In 2001, Ubisoft, a video game publisher, released Ghost Recon, a video game where players battle against the Russian military in the Caucasus and Baltic States eventually winding up in Red Square in Moscow. The game’s plot starts with the Russian invasion of South Ossetia in, at the time of release, the not too distant future of August 2008. In a remarkable coincidence, the video game’s narrative was just weeks off from the actual date of the very similar real War in Georgia.
While no one advocates intelligence officials and policy makers take to popular culture for prescience in international affairs and national security, the fact that such stories, renowned for lacking depth and ...view middle of the document...
Third, with the reasonable satisfaction of the Northern Plain, is the Baltics. The fourth is currently out of reach for Russia. Control of the eastern European countries of Romania, Bulgaria, and primarily Poland. Only after World War II did Russia satisfy all four of these geopolitical priorities.3
Russia’s impending annexation of the Crimea, securing a warm water port and pushing for economic collapse of the rest of Ukraine fulfills the Russian need for buffer states in Eastern Europe, satisfying the second priority. This sets the stage for Russia’s next geographical imperative: the Baltic States of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.
Russian and the Baltic States
Few pundits have gone to explain the underwriting factors facilitating the rivalry and bad blood between the Baltic States and Russia. On surface examination Russia has little to fear from the Baltic States. The Baltic States do not threaten Russia by themselves militarily. With their small size it makes little sense for the states to field a full 3 domain military as small army satisfies the requirements for most security threats.
Economically, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia benefit from their geographic proximity to the world’s largest natural gas exporter. Likewise, being small economies, they import only small fractions of Russia’s overall natural gas production. As such the three countries do not have a large GPD4, their exports offer Russia little in the way of economic benefits. With Lithuania being the leading trade partner with Russia making up just 1.8% of Russian exports, the Baltic States do not wield enough leverage to be an economic spoiler for Russia.5
Politically however, the three countries are diametrically opposed. With the memories of Soviet subjugation fresh in the minds of the current Balt leadership, the Baltic States are quick to defend their sovereignty when threatened by the far more powerful Russia. Following the signing of the Molotiv-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union invaded the Baltic States in 1939 and annexed them into the USSR in 1940. To this day, the Molotiv-Ribbentrop Pact is seen as the pivotal insult to the Balts. Likewise, the Russian excusal of Joseph Stalin’s actions is seen as evidence that Russia is the continuation of the Soviet Union.6 Latvian and Estonian events honoring Nazi SS legions of Baltic veterans antagonizes Russian sensibilities about the Great Patriotic War.
Of the Baltic States, Lithuania is the most Pro-Russian. Having a significantly lower number of ethnic Russians means they Lithuanians are less concerned about cultural subjugation stemming from the Russian diaspora. Making up less than 6% of total population, Lithuania has taken a different approach to its non-ethnic minorities.9 Rather than a jus sanguinsis principle for citizenship which bases citizenship on the parents of the potential citizen as Latvia and Estonia has done, Lithuania follows a jus soli principle allowing for a much easier naturalization process and...