European Union and NATO: Easing Russia's Pressure on the Baltic States
The geopolitical situation and historic ties dictate that the Baltic States will always face the presence of Russia and will have to deal with its interests. The imperialist sentiments of the Russian Federation are the signal for all former Soviet Union countries that Russia’s intent to dominate in the region, obtain/regain the power over the particular nation and force its government to make decisions in the favor of Moscow will be getting stronger. In order to achieve their goals, some of the countries are influenced by a combination of hard and soft power from the Russian side. Being the members of the European Union and NATO the Baltic States are affected only with soft power, which persists through Russian culture dissemination, diplomacy, propaganda, and sometimes even economic sanctions. In this paper, Russia’s efforts to destabilize the situation in the Baltic Region using information operations and causing confusion and doubt will be assessed, as well as possible solutions to outweigh and exploit these attempts will be provided.
In order to spread the seed of mistrust, Russia continually repeats some narratives that are targeting either local, Russian, or international populations. One of the most popular ones is to link a nation with fascist ideology in order to provoke negative reactions and justify its own actions. Distortion of historic facts often occurs when talking about the Baltic nation’s resistance to the Soviet regime after WWII. Moreover, Moscow propagandists are trying to prove, that ‘legal authorities ’were fighting with local ‘bandits’, who were killing their compatriots and Jews. This led to the clash in the internet environment between NATO, both Russian and Lithuanian foreign ministries, some Russian officials and Lithuanian public figures ended up with a result of downranking the Facebook profile of the Russian Foreign ministry to one star (9,8 thousand votes) and a reminder who were the real initiators of WWII. This example shows that a public education, which leads to a better understanding of world history, and public initiatives, can be a good illustration of how to counter the Russian propaganda.
The other popular narrative to weaken the Baltic population’s opinion is the attempt to diminish the importance of being a member of NATO. There are several master messages targeting different audiences. First, when targeting local populations Russia tries to install doubts that NATO will not come to aid in case of a conflict, because it is a very slow and non-flexible organization in the decision-making process. Second, Moscow elaborates on the news that NATO soldiers are not friendly and are prone to commit crimes to local societies. The third occurring common talk is that NATO is planning an offensive operation toward Russia and Belorussia and that was the main reason, why the Baltic States were invited to join NATO and become a bridgehead for an attack. In order to achieve these goals, Russia uses Fake news tactics combined with activities of media, internet bots, trolls, and hackers. For instance sending emails to members of parliament and the Police department, breaking into the internet portals, and placing the ‘sensations’, commenting massively at the end of the fake article in order to strengthen the impression that everything is real. In order to fight efficiently with the Fake news phenomenon, the Baltic nations need to establish close cooperation between official and media institutions, increase the protection from cyber-attacks to avoid breaking into computer systems, and provide a clear statement of what has happened besides calling a lie a lie.
In the same way, the Baltic States’ membership in the EU is under the scope of the Kremlin. As Jakub Korejba claims, three Baltic States may seem like ‘lost’ territories, but under the favorable conditions, Russia will try to drive the wedge between the local population and the EU. Thus, showing the failures of the governments to deal with the problems, like massive emigration, poverty, the slowdown of economics, and dependence on Brussels presumes that it would better be under the umbrella of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Additionally, big efforts are made to compromise EU regulations for human rights, especially when talking about sexual minorities and their right to create a family. Hence, the best way to counter such propaganda is to provide and parallel processed statistics with the numbers of average salary, individual state GPD, ratings of the educational system, etc. Also, a detailed comparison of what each state could achieve if there were no 50-year Soviet occupation might be a solution to close the case. Likewise, in the first paragraph, this leads to the conclusion that public education (in this case – economics) is vital for the local population.
However, there are people among politicians, artists, and businessmen who truly think, that Russia is playing by the same rules as Western countries and makes no secret inputs in the evolution of our states. For example, the famous signatory of independence Rolandas Paulauskas in his Youtube podcasts often questions nation choices to be a part of NATO and EU, writer Rūta Vanagaitė in her book ‘Mūsiškiai’ claimed that the chief of Forest Brothers Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas was responsible for lots of war crimes and was a KGB agent. All in all, everyone can have their own opinion and express it freely, but by doing that one have to answer the question is it really ‘my ideas’ or are they prompted by the shadow of Russia.
In conclusion, The Baltic States will not run away from the Kremlin's influence, unless the life-changing factors will happen and Moscow will abandon its intentions. Therefore, the Baltics have to be ready to take disinformation blows, which will target historic moments, memberships in the EU, and NATO. In order to do be ready to fight the information war, the investments in public education, public initiatives, and unity should be increased. Otherwise, there are possibilities that the scenario of 1940 will reoccur.