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Think tank: Putin tough talk on Estonia groundwork for 'future escalation'

Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Russian leader Vladimir Putin's stated frustration with NATO member state Estonia is starting to sound a lot like his rhetoric ahead of the invasion he ordered of Ukraine, a U.S.-based think tank says.

Business Insider reports that the same can be said of Putin's stance on Latvia and Lithuania, also in NATO, and that this tough talk is laying the groundwork for future escalations, rather than being an escalation in and of itself.

Washington-based think tank the Institute for Study of War (ISW) stressed that it hasn't found any indication yet that Russia plans to attack the Baltics any time soon, Business Insider reports.

However, the think tank warned that Putin may be laying the groundwork for "future aggressive Russian actions abroad under the pretext of protecting its 'compatriots."

This means the Russian-speaking minority in all three Baltic states.

Much of the attention in relation to this demographic has recently fallen on Latvia, which Putin said this week, is "simply throwing out" ethnic Russian people from their borders, the ISW reported.

Putin's complaint refers to changes in Latvia's immigration law which would require Russian citizens living as permanent residents in that country to pass a Latvian language test by the end of November last year, or face potential deportation.

Around 1,200 Russians were identified for deportation from Latvia at the end of last year, as they had not renew their residency permits under the new regulations.

"You see, these are very serious things which directly affect our national security," Putin said, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

More broadly, the ISW says, this long-standing issue is being capitalized on by Putin, whose rhetoric is aimed at weakening the Baltic states, whose sovereignty he trivializes, and with it NATO, rather than taking on the alliance head on at this point.

This may later be followed by escalation against the Baltic states, or other NATO Eastern Flank nations.

At present, Putin and the Russian military is tied down in its invasion of Ukraine, now nearly two years old.

The ISW says that the Russian leader spoke in similar terms ahead of that unprovoked invasion, including on claims of "genocide" being committed by Kyiv and against Russian-speakers in the Donbas region in particular, in fact as a pretext for irredentism.

Again, the repeated calls for the "denazification" of Ukraine (while there are far-right groups in Ukraine, as there are in Russia, some of whom idolize historical nazism, they are not a significant force in Ukraine's democratic politics – ed.) are, the ISW says, thinly veiled demands for the removal of the elected Ukrainian government and its replacement with a government amenable to the Kremlin.

One key difference here is, of course, precisely that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are all NATO members.

The rest of the ISW report deals with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's appearance at the Davos World Economic Forum earlier this week, and with two or more state-owned Chinese banks reportedly ordering reviews of their business with Russian clients, and with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's gratitude to his North Korean counterpart for that country's support.

The piece, which can be read here, also carries extensive interactive maps, updated daily, of the front-line in Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and an overview of the situation on the battlefield at present.

The ISW is an American nonprofit research group and think tank founded in 2007 by military historian Kimberly Kagan. It has been publishing daily updates on the war in Ukraine since the invasion, where reports from open sources are disseminated.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: ISW, Business Insider

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