“For about 24 hours, it looked like Russia was about to do something truly insane...something even crazier than everything we've been witnessing the past couple of years.” Brian Whitmore, editor of The Power Vertical Blog and a well-respected Russia expert, used these words to describe the June 30th announcement that Russia's Prosecutor General launched a review into the legality of the USSR's State Council recognition of the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991.
Once again, Moscow raised eyebrows all over the world and the usual suspects stepped up to the plate to de-escalate the situation. Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary for the President of Russia voiced that he “has trouble understanding the essence of this initiative.” "What I do know is that we have diplomatic relations and interstate treaties with these Baltic countries" the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added without much delay. Finally, Marina Gridneva, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General, said her office is obliged to pick up any request by lawmakers but the inquiry into Baltic independence "has no legal prospects."
What kind of political show was this? Did the Kremlin suddenly change its mind? And what was the reason for starting such a public campaign if it was doomed from the very beginning? Does the fact that this meaningless action was frozen by Kremlin show that Putin respects at least some red lines and clearly understands that questioning the sovereignty of the Baltic states will be treated by the West as proof of new Russian aggression?
These questions were left unanswered and the attention of the world shifted to other problems. Nevertheless, these questions deserve serious thought especially now that the threat of a revanchist Russia is no longer seen as solely Baltic paranoia.
Public questioning of Baltic independence is part of a larger campaign already underway in Russia to convince society and leadership that an attack against these NATO members is a reasonable, justified and simply inevitable move. This campaign began this April when the Russian political analyst Rostislav Ishchenko published an article entitled Redemptive Ransom." Ishchenko argued that the "preventive occupation of the Baltic states" is an inevitable outcome and vital interest of the Kremlin.
I anticipated that we would witness something similar to this campaign in my response to Ishchenko’s argument that highlighted the importance and danger of the article at the time.
But in order to understand the fact that Russian provocation to “preventively occupy” the Baltic states and the questioning of their independence are interrelated one should look into whose ideas are represented in both cases. Two members of the Russian State Duma, Yevgeny Fyodorov and Anton Romanov, initiated the official request for the Prosecutor General to investigate Baltic independence, both representing Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. It is much more important to note, however, that both Fyodorov and Romanov are members of National Liberation Movement, one of most radical wings of the Russian political establishment and part of the network of so-called national patriotic forces, a group closely related to such nationalists as Aleksandr Dugin, Dmitry Rogozin and others. And Rostislav Ischenko is one of them as well.
Before this connection is written off as coincidence, instead of a well-planned campaign, the third arm of the same propaganda movement must be examined. “An Ordered Revolution,” a film by Alexander Sladkov was recently aired on Russian TV. While Sladkov styles himself as a journalist he is actually a propaganda master for the Russian military and has long-term working relations not only with prominent figures of the national patriotic movement, but also with their structures of influence, such as the so called media-club “Format A3.”
Not surprisingly, Sladkov’s film, which paints the color revolutions as imaginary tools used by the U.S. to encircling Russia, presented a striking new idea. According to the author, the first color revolution was in Vilnius, Lithuania in 1991 and resulted in the arrival of M1A2 Abrams tanks to Lithuania. It goes without saying that these Abrams in Baltics are presented as a serious threat to Moscow, despite Russia’s overwhelming military dominance in the region.
Questioning the legality of Baltic independence was not another example of Russia being out of touch with the West. On the contrary, this political move was part of a well-planned and dangerous campaign intended to launch an invasion of the Baltics, spearheaded by national patriotic forces in Russia.
Peskov, Lavrov, and Gridneva de-escalated the discourse surrounding Baltic independence because Putin, as well as a majority of the Russian elites, is not in favor of such a scenario. Not yet.
Hardline Russian elites achieved their goal, even though the Prosecutor General halted the inquiry because the move was simply the opening gambit of a coordinated propaganda campaign. It should not be forgotten that these forces were behind the plans to attack Ukraine from the very beginning,when other parts of the Russian elite were focused on using soft power to achieve the same goals. And nobody knows when the political balance in Russia will shift and allow them to transform their full intentions into reality.