Tools of Destabilization. Russian Soft Power and Non-Military Influence in the Baltic States


  • Mike Winnerstig

Publish date: 2014-12-16

Report number: FOI-R--3990--SE

Pages: 146

Written in: English


  • Russia
  • soft power
  • non-military power
  • compatriots policy
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • destabilization
  • minority issues


The ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine has generated considerable concerns not least in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They are NATO members and thus protected by the collective defence capabilities of the alliance, but also the smallest and geographically most vulnerable members of the alliance. This has led to an increased interest in other issues than traditional military threats against the Baltic states, in particular Russian "soft power" and other means of non-military influence. In the original definition, soft power denoted the power of attraction, but the Russian reinterpretation of it also entails the possibility of wielding soft power against other actors, in order to gain influence or to engage in non-military warfare. In this, wielding non-military power in the economic and energy sectors has also been observed. This report analyses the Russian use of soft power and other non-military means of influence in the Baltic states during the last few years. To wield soft power might be a more effective tactic in a conflict than a traditional military attack - especially if the target is protected militarily through an alliance with bigger and more important actors. The results of the report indicate that a substantial number of organizations and other actors, directly or indirectly governed by the Russian federal government, are engaged in the implementation of a soft power strategy in the Baltic states. Central pieces of this strategy are a) the Russian Compatriots policy, that actively supports all Russian-speaking people outside of Russia proper, b) a campaign aimed at undermining the self-confidence of the Baltic states as independent political entities, and c) a substantial interference in the domestic political affairs of the Baltic states. All this is reinforced by systematic Russian attempts - through political, media and cultural outlets - to portray the Baltic states as "fascist", not least in terms of their treatment of their Russian minorities. The latter groups are also central targets of Russian soft power activities. As a whole, the Russian strategy can be considered as aiming at destabilizing the Baltic states. The results of the Russian actions are so far rather limited. For example, the majority of the Russian-speakers in Estonia are nowadays Estonian citizens, and a relatively small number are "stateless". In all three Baltic countries there are new younger generations today, with Russian as their mother tongue but increasingly identifying themselves as loyal citizens of their country of residence. In that sense, the Russian wielding of soft power against the Baltic states has been a failure. In other areas, such as the energy sector, Russian non-military power has been more successful, but there are signs indicating that the Baltic states are coming to grips with that situation as well.