A recent programme aired by the BBC explores a hypothetical doomsday scenario of a nuclear stand-off between Russia and NATO over Latvia. Analysts in Lithuania say it presents too simplistic a take on geopolitical realities in Eastern Europe which, in itself, could erode confidence in NATO's collective defence commitments.
World War Three: Inside the War Room. Image: BBC

The Russian-speaking residents of Daugavpils, a city in eastern Latvia, have rioted, occupied government buildings, and declared independence for the Latgale region. After Latvia and their allies try to retake the lost territory, Russia destroys a British warship with a nuclear missile, issuing a warning: the next target is London. London, in turn, must decide – respond to Russia's nuclear missile and start World War III, or stand down.

This doomsday scenario, with news reports narrated by real news anchors, was invented by the creators of “World War Three: Inside the War Room”, a new TV programme by the BBC. On the show, the UK's former highest military officials and diplomats discuss what they would have to do if such a scenario were to actually play out.

The show and the comments made by the former government officials have garnered extensive national and international attention. Articles have already appeared in Russia, claiming that Britain would not use a nuclear weapon against Russia in the event of a war.

World War Three: Inside the War Room. Image: BBC
World War Three: Inside the War Room. Image: BBC

Lithuanian experts are quite sceptical about the BBC's show, saying it will be used by Russia's propaganda and military leadership.

Ukraine scenario in Latvia

Eastern Europe Studies Centre analyst Linas Kojala criticised the programme, which he says presents an over-simplistic take based on an analogy with recent events in Ukraine.

“In the show, they discuss how NATO should respond to a similar situation in Latvia. The main premise - that a nuclear war could begin over Latgale - could only be advantageous to NATO's critics and to cow the West into following the Kremlin's narrative. The programme almost fails to mention that such a scenario would be prevented in early stages and discouraged before any conflict could even begin,” he said.

Another point of Kojala's criticism is that the show depicts Russia as a country ready to deploy nuclear weapon under very uncertain circumstances.

“In their own propaganda and military doctrine, Russia claims to reserve the right to use a nuclear weapon pre-emptively, if it were be threatened directly. In the BBC's show, however, they use one simply because NATO's forces are trying to retake the Latgale region, even though this is not a direct threat to Russia.

World War Three: Inside the War Room. Image: BBC
World War Three: Inside the War Room. Image: BBC

"I think that such simplistic, stereotypical treatments only weaken NATO, because they create the impression that it would be better to allow Russia to win, since the only alternative would be a nuclear conflict,” explained Kojala.

In his opinion, Putin only cares about himself and his inner circle. He will take what he can, but will be too careful to get stuck in a situation threatening his own survival.

“In such a sensitive geopolitical context, as we await responsible decisions from meetings like the NATO summit in Warsaw, this sort of quasi-entertainment simulations, which manipulate realistic examples, is a dangerous and, I dare say, irresponsible game,” he continued.

Brits reveal their cards for no good reason

When asked why he thought the BBC had created such a show,

Journalist Audrius Bačiulis says the BBC programme reveals that the British are seriously concerned about events in Ukraine and Russia's militarization, which they think might have repercussions for them and other NATO members states.

“I would also be interested to learn where this question came from all of a sudden. Of all the Western countries, the British were the most outspoken about real and direct threats that Russia posed to the Baltics. By the way, when the Kremlin mentioned the deployment of the Iskander complex in Kaliningrad last summer, British journalists in Lithuania and other Baltic states investigated how dangerous this could be for Britain. Maybe that's why the BBC chose to explore this topic,” Bačiulis wondered.

He pointed to a report released by the Rand organisation, an American think-tank, a few days ago that had analysed a scenario involving a Russian invasion of the Baltics.

World War Three: Inside the War Room. Image: BBC
World War Three: Inside the War Room. Image: BBC

“The report emphasised that if Russia could occupy a sufficiently large territory and push back the British and American forces stationed there, taking those territories back would be very difficult and almost impossible, specifically because of the nuclear war possibility,” said Bačiulis.

According to him, the analysts recommended that the US do everything it can so that Russia would either not dare to attack the Baltics, or so that it could be successfully repelled if it did. They claimed this would be the least expensive and most effective way to protect the continued existence of both the Baltic states and NATO.

“If Russia would manage to muscle its way in, there would then be the question of the nuclear scenario. For two years now, both unofficial Russian sources and Putin himself have spoken about using nuclear weapons. When, in the context of the events in Syria, they said that they probably won't use a nuclear weapon, this is essentially a reminder of the opposite scenario: Don't forget that we have nuclear weapons that we can use,” said Bačiulis.

According to him, European countries were always less immune to Russia's nuclear threats, but they could lean on the strong position of the US.

The Lithuanian journalist also pointed out that the war games explored in the BBC's programme had been played out earlier, even in the presence of Margaret Thatcher, but they had been held in total secrecy.

“Now, the British have revealed the most secretive military mechanism that a nuclear nation could have. Because the game is being 'played' by former military and defence officials, or people who would have made the country's decisions until recently, the whole world, including Moscow, can now draw conclusions about how the British would think in such a scenario, and how the question of a nuclear war might play out,” he explained.

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