An international consortium of journalists revealed secret strategic documents concerning Russia’s plans in the Baltic states, Eesti Päevaleht, Yahoo News, Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Kyiv Independent and Expressen, among others, reported on 26 April.
The documents were drafted in the summer and fall of 2021 by the Russian Presidential Administration’s Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation. In doing so, the drafters had the authority to ask for advice from Russian intelligence agencies and the General Staff.
The documents contain separate plans for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania but their goals are similar. The overall goal is to reduce NATO’s presence and influence and strengthen Russian influence and Russian culture.
Moscow’s intention to thwart the construction of NATO military bases
Among other things, the documents show Moscow’s intention to thwart the construction of NATO military bases, weaken the local democratic governments, expand Russian cultural and linguistic influence and bolster pro-Kremlin political organisations.
“Estonia, our allies and partners have long been aware of Russia’s interest to use hybrid tactics to pursue their goals and try to assert their influence in other countries,” the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, told Yahoo News.
“We know our neighbour,” she said. “Our job is to continuously share our knowledge of Russia’s actions, build resilience and stand against Russia’s direct and indirect attempts of influence.”
Russia’s plans for the Baltic countries are broken up into three chapters: political, military, military-technical and security-related objectives; trade and economic; and humanitarian or society-related goals. All chapters are subdivided into three distinct time frames: the short term (by 2022), the medium term (2025) and the long term (2030).
Each country in the latest Kremlin documents is addressed in two separate texts. The first lists the “strategic interests of the Russian Federation” in different areas and at different periods. The second text outlines the risks that lie in Russia’s path.
A containment policy to prevent Russian influence from dwindling
A European intelligence source described the Russian Presidential Administration as a kind of think tank that, in addition to drafting Russian foreign policy prescriptions, also decides on the conduct of disinformation campaigns – ways to weaken pre-existing ties between and among allies.
“The Baltic papers are not about gaining influence in the respective countries,” the source told Yahoo News, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They’re rather a containment policy to prevent Russian influence from dwindling any further.”
Few in the Kremlin, the source added, really think the Baltic states can be “brought back” into the Russian fold. A more realistic plan would be sowing internal opposition to keep them from slipping more completely into the Western one.
A different European intelligence official, who is aware of the documents, said it was very unlikely that the authors were aware of the forthcoming invasion of Ukraine, given how remote the prospects for success of their schemes now look in hindsight.
“Russia’s plans to gain leverage over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania remind me why their NATO accession was such a good idea,” Dan Fried, the former US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told Yahoo News. “Without Baltic NATO membership, Russia would have invaded by now. With Baltic NATO membership, the Russians are reduced to cheap political intrigue.”