There are indeed lies, damn lies, and statistics, but the statistics of the Baltic States tell a truth – they all have large Russian speaking minorities. That gives NATO a headache, and Putin an opportunity.
Consider: Latvia – total population 2 million, ethnic Russian population 556,000. Estonia – pop 1.3 million, ethnic Russian pop 320,000. Lithuania – pop 3 million, ethnic Russian pop 174,000.
Consider: Each of the three Baltic States has political parties representing the ethnic Russians.
Consider: Russia has a law allowing it to go to the assistance of ethnic Russians wherever they are.
It gets worse. The Russian minorities are not always treated fairly. In a 2012 referendum Latvia rejected Russian as the country’s second official language. The 75% against – 25% for mirrored the make up of the country. Consider the uproar recently when the Israeli cabinet suggested ending the status of Arabic as Israel’s second language, how it was considered an insult and a denial of rights – that is how the ethnic Russians view the referendum result.
It gets even worse. When Estonia escaped from the Russian empire in 1991, the ethnic Russians were not given citizenship. If you could not prove you lived in Estonia prior to the Soviet Union era you were given a ‘grey passport’, the status ‘alien’, and denied voting rights. You want to vote? You must pass a language test for a language which is Ugro Finnish in origin and has as much to do with Russian as English does to Swahili. In segregationist USA these sort of legal hurdles to voting were known as the Jim Crow laws. In an echo of Ukraine’s Donbass region, the Russian speaking areas are mostly those close to the Russian border.
None of this means that Russian tanks are about to roll into Tallinn, after all, the Baltic States are in the NATO alliance, but Putin does not need to use conventional military methods. The term ‘hybrid warfare ‘ has grown popular recently, but it describes a well rehearsed method of achieving aims.
Putin used it to good effect in Crimea, and in Donbass. You take a grievance, real or invented, and stir. When the pot begins to simmer, you send equipment to bring it to the boil. As it boils, you send men with weapons, but no uniforms, thus allowing for ‘plausible deniability’ that this is mostly your doing. This is the origin of Putin’s ‘little green men’ running around the Donbass region pretending to be from Mars as opposed to Moscow.
Using hybrid warfare in Ukraine is one thing, doing it in a NATO state is another. So Putin has to ask himself a question? Would NATO really live up to its solemn promise – that an attack on one is an attack on all and would be defended? And then, echoing Dirty Harry, Vladimir will ask ‘Well would ya, punk?’
He needs an answer before he asks the question