Reactions to the BBC’s Third World War: Inside the War Room

Making waves in the Baltic states: The BBC (Peter Nicholls/Reuters/Scanpix)
3/1/2016 4:51 PM
Category: Culture

ETV broadcast the provocative BBC documentary Third World War: Inside the War Room on Monday. In the film, a group of high-ranking British officials discuss military options in response to a Russian invasion of Latvia.

The film touches on a whole number of recent events and concepts, such as Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the conflict that preceded it, as well as cyberattacks, hybrid warfare, and the potential of the aggressor finding support in the local population.

Some reactions to the BBC documentary were predictable. While the Kremlin seemed to take the one-hour film as an insult, reviewers in Western media pointed out its obvious connections with recent political events. The fact that the group in the war room consisted of former British military and political officials gave the scenario a lot of additional weight.

Reviews in the UK's Independent and Evening Standard called it “compelling” and “terrifying” and said that the mix of archive footage, real former officials, and newly filmed sequences gave the film “a potent urgency.”

Beyond this, it was received as what it was: a high-quality BBC documentary among many.

Local reactions in Estonia, however, were slightly different. In ETV’s “Välisilm”, a political talk show, PR advisor Ilmar Raag and the Ministry of the Interior’s Deputy Secretary General Erkki Koort discussed the film.

Raag said that a lot of the attention the film was getting was because the idea that NATO really could deal with the matter of potential Russian aggression surprised a lot of people. He also said that the film got a lot of attention simply because it was done by the BBC.

What Raag found interesting was the fact that reviews in Britain concentrated on the ending, the threat of nuclear war, but that they neglected Latvia and anything that touched on it.

ETV+, Estonia’s Russian TV channel, interviewed editor-in-chief of the Russian-speaking Latvian channel LTV7 Olga Proskurova on Monday evening. Proskurova seemed to share Raag’s opinion that the film made it pretty obvious that the superpowers were more concerned about the moral implications of ordering a nuclear strike than about the fate of the Baltic states.

Proskurova called the attitude of the Western countries towards the Baltic states a subject-object relationship, and said it was dismissive to treat the supposed front line with such neglect.

The Interior Ministry’s Erkki Koort meanwhile said he didn’t believe that the film stirred up fears or had the potential to cause panic. In his assessment, a very positive aspect of the film was that a Western country was getting over its self-censorship concerning topics like a potential conflict with Russia. A taboo had been broken, he said.

ERR’s Russian news portal quoted former Russian Ambassador to France, Yuri Ryzhov, saying that the documentary was built on events in Ukraine, and thus dealt with a situation that couldn’t happen in the Baltic states, as they were members of NATO. He said that such a war wouldn’t find the necessary public support, and that the authorities were well aware of that.

ERR’s Russian news also quoted Russian journalist Alexander Nevzorov, who said that the potential for armed conflict did actually exist, as Russia was very good at taking things to the brink of war. He pointed to the country's isolationist approach to foreign politics, which he called “hysterical.”

Defense analyst Kalev Stoychesku sees a development like it was depicted in the documentary as very unlikely, as it was what he called another “Donbass” scenario, which couldn’t repeat in the Baltic or in Poland. Stoychesku pointed to several reasons for this, one being the plain fact that NATO was ready for such a development, another that the strategy hadn’t been successful in Ukraine, and perhaps the most important reason, namely that the Baltic states were members of the European Union and of NATO.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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