In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defense in Brussels, Belgium

Will Russia Attack NATO and, If So, When?

February 23, 2024
RM Staff

The past few months have been awash with forecasts by European and NATO officials and commanders that Russia may attack NATO in the not-so-distant future. Some of these high-ranking forecasters, such as NATO military committee chairman Rob Bauer, Belgian army chief Michel Hofman, Latvian General Valdemaras Rupsys, Estonia's Foreign Intelligence Service chief Kaupo Rosin and his colleagues, explicitly condition such aggression against Europe on Russia’s victory in Ukraine, while others in their public comments just forecast the time range for aggression without explicitly the aggression on the victory. These include Britain’s defense secretary Grant Shapps, Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius and Bulgarian PM Nikolai Denkov. There are also those who claim Russia is not interested in initiating an attack on NATO at all. These include Russia’s Vladimir Putin and his press secretary Dmitry Peskov. The problem with these assurances that NATO will not be a target for a Russian military attack, however, is that is what the Russian leadership had said about Ukraine before Feb. 24, 2022. So, will Russia attack NATO once ‘done’ in Ukraine? If so, when? The short answer, according to Europeans, who believe such an attack is probable, is anytime between 3 and 20 years (if you exclude, as we don, the German military’s exercise scenario which asks its participants to imagine Russia will attack within 2025).  The longer answer is below with most of the forecasters predicting an aggression in less than 10 years, which is alarming, given that people – who are familiar with European members of NATO’s preparations to defend themselves unaided by U.S.— do not expect these members to acquire such a capability at least in the next decade, according to  Bloomberg.

Table 1: Predictions that Russian armed forces will attack a NATO member(s) in Europe (this is an evolving list, only forecasts by current officials are included)

Who (source)When: detailsWhy and/or under what conditions
The German military’s exercise scenario (Daily Mail, 01.15.24, Bild, 01.14.24, Ukrainska Pravda, 01.15.24)Within 2025: Germany’s military has sketched out an “exercise scenario” It envisions a Russian attack into the Suwałki Gap between Poland and Lithuania in the period between this year’s U.S. presidential election and early 2025. Such an assault would cut the Baltics off from the rest of mainland Europe. N/A
Lithuanian Gen. Valdemaras Rupšys (Politico,01.25.24)Not in the next two years: “This year, next year, the possibility or the probability of a war between Russia and NATO is very low, extremely low.”

After (and if) Ukraine is defeated by Russia.



Jacek Siewiera, head of the Polish National Security Bureau (Nasz Dziennik, 12.02.23)


3 years

If NATO countries on the eastern flank do not adopt a “shorter, three-year time horizon to prepare for confrontation,” failing to “create a potential” on that flank that would serve  “a clear signal deterring aggression,” according to Siewiera.[1]


Western intelligence services (Bloomberg, 02.14.24)3-5 years: “Western intelligence assessments are suggesting that the Kremlin could be in a position to target a NATO member within the much shorter span of three to five years.”After the first phase of Putin’s imperial ambitions in the form of his war against Ukraine is completed.
Danish defense minister Troels Lund Poulsen (Jyllands-Posten/Reuters, 02.09.24, FT, 02.14.24)3-5 years: "It cannot be ruled out that within a three- to five-year period, Russia will test Article 5 and NATO's solidarity. That was not NATO's assessment in 2023. This is new knowledge that is coming to the fore now.”Poulsen said “new information” had come to light that was previously unknown to NATO countries
NATO military committee chief Rob Bauer (Economist, 02.18.24)3 to 7 years is the range that “a lot of people talk about”.

After (and if) Ukraine is defeated by Russia.


Bulgarian PM Nikolai Denkov (NYT, 02.19.24)3 to 10 years: Nikolai Denkov, the prime minister of Bulgaria, said Europeans needed to separate Ukraine’s urgent needs for ammunition and air defense from longer-term strategic goals. But given the imperialist rhetoric of Russia’s leaders, Mr. Denkov said, “long term in this case means three to five and maximum 10 years — it is really urgent.”N/A
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (, 11.05.23)Within the next 4-5 years (by 2028) : Zelenskyy warned in October that if Russia isn’t defeated in Ukraine, it could be ready to attack the Baltic countries within 5 years.If the war in Ukraine is paused and frozen
Britain’s defense secretary Grant Shapps (FT, 01.15.24)[2]Within the next 5 years: Britain’s defense secretary Grant Shapps has said the post-Cold War “peace dividend” is over and that Western countries need to prepare for further conflicts involving China, Russia, North Korea and Iran over the next five yearsN/A
Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (Reuters, 02.09.24, but Pistorius was speaking in January 2024)5 to 7 years: Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in January the alliance should prepare for a Russian attack on a NATO country within five to eight years.N/A
Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (Bloomberg, 02.19.24, Politico, 01.19.24, Der Tagesspiegel)5 to 8 years: “I can’t predict if and when an attack on NATO territory might occur,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told Bloomberg in an interview. “But it could happen in five to eight years.”N/A
Estonia's Foreign Intelligence Service chief Kaupo Rosin (Reuters, 02.13.24)

Within the next 10 years:


If Russia no longer needs to keep troops in Ukraine and if NATO countries fail to match up Russia’s military build-up along its Western frontiers. 


NATO military committee chief Rob Bauer (Daily Mail, 01.18.24, RFE/RL, 01.19.24)Within the next 20 years: In a stark warning, he said civilians must be ready for a conflict in the next 20 years that would require wholesale change in their lives.

After (and if) Ukraine is defeated by Russia.


Belgian army chief Michel Hofman (Politico, 12.19.23)





Unspecified: Russia has “already shown that they have the will to attack a neighbor,” Hofman told Belgian news outlet VRT while visiting Belgian soldiers stationed in Romania. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s language “is always ambiguous. It is absolutely possible that they will also have other ideas later. Either in the south in Moldova or the Baltic states,” he said.

After (and if) Ukraine is defeated by Russia.


[1] It is necessary to further increase the number of Polish troops, as part of creating this potential, according to Siewiera.

[2] “Within the next three years, it must be credible to talk of a British Army of 120,000, folding in our reserve and strategic reserve. But this is not enough,” British General Patrick Sanders said. (Politico, 01.24.24)

These sources have been compiled by student associates Conor Cunningham and Olga Kiyan and editor Simon Saradzhyan.

Photo shared by NATO.

A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the nationality of Gen. Valdemaras Rupšys.