Putin is unlikely to wage an all-out military campaign against the Baltics, Goldgeier said. But Russia may hit the former Soviet republics with cyber-attacks and other forms of “soft power.”
“The biggest threat at the moment is not an open invasion but so-called ‘hybrid warfare,’ which encompasses informational warfare, cyber attacks, ‘false flag’ attacks or attacks with ‘plausible deniability,'” Lithuanian political scientist Vykintas Pugaciauskas told Reuters.
The Baltics are also frightened by Putin’s claims that he wants to protect ethnic Russians living outside his country — the very justification he gave before invading Crimea, according to Goldgeier.
“Estonia has a significant population of ethnic Russians,” Goldgeier said. “And the fear is that even if Putin and Russia didn’t engage in any overt aggression, like a military invasion, they could still leverage that population to undermine Estonia’s security.”