By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia
The situation in the Baltic region militarily is “quite stable,” Andis Kudors says, not only because NATO has beefed up its defenses there but because Vladimir Putin is interested in the first instance in maintaining the status quo in Russia, something that would be threatened by an attack on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The director of the Riga Center for Research on the Politics of Eastern Europe says that at the same time, Putin is heavily engaged in an information war against the three, a war that they have not yet found a way to respond to effectively.
As far as information security is concerned, Kudors continues, the situation is “far from stable. I would even say that we here are in an asymmetrical situation.” That is because Russia is making use of “the classical methods of strategic communication” and the Baltic countries and their Western allies have not come up with an adequate response.
Moscow seeks to set one group of people in each Baltic country against another and to set the Baltic states into opposition with Europe. “In Latvia,” he says, “Russians are put in opposition to Latvians, and conservative values to liberal ones. In Lithuania, in tis sense, ‘the Polish card’ is used. And in Estonia, the strategy is similar to the one used in Latvia.”
But at the same time, the Latvian analyst says, there are important differences in Moscow’s approaches to Estonia and Latvia, reflecting differences that arise from geography and history and from Moscow’s very different approach to Latvia during the period of occupation than the one it was able to apply in Estonia.
In Riga during Soviet times, Moscow set up the headquarters of the Baltic Military District. As a result, he says, “Moscow did everything in order that it could be certain that Latvia would be genuinely Soviet. Therefore, there was greater pressure on Latvians and they were to a greater extent dragged into Soviet discourse.”
“Even in Soviet times,” Kudors continues, Estonians felt commonalties and ties with Scandinavia. This helped them oppose the occupation and preserve their identity. In Latvia, for example, it was impossible to watch foreign TV channels while in Estonia, residents along the coast, including those in Tallinn could watch Finnish television.”
“This is only one example,” he says; “but it is extremely important.”
Moreover, Kudors says, “the Russians in Tallinn had greater motivation to study Estonian because Estonians to a lesser degree spoke Russian during the Soviet occupation. In Latvia, the situation is different. The majority of Latvians speak Russian well, especially in Riga. Therefore, we still feel a strong information influence from Russia.”
Despite its efforts, “the Kremlin is not capable to remain our strategic priorities which are in the West or convert us into a buffer zone like some kind of Armenia or Belarus; but it has information instruments which do work,” just as Soviet propaganda couldn’t change the basic orientation of Western countries but could create “definite problems.”
But there is another aspect to this problem that few take note of, Kudors says. Russia’s information war forces the Baltic governments to focus on it rather than devoting their energies to resolve basic domestic problems. That too is exactly the kind of thing Moscow hopes for and then exploits.
Many in Europe are beginning to understand just how dangerous this information war is, but many do not yet take that into account in their policies. And they do not want to acknowledge just how cynical Russian policy is, committed to no principles except the spread of chaos, the Latvian analyst concludes.
By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia