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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Putin’s Equation of Forest Brothers with Nazis Outrages Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania


Paul Goble
            Staunton, September 9 – A week ago, Vladimir Putin signed an order calling for a one-time payment to Russian citizens living in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania of 75,000 rubles (one thousand US dollars) who fought against the Forest Brothers, as the Baltic resistance to the Soviet occupation was called, after 1945 (kremlin.ru/acts/news/63990).
            By equating Soviet troops who fought Nazis with those who fought Baltic Forest Brothers, Putin has equated members of the Forest Brothers with the Nazis. Not surprisingly, this has outraged the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian governments as well as many ordinary citizens in those countries and their friends elsewhere (ritmeurasia.org/news–2020-09-09–reshenie-putina-nagradit-borcov-s-lesnymi-bratjami-vozmutilo-vlasti-baltii-50798).
            The history of the Forest Brothers movement is complicated. Some of their members in fact did fight for the Germans. But most were Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian patriots who fought first the Soviet occupation, then the German occupation and then the Soviet occupation once again.
            Moscow occasionally picks up on this issue, focusing exclusively on the few documented cases in which Forest Brothers after 1945 had earlier worked for the German occupiers in order to blacken the reputation not only of these freedom fighters but that of the Baltic countries as a whole.
            Three developments appear to have triggered the latest action by Putin in this regard. First, several Estonian officials have called for demolishing Soviet war memorials in Tallinn, actions that Russian commentators say could trigger a crisis that in bilateral relations (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/20200828-novye-bronzovye-soldaty-estoniya-gotovitsya-snova-snosit-sovetskie-pamyatniki/).
            Second, the increasing integration of Baltic forces into NATO ones has reminded some in the Russian capital that Western military experts have encouraged Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to develop Forest Brother-like partisan units to resist any Russian move against them (rusi.org/publication/rusi-journal/confronting-anti-accessarea-denial-and-precision-strike-challenge-baltic).
            And third, Moscow continues to be worried about the image of the Forest Brothers on the population within Russian borders. Few know that Stalin deported Russians from Pskov Oblast in the late 1940s because some of them were attracted to and even involved with Latvian Forest Brothers (russian7.ru/post/deportaciya-zhiteley-pskovskoy-oblast/).
            Blackening the reputation of the Forest Brothers and the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians serves Moscow’s interest in a variety of ways, but it is not without risk: Every time Moscow does so, ever more people in the Baltic countries and elsewhere refocus their attention on these fighters and sees that Moscow’s propaganda now is as false as it was under Stalin. 
            For more background on the Forest Brothers and their remarkable histories, see

Window on Eurasia — New Series