Since Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula and the start of conflict in eastern Ukraine in spring 2014, the small Baltic state of Lithuania has been anxiously eyeing Moscow. Some in the capital of Vilnius believe that the country might fall prey to a Ukraine-style military incursion, orchestrated by Russia.
Lithuania, a former Soviet satellite, shares a border with the heavily militarized Russian exclave of Kaliningrad — which houses Russia’s Baltic fleet and has been flooded with arms and personnel in the last year. From Kaliningrad, Russia has staged military drills that reportedly involve thousands of soldiers, hundreds of military vehicles, and dozens of warships. In response, Lithuanian forces are also mobilizing.
In May, VICE News followed the Lithuanian army during Operation Lightning Strike — a four-day wargames exercise. The drill marked the first nation-wide test of Lithuania’s new 2,500-strong “Rapid Reaction Force,” set up in the wake of the Ukraine crisis to deal with hybrid warfare threats, such as armed protests, airfield and weapons stockpile seizures, and the sudden appearance of “little green men” who seem to take orders from far away.