Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Destructive influence of Russian propaganda in Baltic states

Rene Westbrook

6 July 2018

The Baltic states have many times expressed their concern about aggressive policy of Russia towards neighbouring states considering it as a threat to national security. The decision on NATO membership has become the necessary and expectable step guaranteeing their safety. However, in terms of information security these countries still remain vulnerable. Russia continues to invest lump sums into information war pursuing separation and weakening of their communities.

In order to achieve these purposes Russia applies classical strategic communication methods, targeting specific national groups. Thus, for example, to influence ethnic Latvians, the Russian-speaking media (largely presented in the Baltic States) uses the narratives of the common Soviet past and skillfully manipulates nostalgic feelings of the older generation. The narratives of “the Russian world” and compatriots are thrusted on the Russian-speaking population of these states, they are persuaded in the need “to keep ties with their mother-Russia”, to support all its initiatives.

Kremlin propaganda actively exploits other causes, the basic of which are the ethnic one and appeal to the values. Hence, in Latvia, Russians are opposed to Latvians, while conservative values of “the Russian world” — to the Western liberal values. Similar strategy is applied in Estonia. “The Polish card” is actively used in Lithuania. Such a “differentiated” approach is caused by historical reasons. Among three Baltic states Latvia has experienced the Soviet influence to the greatest degree (the headquarters of the Baltic military district was deployed in Riga during the Soviet occupation). At the same time Estonians, unlike Latvians, felt uttermost kinship and ties with the Scandinavian countries that helped them to protect their identity (the fact that the seaside and Tallinn inhabitants in the Soviet period could watch the Finnish TV also played an important role).

One of the key problems actively exploited by the Russian propagandist media in order to split the communities of the Baltic states is the language issue. In this context every state has its own peculiarities. For example, following the USSR collapse, Russians residing in Estonia had stronger motivation to learn Estonian as during the Soviet occupation Estonians were worse at Russian language than, for example, Latvians. Most of Latvians still speak Russian well, especially those in Riga, therefore, Russian influence in Latvia is much stronger.

The Kremlin’s purpose is to split and weaken the communities of the European states. The population of the Baltic States bordering with Russia is the most vulnerable to destructive influence of the Russian propaganda. However, since Kremlin is not capable of changing strategic priorities of these states, politically integrated into the European space, and can’t turn them into a buffer zone (as Armenia and Belarus), it uses information tools for creation of internal problems.

It is known that the safety of a state manifests itself in many dimensions: economic, political, military, social and ecological, etc. In military sphere, safety of the Baltic countries is ensured with NATO membership. Therefore, Russia carries the ball in the political and social areas. Economic threats also should not be underestimated though the Baltic countries have already taken certain steps to become more independent in the field of power system. In the information sphere these countries remain the most vulnerable. In the context of the information war launched by Kremlin, virtually all areas of people’s life become aspects of national security. For its attacks on the states Russia uses all their weaknesses. If society is divided into ethnic grounds, the attacker uses it (as it occurs in Latvia today).

Russia does the best in order to keep communities of the Baltic countries split and to clog the process of their further integration into the European space. Therefore, the governments of these states have to focus on a problem of information influence, instead of the solution of social and economic problems which, certainly, slows down their development and further integration into the European Economic Area.

The political establishment and expert community of the Baltic States are well familiar with tactics and strategy of Russia. However, not all of the European states realize the level of danger of Kremlin’s information aggression while the situation demands an adequate response and well-managed coordination of actions from the leaders of the European states in the fight against information threats.

By Alves Kalnins


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