One of the paranoid complaints about ‘Russian propaganda’ is that the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states could be manipulated into becoming a disloyal fifth column. In the report on Russian ‘information warfare’ which I reviewed last week, Ed Lucas and Peter Pomerantsev implied that the Russians were having a lot of success. ‘If Europe and North America do not promptly respond to this challenge’, write Lucas and Pomerantsev, ‘the result may be dramatic. Russia is radically challenging Euro-Atlantic solidarity and adding to widespread public discontent.’ But is ‘Russian propaganda’ actually creating public discontent and undermining the Baltic states from within.
A survey published this week suggests that the answer is no. The research company Baltijos tyrimai/Gallup asked Lithuanians whether they would defend their country in the event of a Russian attack. Similar polls conducted in 2005 and 2014 found that only 32% and 57% respectively would do so. Those surveys didn’t differentiate between ethnic Lithuanians and Lithuanian citizens of other ethnicities. This time, though, Baltijos tyrimai/Gallup restricted its sample to Lithuanian citizens of non-Lithuanian ethnicity (mainly Poles and Russians, plus some Belorussians, Ukrainians, and others). Of the 500 people asked, 64.8% said that they would defend Lithuania if the country was attacked by Russia. Interestingly, Russian-Lithuanians were more likely to answer yes than Polish-Lithuanians – 65% versus 59%.
It is, of course, quite possible that the respondents were lying. As some commentators have complained, the question is provocative and people might well have felt constrained about answering no. But the same was true in the previous surveys. If ‘Russian propaganda’ really is meant to create a fifth column in the Baltic states, it doesn’t seem to be working.