Despite NATO propaganda, Russia not planning to invade Baltic States

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
T-80 tank. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
The latest US narrative on Russia is straight from the plot of a Hollywood fantasy: US superheroes versus a Russian villain. Sadly for the Baltic States, they are being used by Uncle Sam as bait.

Here's a starter for ten question: Russia’s reunification with Crimea last year was prompted by which of the following…
a.) a very particular set of historical circumstances, allied to the will of the overwhelming majority of the local population.
b.) Vladimir Putin’s desire to launch a blitzkrieg military campaign, complete with goose-stepping Russian soldiers marching across Europe?

If you are not a raving-mad neocon or someone who has difficulties with reality, the correct answer is a. Crimea was Russian territory for centuries and had been transferred to Ukraine as part of an administrative re-alignment at a time when both states were part of the Soviet Union. The peninsula is as Russian as Cornwall is British or Texas is American. Furthermore, not even the most myopic anti-Russia activist questions the fact that most Crimean residents wished to join the Russian Federation.

READ MORE: ‘Russia has no aggressive plans, will always prefer political settlement’ - Putin

Given what has happened in Ukraine since, it’s unlikely that many people in Simferopol or Yalta would change that stance. Certainly, Crimean integration into the Russia state has been far from straightforward. Western sanctions targeted at local denizens haven’t helped in that regard and neither has the lack of a physical connection with the Russian mainland.

However, the alternative would have been far worse. Ukraine is now a failed state. Its economy has been decimated, corruption is arguably even more rampant than before the Maidan coup and a civil war rages sporadically in the east. Compared to Ukraine, Crimea is Narnia. Then again, almost every place on the planet, outside of Africa, probably looks attractive to those desperate to flee from Ukraine.

READ MORE: Moscow will respond to NATO approaching Russian borders ‘accordingly’ – Putin

American aggression

According to elements in the Western media and the US propaganda machine, the original poser ought to be answered with option (b). Crimea’s ‘annexation’ was the first phase of an embryonic Russian plan to sweep across Europe, gobbling up lebensraum with gay abandon. Anybody who objects to this narrative is a “Kremlin troll,” or “Putin apologist.” If old Joseph McCarthy could return to earth for five minutes, he’d be doing cartwheels. Demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations have never been as fashionable as they are today. In fact, don’t be surprised if Vogue's Anna Wintour soon declares them as the trend for autumn-winter 2015.

Despite the relish with which lazy Western journalism and a highly-organized NATO "information campaign" lambasts “Putin’s Russia” as a warmongering ‘rogue’ state, the facts tell another tale. During the past 15 years, the Russian army has only entered the sovereign territory of two foreign states, with Crimea counting as one of those occasions.

In 2008, former President Medvedev sent his forces into Georgia in response to Tbilisi’s aggression against South Ossetia. After five days of fighting, Russian troops controlled much of Georgia’s territory. Nevertheless, within two months, the Kremlin had withdrawn all its soldiers. This scenario doesn’t sound very Hitler-esque.

READ MORE: Russia ready for arms race, prefers to avoid it – Putin

At this time, Georgia was ruled by pro-Washington Mikhail Saakashvili, who subsequently abandoned his citizenship to obtain a Ukrainian passport. A move almost unheard of globally for a former head of state, for the precise reason that it's gravely insulting to his homeland. Saakashvili is now a wanted criminal suspect in Georgia. He remains a fugitive.

By contrast, since the turn of the century, the US has intervened in Yemen, Liberia, Haiti, Libya and Syria. In addition, ‘Uncle Sam’ has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2011 study suggests that 500,000 people have died as a result of the Iraq war. As it happens, according to the United Nations, George Bush and Tony Blair’s bloodthirsty campaign of violence was illegal under international law.

The imaginary threat

Despite the obvious fact that Washington’s military has been much busier than that of Russia so far this century, we rarely hear of “US belligerence” in the Western media. However, they are falling over themselves to decry “Russia aggression,” so much so that the phrase has become something of a catchphrase du jour.

According to American propaganda, this alleged Russian hostility is apparently focused on the goal of subjugating Eastern Europe. Indeed, Hillary Clinton, currently the bookmaker’s favorite to be the next US President, has already compared Putin to Hitler.

In order to sell the ‘Hollywood’ notion of Russia as global arch villain, the State Department needs to create targets for this imaginary Russian military jaunt around Europe. They’ve chosen the Baltic States - Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Three countries so harmless and innocuous that the only interaction most Westerners have with them is when their citizens migrate to find work. Which they do in huge numbers.

READ MORE: NATO to boost special defense forces to 40,000 - Stoltenberg

Unlike Crimea, which was of hugely significant strategic importance (hosting Russia’s largest Black Sea base for instance), there is nothing especially interesting about any of the Baltic countries. All remain poor, to varying degrees, with Estonia the most prosperous. Lithuania has lost 32 percent of its population since 1989 and Latvia, in particular, remains riddled with corruption.

The leaders of Latvia and Lithuania tend to use Russia as a bogeyman to distract attention from their own graft and ineptitude. Also, the attention currently lavished upon them from Washington and Brussels could bring with it some much needed investment capital. Vilnius’ opportunistic President Dalia Grybauskaitė, a former member of the Communist Party, is a master of anti-Kremlin rhetoric.

Estonia’s President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, is a very interesting character. An American, Ilves was once the head of the Estonia desk of Radio Free Europe, which was funded by the CIA in its early days. His Twitter account features a regularly updated stream of support for neocon positions and paranoia about a perceived ‘Russian threat.’

A ‘Russian threat’ that doesn’t exist.

Let’s just imagine for a moment that Russia did invade one or all of the Baltic States. What would it do with this newly acquired territory? The Kremlin would be faced with an enraged local population and a very angry wider world. That is assuming that this imagined Russian assault didn’t trigger a full-scale nuclear conflict with NATO. In which case, as the mushroom cloud envelops your nearest city, you can assume that Putin’s ‘dastardly plan’ has failed.

Even if Brussels and Washington, and this is very unlikely, rolled over and accepted Russian dominion over the Baltic countries, what then? With the greatest respect to the locals, there is little more of economic worth than fields and forests. There is no oil, no gas and no hidden deposits of rare-earth minerals.

READ MORE: Russia has no plans for new arms race – Putin’s aide

Some NATO propaganda claims that Putin’s government wishes to use the Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia as staging posts for a wider invasion of Europe. The main problem with this theory is that it’s insane; aside from that, Russia already has a Baltic exclave, Kaliningrad. Additionally, Western media frequently runs scare stories about Russian military drills in the region. These take place on Russian territory. Now, guess what? Almost every country in the world, even neutral Switzerland, conducts armed forces training from time to time on its own soil.

The reality is that the Western media is feeding readers, viewers and listeners a lazy narrative driven by the US State Department and NATO for reasons known only to themselves. But one assumes it comes from a desire to ratchet up military spending in Europe allied to anger over Russia's stance on Syria. Now, the neocons have decided that Russia is the new bugaboo.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, in the mind of the western media, is the new Saddam/Bin Laden/Joker/Riddler or whatever comic book bad guy you may fancy. If it wasn't so tragically serious, it’d be funny. However, rather than bellicose laughter, there’s a danger that this particular farce could end in tears.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.