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Russian Annexation in the Baltics Before 2035

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Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the continued involvement in the Ukraine conflict in the Donbass region, Russia and NATO have put distinct focus on the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) as a further potential point of conflict. One result of the 2016 NATO Warsaw Summit was the decision to “establish NATO’s forward presence in Estonia, Latvia, [and] Lithuania” in the face of up to 50,000 Russian troops being able to be deployed within a few days.

The Russian annexation of Crimea and support of separatist forces in Donbass has, at least in part, been attributed and explained by the high number of ethnic Russians living in these areas. According to estimations there are roughly 1 million ethnic Russians spread out over all three Baltic countries , directly along the WMD (Russia’s Western Military District). Importantly, the fraction of ethnic Russians is significantly higher in the Eastern-most municipalities in all three countries and ranges from 5.8% (Lithuania) to 26.9% (Latvia) of the total population to over 40% (Lithuania) or 60% (Latvia/Estonia) in some Eastern municipalities. This is a pattern akin to that of Donbass (and in some aspects to Crimea) that provides some prima facie reason to expect Russian involvement of some kind or another.

A 2018 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has outlined three escalation scenarios: deliberate escalation (in which Russia attempts a land grab in the Baltics), inadvertent escalation (in which Russia capitalises on a domestic crisis and is then driven by domestic pressure to threaten to intervene), and accidental escalation (in which an intervention is caused by an unrelated accident). Even though each individual scenario is quite unlikely, the implications are significant, especially with regard to the potential of a nuclear escalation, and because “safeguarding the security of the Baltic states is particularly important for NATO’s credibility and for Europe’s security” more generally.

Will Russia annex any part of any Baltic country by 2035?

This question will resolve positively if Russia annexes any territory belonging (as of December 2021) to the countries of Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia before January 1, 2035, according to credible media reports. This will resolve positively if this annexation occurs for any length of time. This question will resolve negatively if Russia does not annex any such territory. For the purposes of this question, "annexation" means the posession or control of a territory, by means of force or without the consent of the Baltic nation's government.

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