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Looking West: Russian Perspectives of the Baltics Through the Lens of the Great Patriotic War

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Technical Report,01 Jun 2016,31 May 2017

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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Many observers cite the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West as an indication of growing Russian ambition and naked aggression. Growing numbers of reports and studies focus on Russias offensive military capabilities and postulate how Russia could invade the small Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These discussions are misleading because they lack an overall political and strategic framework to examine any conflict between Russia and the Baltics. This monograph uses the Russian experience in World War II as a lens to view Russias perspectives towards the Baltics and to observe what historical legacies are still relevant. The monograph uses a variety of secondary sources, as well as translated Russian professional military writings and official statements to illustrate both change and continuity in Russian security policies towards the Baltics since World War II. Russias most important lessons from the Great Patriotic War include the requirement to protect their western borders from sudden invasion and the threat from disloyal ethnic or nationalist groups that undermine military objectives and the narrative of national unity. Additionally, the lengthy resistance to Soviet occupation before, during and after the war suggests that even the most ambitious Russian policymakers today are likely to be skeptical of any idea involving the permanent occupation of these non-Slavic states. Instead, any Russian actions will likely serve to deny NATO the use of military infrastructure in the region, prevent the defection of Belarus to the West, and reinforce Moscows domestic narratives. The statements and actions of Russian leaders today suggest a strong continuity of geostrategic thinking towards the Baltic region, and they indicate that the legacy of the Great Patriotic War is still potent in the minds of Russian officials.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science

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