Staunton, Mar. 12 – Moscow officials and news outlets periodically attack all three Baltic countries for their supposed mistreatment of ethnic Russians and the failure of these NATO and EU member states to adopt a pro-Russian position on key issues. Such attacks have become more frequent since Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine.
Few in any of the Baltic countries support the crimes Putin is committing, and they are making their feelings known in various ways. But Moscow’s heightened attention to this is worrisome because Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are often listed as potential targets for the Kremlin ruler in the future.
Moscow media outlets have been especially upset by what they see as vandalism by Baltic citizens against Soviet war memorials, many of which have been painted the colors of the Ukrainian flag or emblazoned with anti-west slogans (ritmeurasia.org/news--2022-03-10--v-stranah-baltii-novaja-volna-atak-na-pamjatniki-sovetskim-soldatam-58956).
But Russian anger about that and suggestions that Russians in the Baltic countries need to organize to defend Russia and Soviet war memorials as they did in the case of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn 15 years ago pale in comparison to Russian complaints about changing citizenship legislation in ways that could negatively affect ethnic Russians there.
In Moscow’s Vzglyad, commentator Stanislav Leshchenko sees these developments as part of a campaign to target Russians for mistreatment “because of the events in Ukraine” and urges Russians there and Russians in Russia to stand up in defense of this part of “the Russian world” (vz.ru/world/2022/3/13/1148160.html).
In emotional terms, he denounces proposals in Estonia and Latvia to strip Russians living there who are not citizens of their residence permits and possibly deport them, even though he immediately concedes that the governments of the two countries have rejected any such possibility.
Leshchenko says that such extreme proposals have opened the way for less extreme ones that will lead to real steps by the authorities across the Baltic states to limit the freedoms of ethnic Russians living there who are doing no more than supporting the policies of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.
That is the pattern the Vzglyad commentator follows, one familiar to anyone who tracks Russian commentaries on the Baltic states, citing proposals by marginal figures and only then conceding that Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius have rejected them in order to claim that the governments are in fact in league with the most radical elements.
In ordinary times, such journalist sleight of hand might not matter very much; but at a time when some have been suggesting that Putin might soon turn his military attention to the Baltic countries, it is worrisome, an indication that here too the powers that be in Moscow are more than ready to go to the brink and quite possibly beyond.