but a rattling of swords to the Baltic states, as if saying “we are here, we haven’t forgotten you, and we can squash you like a bug should or if we want to.”
The internet‘s Ivans and Kuznetsovs ranting with delight in commentaries about Russia’s power, Lithuania’s powerlessness (“one drunk VDV [Russian Airborne Troops] squad would beat you in two hours so stop making fools of yourselves and submit to Russia. Now.”), and NATO’s idleness (“no NATO is going to defend you, I give you that”) won’t miss their chance to bark this time as well.
But that‘s a good thing because it only shows the helplessness of the fifth column members – mocking and denying obvious facts is all they can do because the precise and open goal of this part of Baltops 2012 training event was to demonstrate a symbolic capability to defend.
High-ranking officials of NATO countries talked about this, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who received a lot of attention from the Belarusian military attaché during a photo shoot near the landing ships (such training events, albeit public, are a good opportunity for various countries to evaluate military capabilities; the majority of intelligence is being collected publicly after all), stressed this.
Thus this small and symbolic operation showed that NATO was ready to protect its members. And in order to be ready one has to prepare constantly because it’s impossible to predict what political circumstances will form in a year or ten.
For example, according to the training legend, the fictional aggressor Suland supports terrorists in Arcadia, which is economically weakened and torn apart by civil unrest. The international troops under the mandate of the UN Security Council set off on a mission to deal with them.
Obviously, in reality ‘Suland’ would hardly allow the UN to interfere because it is a member of the Security Council, and that’s why ‘Arcadia’ is a member of NATO. But just being a member is not enough. Such a demonstrative landing operation alone would be impossible ten years ago. Back then, the West were sincerely surprised – “why do you need this? Why annoy Russia?”, and, of course, the classical argument of all internet ‘experts’: “who is going to attack us?”
Then the Baltic States, the fresh members of NATO, were being urged to forget about Russia’s threat. The Cold War was over, and everybody would get along just fine. Some years later, after the wake-up call in the form of the Russia–Georgia war the new President of the USA Barrack Obama in 2009 extended a hand of friendship to Russia with the ‘reset’ button to restart the relations.
Well, if some of you are still being dormant, it’s time to stop dreaming because now we can say with certainty that the ‘reset’ strategy, despite all the diplomatic rationale about common actions, has failed.
For example, even the strategy’s author, a calm academic, now Ambassador Michael McFaul, who also speaks Russian, was terrified by the welcome of Vladimir Putin’s Russia – like a country suffering from the complexes of the Soviet Union’s demise that hasn’t been cured from and is spreading the Cold War paranoia. The West is its enemy. The Russians who disagree with the Kremlin’s policy are seen as enemies, servants of the despicable imperialist West. They can be arrested, searched, and imprisoned. There’s only one truth – Moscow truth.
That’s why the only ‘reset’ is that of the Cold War. No wonder the anti-West rhetoric is being strengthened in Russia just like its military forces near the western borders. Not incidentally, there have been forecasts that the rooting uncertainty about the future, chaos, and unrest in the EU will continue and grow stronger.
One can deny this persistently and laugh but basic facts tells us a lot – Russia is training to attack on the Baltic Sea beach, NATO – to defend. Here’s ‘reset’ for you, now it’s obvious who our friends are and who are only pretending. And there’s no paranoia or fear of Landsbergis’s followers here.
On the contrary – we can be glad that its Lithuania where things, albeit symbolic, happen which are clear signals of whose side we are on. What is more, besides the symbolic and practical benefits of such training events there’s another, I’d say even peacekeeping one – repellence. A hundred similar training operations are still better than one bloody D-Day. Right?