Lithuania and Stuttgart

by tuftsigl
Jan 21

Fletcher School students Victoria Barber, Andrew Koch and Kaitlyn Neuberger recently traveled to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Germany to conduct research on the risks of Russian hybrid warfare, focusing on the Baltics. The team’s research was supported by an IGL scholarship with funding from a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Greetings from the air! We’re writing this update at the end of our trip, on the way back from Estonia to Boston. If you read our first post you will know the background of our research, but as a quick refresher we are three second year students at The Fletcher School. Our thesis is focused on the use of hybrid warfare techniques—particularly by Russia. Our goal is to provide recommendations on how the United States can help its allies—individual countries, NATO, and EU—counter this hybrid strategy and what the United States should be doing in the region and to support its partners’ desire to become increasingly resilient to Russia’s actions.

Last time we wrote about our trip to Narva, Estonia and our interaction with and analysis of the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia. In this post we will tell you about the last two parts of our trip. Following our meetings in Riga, Latvia, our team split up. Andrew and Ria went to Vilnius, Lithuania and Kaitlyn to Stuttgart, Germany. By splitting the team, we hoped to gain unique perspectives from both locations. In the following paragraphs we’ll tell you about our experiences in both places and some of the insights that we gained through the final leg of our trip.

Andrew and Ria arrived in Vilnius on the 13th after dropping Kaitlyn off at the airport in Riga. Over the next three days, they met with US embassy and military officials, members of Lithuanian think tanks, and Lithuanian government and military personnel. These meetings were fascinating because they provided our team with a perspective that we had not heard before during our travels through the other Baltic States. Lithuania, unlike Estonia and Latvia, has few Russian-speaking people within its borders, this means that the Lithuanian government is less concerned with the potential of Russian speakers to be used in a hybrid warfare situation. However, this does not mean that Lithuania is any less concerned about Russian aggression or its hybrid warfare strategy.

Lithuania has a proud history. During the middle ages, it ruled an empire that included much of Eastern Europe and Western Russia. While it lost its independence in the late 1700s, ethnic Lithuanians take great pride in being descendants of this empire. Lithuania also has a long and complex history with Russia. It fought wars against the Russian empire for centuries and became part of the Soviet Union after the Soviets occupied the country during the Second World War. This means that the Lithuanians are particularly aware of the threat posed by Russia and are very explicit about this threat. This vocal nature has caused not only public intellectuals to speak out about the danger, but also politicians, officials, and even the President. Specifically, they focus on warning the Lithuanian population about the Russian propaganda flowing through the TV and radio. But unlike similar propaganda we saw in Estonia and Latvia, the Lithuanian counterpart is not necessarily designed to sow dissent in the population. Instead, the goal is to discredit the Lithuanian government, the United States, the European Union, and NATO. The Lithuanian government has been incredibly successful at educating the public about information warfare, and thus the vast majority of the public calls out these pieces of propaganda, not only in public settings, but also on the Internet and in social media. Our meetings also showed us the steps that the government has taken to prepare its military and the civilian population for Russian use of both hybrid and conventional techniques. The preparations are impressive and show the resolve of the entire Lithuanian population.

During her time in Stuttgart, Kaitlyn met directly with representatives from the Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) staff to discuss some of the work that the United States military is doing in the Baltic region. Given that the team’s thesis will be presented to military leadership to provide recommendations for how the US government can better support its allies in responding to threats of Russian aggression, this leg of the trip was crucial for understanding the target audience for the final report and how they view the current state of affairs on NATO’s eastern flank.

Kaitlyn was able to meet with service members from numerous different functions within the Special Operations Forces community, ranging from communications experts to civil affairs teams to medical specialists. Each of these meetings provided a new and unique angle through which to view the Baltic States and the challenges that are currently impacting the region. Most importantly, it provided the team with a more nuanced understanding of what is already being done by the United States in this region and allowed Kaitlyn to ask the practitioners working directly on these issues about the potential areas for improvement in the current approach.

Kaitlyn rounded out her series of meetings with a conversation with the SOCEUR Chief of Staff, who highlighted the importance of this issue to the Command and to the Department of Defense at large. He provided a higher-level strategic overview of how this problem set fits into the US government’s international strategy and what role the military has to play in this particular arena. These Command level meetings were a valuable supplement to the team’s previous meetings, because it allowed for a more expansive view of the issues at hand and provided critical context about the US government’s particular actions in this field, which will undoubtedly shape our final thesis.

Again we want to thank the Institute for Global Leadership and its generous supporters for helping our team make this trip a reality. Without speaking with the individuals and organizations in Europe our thesis would be lacking an important perspective.

Andrew Koch, Kaitlyn Neuberger, and Victoria Barber

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