The Balkan states, like the Baltic states, have always been and continue to be at the center of Russian imperialist ambitions, Vladimir Sazonov told The Geopost.
Among other things, he has drawn attention to the fact that certain politicians of the Baltic states still have ties to Russia and this is one of the harmful elements of Russian influence in those states, so he appeals to be careful in this regard in the Balkans as well.
His message for the fight against Russian influence is to stay together with the US, the EU and NATO.
In the following you can read the complete interview with Mr. Sazonov:
TheGeopost: Russian political influence in Baltic states, how effective is it?
It is very difficult to measure effectiveness, of course we have some impact, maybe some 20 or 30 years ago it was more effective, but I think it is not very effective and especially after 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine, however, we have some politicians, neo-political groups who have ties with Russia or even who shares pro-Kremlin views, but luckily, it’s not mainstream. And of course, we speak about political influence and Russian influence operations, todays aim is interference with information space Estonia and Baltic states, European Union and also they try to have impact not only in Estonia but also all European Union and NATO and United Stated to harm us. And of course if we speaking about that, we can see that Russia is trying to use pro-Russian ideas or pro-Russian forces. For example, if you know about these bronze monument crises which took place 15 years ago in April 2007, which was caused by Russia and pro-Russian Kremlin forces, so we saw it how the hooligan riots or local Russian speaking people who are useful idiots and also people who are provocateurs and hooligans we are sent over from Russia in Tallinn, our capital, tried to dissert situation, there were hostile attacks from Estonia, against Estonian government structures and information operations and so on. Luckily, they were not successful, of course we are living on a frontier, we have border with Russia, we have a percentage of Russian people, already different, not homogenous, and if we are speaking about them, then we should mention that of course among them there are people who are loyal to Estonia, who share European values, but there are people who are also living in pro-Russian, pro-Kremlin media discourse, and this of course could be an issue.
Last 30 years Estonia became independent, but very aggressively it started with Putin coming to power, especially after Russia annexed Crimea and created terrorist Russian supported so called republics in the eastern part of Ukraine. So, before 2022, when Russia started large scale war against Ukraine, Estonia was already target of Russian public war. So, several means, as a soft power information warfare, cyber-attacks, espionage and Estonia as a member of NATO and EU, was also listed by Russia as unfriendly country.
Russia is actively using concept of Russian world, and compatriot’s policy to influence all post-soviet space among Estonia. Well we have a large Russian community, and we should not forget economic pressure, of course Estonia with decades became less and less dependent from Russia but still we depend from Russian gas and oil
So Estonian homeland security faces basically with complex serious coordinated synchronized vulnerable from Russian federation, even yesterday, Russia organized, probably Russia who can do that, so on Wednesday (17-Aug-2022) Estonia faced with most extensive cyber-attack since 2007, and this was a problem, because after removal of the soviet monuments, we have now the issue with soviet monuments, and many eastern European countries, such as Estonia, Latvia and others have decided now to remove these monuments from soviet period from open spaces, let’s say to move them to museums, including soviet tank T-34 which was a symbol for all Estonians a symbol of occupation, with such tanks in 1944 Russia came to Estonia and as official propaganda say, they freed Estonia and eastern Europe from Nazis, but they did not freed. Old Nazi regime, oppressive fascist totalitarian Nazi regime was changed to other soviet oppressive totalitarian regime, and Russia used such kind of monuments as propaganda and many Russians come to these tanks, and these tanks or soviet monuments became as a cultic object, they have celebration, this 9th may and other soviet things. And this tank was now moved from the border city, which is on the Russian border Narva to a war museum in Tallinn, but after that our country faced with very expensive cyber-attack, probably from Russia, of course I think it is from Russia. You see, we always have problems with Russia, and this is really an issue.
I can add about political ties, let’s say Estonian internal security service also detected and published each year this annual report when they mention some politicians who have ties with Russia, for example, the former leader of Estonian Centre Party, Edgar Savisaar had some kind of ties, active ties with Russia and in Centre Party they have even agreement with Russian Party, United Russia, of course, lot of people in Centre Party are pro Russia, but some of them had ties, and in 2010, Estonian internal security service detected and published a case when this leader at that time of Centre Party Edgar Savisaar was asking financial support for its party from the government of Russia.
TheGeopost: Your message for Balkan States so they can avoid becoming next Ukraine?
Yes of course it is very difficult, you should seek this complex problem, your country as I know has problems and tensions, and I know the case with Serbia and Russia is always trying to use this opportunity or to create opportunity, they use this “Kosophobia” and discrimination pressure which is totally a lie and hostile narrative. They use also anti-European, anti EU, anti-NATO movements, they try to create, support and finance them, but what is very important to say, we all should, as also Balkan states should be very careful, Balkan was always in the focus of Russian imperialistic ambitions as are Baltic states.
Balkan states have very important strategic position in Europe, it is very important place and it is crucial to prevent such hybrid treats and evaluate potential security risks for home security and not only from Russia and pro-Russian forces which are crucial, working on improvement of critical thinking, especially information warfare, countering Russian disinformation is very important, but also countering Russian espionage and Russian networks which Russians are creating, to stand against fake news information, to give more secure economic measures, not be dependent from the Russian oligarchs, Russian economy, energy, if it depends from Russia, it should be minimized, because it is very dangerous as well.
Russia can often try and is trying to influence politics, they do not want populist movements. Of course they not only influence far right or far left, but even they try to influence liberal movements, of course it is more difficult to influence liberal people but Russia is trying to bribe, to buy politicians, so we should not trust Russian official sources as non-official as well.
But of course it is very more crucial cooperation with EU and NATO and the United States is crucial, US is very important player, global player, and only together, I mean Europe, United States and much pro the west. And in that case, if we are united we are stronger together, but what Russia is doing is to split societies. Their ideal, Russian war is, young people is against old people, people from one religion is against another religion, one section of minorities is against other and so on. They want to have like a tensions and wars and conflicts inside all societies, if one sub-culture is against another sub-culture, if there is hatred, if there is fear if there is lot of xenophobia, this is what Russia wants, because it’s producing chaos and Russia tries to manage this chaos and it makes Putin’s regime stronger. /The Geopost