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Moscow’s “main goal” in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at the present time is to convince portions of the population of these three countries that NATO will not defend them if Moscow uses the kind of hybrid war it has against Ukraine and thus spark defeatist attitudes before any such attack might occur, according to Vilnius analysts.
(For examples of such Russian propaganda efforts from the last two days alone, see rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/24022015-reitingi/,rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/24022015-seredenko/,rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/24022015-negragdane/ andsvpressa.ru/world/article/113701/.)
“Doubt is a natural feeling,” Nerijus Maliukevicius, an expert at the Vilnius Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences says; “but in information war, it is one of the main instruments” leading to confusion, delay and even the sense that surrender is the only option.
But Moscow is facing a difficult time making its case in the Baltic countries, the Vilnius scholar says. Indeed, from his perspective it isn’t clear what more NATO or the United States could have done up to now to demonstrate that they will defend the three NATO members. They have brought in troops, provided arms and increased air defense.
At the same time, he acknowledges that Moscow’s effort has had some success because it has led people in the Baltic countries to ask the wrong question: They are asking “will NATO defend us” rather than “will we ourselves as members of NATO defend ourselves?” That is the proper question because all NATO members must participate.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania must be prepared to work as alliance members and be ready to defend themselves, Maliukevicius says, and the reason that is so important is very much on public view in Ukraine. “Why should the world recognize that Ukraine is fighting with Russia” or provide it with weaponry “when Ukraine itself will not declare martial law?”
By analogy, he continues, people in Lithuania must be asking themselves: “Are we prepared to defend ourselves from an aggressor? Have we invested enough and devoted enough money” for that task? “Those must be the first questions, and only then should we be talking about the actions of our allies.”
It is, of course, theoretically possible that NATO and the US would not react to Russian aggression, Laurinas Kaciunas, an analyst at Vilnius’s Center for the Study of Eastern Europe, says; but if it failed to respond, the entire security system the West has built and maintained for half a century would collapse.
Russia’s nuclear arsenal doesn’t change that, he argues, because Moscow had nuclear weapons throughout the cold war and nonetheless did not challenge the Western alliance with a military attack.
Moreover, with regard to the Baltic countries, they “are in a higher security league than Ukraine” because they are members of NATO and Ukraine isn’t. That is something all Western leaders recognize, and their recognition of that fact should give the Baltic countries confidence and the Kremlin pause.