Russia’s information warfare vis-a-vis the Baltic States has centered on its own interpretation of Soviet history, smearing Baltic governments and societies as fascists and Nazis, and creating propaganda about alleged abuse of the Russian minorities. The prominence given to these matters has ebbed and flowed. However, since Crimea’s annexation in 2014, the narrative of discrimination against the Russian minorities has intensified. The propaganda has served to reinforce Russia’s soft power efforts to create a network of co-opted communities of compatriots in the Baltic States as well as sow societal ethnic divisions. The goal has been to encourage Russians and Russian speakers (but not only these) to develop loyalty to modern-day Russia, including its interpretation of history and current events.
Where Putin goes about the business of growing Russia back to Soviet size, at least in presence and as much in body as it may persuade, Agnia Grigas counts and examines the ways. Covered in depth: Ethnic Russian and Russophone-based (and often disingenuous) compatriot and humanitarian policies, frozen conflicts, information warfare (including within near abroad states the development of Moscow-controlled media), “passportization” (instant citizenship based in nominal ethnic and linguistic affiliation), separatism, civil conflict, and annexation.
In the course of her writing, Grigas captures the spirit of Putin’s revanchist script that is bound to glorify, sanitize, and revive the past while keeping himself at the center of the universe so projected. Of greatest interest to lay Kremlin watchers may be the many explications of historically near Moscow-engineered lies and manipulations recounted throughout the book.
BackChannels happens to have a page open detailing “a campaign that contributed to the 2007 riots by Russians and Russian speakers in Tallinn.” The incident appears to have been less about “bending and twisting it some” and more about outright fabrication and incitement:
According to Estonian perceptions, Moscow was instrumental in inciting unrest and discontent by spreading false accounts in the Russian-language press that the monument, and presumably the nearby tombs of unknown soldiers, had been destroyed . . . The Russian embassy allegedly also took part in organizing the riots, while Russian activists, including members of the Nashi pro-Kremlin youth movement, traveled from Russia to take part in the violence. (p. 164).
That’s one incident recounted on one-third of a page — and the book runs 256 pages before the recounting of each chapter’s copious notes.
The Winter Olympics at Sochi and the dreadful fracturing of Syria may not be so unique, for Russia appears to have had plenty of experience at managing and putting on a show — and controlling information and perception in spaces it either exploits or would wish to exploit.
In her concluding chapter, Grigas notes, ” . . . Russian compatriot policies go hand in hand with coercion, disinformation, and use of force against the governments of the target states. These policies at times verge on blackmail to manipulate the compatriots and even allies like Armenia Belarus, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan into participating in the Russian reimperialization project. Moscow offers and extends its protection to compatriots in some cases despite the preferences of the compatriots themselves” (p. 243).
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