The Kremlin’s Psychological War Against the Baltics

On June 1, 2011, the Russian news agency Interfax published an opinion survey conducted by the Levada-Center. According to the survey, the residents of Russia think that the friendliest countries for Russia are Belarus (35 percent), Kazakhstan (33 percent), Ukraine (21 percent), Germany (20 percent), and China (18 percent) while the most unfriendly countries are already the usual top 5: Georgia (50 percent), Latvia (35 percent), Lithuania (34 percent), the USA (33 percent), and Estonia (30 percent).

The survey shows that not much has changed in the Russian psyche, though the level of hatred propaganda against the Kremlin’s most influence-free neighbors and the USA on Russian state-run TV has been lower during the reign of President Dmitry Medvedev, in comparison with the years of presidency of Vladimir Putin. It means that the old stereotypes imposed by Putin’s propaganda continue to work, and Lithuania got additional percentage points of hatred after it was attacked in the old propaganda style by PM Putin for implementing the EU decision related to gas pipelines, which will mean that Russia’s Gazprom, as well as its German partner, will lose control over pipelines in Lithuania (Estonia and Latvia postponed this EU requirement).

The Russian propaganda strongly exploits the annual commemorations of local units of Waffen-SS troops in Estonia and Latvia. Usually, the Russian media use the term Baltic States in such reports. It means that Lithuania, where the Lithuanian unit of the Waffen-SS was not created due to its boycott by the local population during WWII, is also covered by such propaganda. A few months ago, the Moscow-based pro-liberal radio Ekho Moskvy, which is re-broadcast on the Russian emigres’ RTVi, invited Kazimira Prunskiene, now an absolutely marginal Lithuanian politician (she was Lithuanian PM in 1990), to discuss the relations of Lithuania and Russia. Vladimir Ryzhkov, the anti-Kremlin activist, journalist and historian, with tears in his eyes, asked Prunskiene what she thinks about the annual marches of Waffen-SS veterans in Lithuania. Prunskiene watched him, obviously not understanding what he was talking about. She started to speak about her contacts with some Russian WWII veterans. Ryzhkov watched her, puzzled.

The Russian state-run TV propaganda indeed influences even liberals and intellectuals in Moscow. At the end of May, Yevgeniya Albats, chief editor of Russia’s liberal magazine The New Times, returned from her trip to Georgia, where she got fascinated with the reforms by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. However, most of her liberal friends in Moscow kept asking her about the anti-Saakashvili uprising in Georgia. Indeed, several hundred pro-Russian opposition members made some noise in the streets of Tbilisi on May 21-25, but it was ‘the uprising’ only on Russian state TV channels.

Now Russia’s psychological war against Lithuania becomes more perverse and sophisticated. There is a consensus in Lithuania that it was PM Putin who ordered building two Russian nuclear plants, with its experimental reactors, on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border and on the Russian Kaliningrad district-Lithuanian border.

“It will be possible to sweep Lithuania off the surface of the earth if somebody would get some crazy idea in his head,” Stanislav Shushkevich, who was the first head of the independent Belarusian state and who is now in opposition to the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, said, speaking at a conference in the Lithuanian parliament on June 1. Shushkevich added that he is in favor of nuclear energy, but this particular Russian project is dangerous for both Lithuania and Belarus.

“The psychological nuclear war is announced against Lithuania,” Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuanian member of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, said about the Russian nuclear projects at the Lithuanian border, when he spoke at the Sajudis movement’s congress in the Lithuanian parliament on June 4.

By Rokas M. Tracevskis