The reasons the Baltics still fear Russia

The reasons the Baltics still fear Russia

In 2007, the US magazine Time made Russian President Vladimir Putin its ‘Person of the year’. It did so because ‘he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power.’

By July 2014, the same magazine asked the following question after Putin refused to compel pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine to assist investigators of the MH17 air crash: ‘Had Putin finally gone too far? As the days passed and the stench rose, the coldly calculating Russian President got his answer: apparently not.’

In just seven short years, some of which Putin spent in the ‘lower’ post of Prime Minister, Putin’s aims, attitudes and activities have led to a 180 degree change in how many perceive him and his intentions.

For journalists, this is just a new twist in an old story. For those who suffered under Russian oppression – be it in today's Ukraine or during the heyday of the Soviet Union – dealing with the effects is not so quick and easy.

In this edition, we have spoken to some of those who championed freedom while their home countries laboured under Cold War Soviet occupation. People who fled their countries in fear of their lives. People who were deported because of their families’ views. People who had members of their families die because of the occupation.

In the video we present today, we get a real insight into what this meant. We go inside both the physical reminders, with a visit to the former KGB prison in Riga – and the emotional – with heartfelt responses to what these people’s renewed freedom means to them.

These reactions are some of the most powerful that I have seen since being Editor of this magazine. And they help explain why those who have experienced Russian interference in their countries hold such fear of it ever happening again.

A senior diplomat reminded me recently that, with Putin intent on continuing his game of musical chairs between the President and Prime Minister positions, he could effectively hold the reins of Russian power until 2024. To put that into perspective, if we assume that the next US Presidential election is won by Hillary Clinton, and that she is re-elected, Putin will still not leave office until she does.

It’s even possible that, by that time, he’s back in favour with magazines like Time. As we’ve seen, it’s possible to change plans, allies and sides relatively quickly. But what won’t have changed are the vivid memories of those who suffered under Russian rule.

Paul King

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