Analysis on Russia’s Footprint in the Nordic-Baltic Information Environment

On 25 January in Riga the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence presented a rather unique research based on the findings of an ongoing Project focusing on the monitoring and analysis of the activities of the Russian Federation in the Information Environment of the Nordic-Baltic Region. Centre’s Director Janis Sarts says: “Russian influence activities are best countered as a joint effort. This Project is an excellent example of regional cooperation and unity.”

The research results show that Russia is applying information confrontation against the Region as a whole and tailors it to individual countries as it sees fit. The report analyses Russia’s ‘Grand Strategy’ in the Nordic-Baltic region, its compatriots’ policy, narratives promoted by the websites of Sputnik, RT and Perviy Kanal as well as presents a pilot research of the public opinion vis-à-vis these narratives.

The narratives that Russia exploits against the Region are mainly oriented towards undermining NATO and EU in the eyes of the local populations, treating the threat from Russia as ridiculous and labelling the Region as Russophobic. Russia also attempts to rewrite the history of the Nordic-Baltic states and glorify the Soviet history. In terms of targeting individual countries, Russia tries to undermine and even demonise national governments, confuse and demoralise local populations by emphasising on different societal, economic, political and deterring regional cooperation and engagement with NATO.

The research shows that some of the narratives promoted by Russia have quite significant resonance with the Nordic-Baltic populations, but it is yet to be determined whether it is Russia’s information activities that have formed a specific opinion or does Russia simply tap into an existing mood to exploit it. For example, most inhabitants of the Region agree to a narrative promoted by Russia that refugees and immigrants are a destabilising factor for Europe. However, there are also such narratives that do not stick to the local population despite Russia’s active attempts to promote them. For example, there is low interest in the narrative about discrimination of the Russian minority or Sweden’s activities to persecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

An interesting new aspect that the research highlights is Russia’s compatriot policy that is being coordinated from the Kremlin on a regional principle since 2015. It is the same year when the Regional Coordination Council of the Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea countries was established, demonstrating that Russia no longer views the Baltic countries as part of the post-Soviet space but rather as part of the Nordic-Baltic region. It yet remains to be seen what it will mean in real terms, but what is already very clear to the authors: the concept of Russia’s compatriots abroad is ambiguous and widely interpretable, which gives an opportunity for Russia to use the narrative of the protection of compatriots’ rights as a moral justification for interference in internal matters of the sovereign states, use of military force and violations of territorial integrity of neighbouring states, as seen during the five day war with Georgia and the ongoing crisis in Eastern Ukraine. In the region, Latvia and Estonia are the most vulnerable to this narrative.

The Project is ongoing and the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence will continue publishing new research results as it progresses.

Full report is available here, report summary is available here.

Media inquiries: linda [dot] curika [at] stratcomcoe [dot] org