Date: 19 June 2018
Kaliningrad – a Russian aircraft carrier of the ideological warfare
The Kaliningrad Oblast of the Russian Federation wedges between the European Union and the countries of the western NATO flank. Its geopolitical role has a significant meaning for Russia which takes aggressive actions against the Central and Eastern Europe countries. Rocket systems deployed in the oblast stir the imagination of politicians and citizens of the Baltic-Nordic region. Iskanders, Bastion missiles, air forces – they are not only elements of the anti-system A2/AD doctrine, they are also a part of the invisible war against neighbouring countries, which is directed from Kaliningrad.
The military context of Kaliningrad is one of the most serious NATO challenges in the Baltic-Nordic region and is also important in regard to other Kaliningrad issues. Espionage and psychological actions performed in the oblast, which aim at the nearest neighbours, are directly connected with the increasing military potential. The publicising of the increasing military capabilities of Kaliningrad in media effectively creates the atmosphere of fear – a clear concern about the huge, multidimensional missile system located in the Russian exclave which can block the NATO support in case of the conflict in the region. At the same time, it reminds Poles, Lithuanians and Latvians (and even the dwellers of the eastern coast of Sweden) that their homes are constantly under threat of a nuclear destruction.
The key question is – how it relates to the reality? The Russian militarisation in Kaliningrad has a low potential of real aggression. Lack of the so-called strategic depth and constant access to the reserves from the interior means that the enclave has only a defensive character. But the war propaganda in the region is one of the elements of the Russian Federation’s aggressive activity. In Lithuania and Poland, an ideological diversion by means of the activity of services and tools of the information warfare is being conducted. It works in two ways: on the one hand, similarly as the ideological diversion, it aims to demoralise the enemy’s society, and on the other, by means of tools of the information warfare, it constructs the network of Russia’s supporters in the border regions, the so-called fifth column.
The burning borderline
According to the public reports of the Lithuanian secret services, Russian secret services are active in the Kaliningrad borderline. Lithuanians point to the Federal Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service as the most active ones. The former, despite its counterintelligence role, is entitled to taking offensive actions also in the area of the former Soviet empire. The latter is engaged in, among others, the construction of Russian networks outside the country.
Data published by Lithuanians over the years clearly show that Russians are interested in local government officials, border guards of the neighbouring countries, but also emergency services: local police, fire service or workers of the companies which are strategic to the country’s development. Social and scholar activists are also interesting targets. Gathering a large number of people with the pro-Russian views on the borderland is possible thanks to the agents – dwellers of the border areas who frequently travel to Kaliningrad for business purposes.
People recruited and linked in such a way are not a source of information about the socio-political life of the country – such knowledge can be majorly acquired from the open flow of information in the accessible infosphere. Pro-Russian activists are rather used to conduct the information and ideology warfare. In contrary to the war propaganda, the information warfare can be realised by means of several local and subregional narratives which refer to the histories or ideologies more familiar to the dwellers of these regions.
The most important narrative is the recollection of the Soviet vision of history. Such allusions are effective in some regions of the Polish-Lithuanian-Kaliningrad borders. It is enabled by the historical conditions of Klaipeda or the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship – regions annexed to the present Poland and Lithuania after the World War II. There, the ideology of “pobeda” and the Russian liberation from fascism is acquired better than in other parts of Poland and Lithuania. This is caused, among others, by the high rate of Russian-speaking people who came to Klaipeda after the war and the simultaneous population changes in Masuria.
The neo-Soviet narrative of liberation persistently stresses the role of the Red Army in the annexation of these regions to the new countries. It consolidates the vision of the Soviet Russia which justly clawed the Masuria and Klaipeda dwellers back from “the hands of the German fascism”. The promotion of the Russian ideological diversion is expressed in the celebrations of the Soviet anniversaries and organisation of cultural events which celebrate the old Red Army successes.
There are many examples of such activities in the borderland. In Poland, it is among others the Polish-Soviet song festival, which for many years had taken place in Mrągowo, and in 2014 it was moved to Kaliningrad or the annual Russian biker gangs’ rallies to the cemetery in Braniewo. On the other side of the border, in the harbourside Klaipeda, Russian-speaking dwellers celebrate the anniversary of the city liberation by the Red Army.
The activity of the marginal groups has only seemingly little meaning, but in fact is can have much more influence on the surrounding. It can be supported by the case of the memorial of Ivan Chernyakhovsky in Pieniężno, which was fiercely protected from demolishment by groups of defenders of the Soviet monuments in Poland. The spiral of disagreement between advocates and opponents of the monument was effectively influencing the internal conflict among local citizens.
Pro-Russian activists may not only reinforce the Soviet re-sentiment within the minor part of the society but – what is more important – evoke or consolidate the internal tensions among social groups in the region, which effectively creates divisions in local communities.
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