Russian President Vladimir Putin has been waging a devastating war in Ukraine for over three months now. But if Ukraine falls, he won’t stop there, Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as Putin’s first prime minister, said in an explosive new interview on Monday.
“The Baltic states will be next,” Kasyanov, who now serves as the leader of the opposition People’s Freedom party, also known as Parnas, told AFP. Kasyanov started souring on Putin over a decade ago when Putin fired him along with Putin’s cabinet in a shock pre-election move in 2004. Just a few years later, Kasyanov accused the Kremlin of blocking his presidential bid.
Kasyanov’s comments about the Baltics—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—come as Putin’s war is petering off into a protracted stage. The exact course the war will take the next several months is not entirely clear, but Russia is still tacking up some gains. Just in the last several hours, Russian forces have expanded some of their control to include most of Severodonetsk, a key strategic city in eastern Ukraine.
Kasyanov’s concerns about Moscow’s interest in expanding the war coincide with recent comments from Putin that have been jarring analysts, fearful that he is ready to snap and try to “take back” land he has long perceived as rightfully belonging to Russia.
“Peter the Great returned territories and fortified them. This destiny has also fallen to us,” Putin said last week, referring to Russia’s first emperor and his conquests. “It is our responsibility also to take back and strengthen.”
Each of the Baltic states are former Soviet republics, which makes them particularly attractive targets for Putin’s territorial, imperialistic goals. But each has joined the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which would make a Russian onslaught against any of them a more geopolitically complex move. An attack on the Baltics could trigger NATO’s Article V, and other NATO allies may have to come to their defense. That could set off a full-on war with Russia on an unprecedented scale, far beyond the flurry of defense support the invasion in Ukraine has prompted.
Russian propagandists have predicted that Russia will go after Poland, Great Britain, and the United States, as well.
But it’s not the first time the prospect of a Russian invasion into the Baltics has come up in the last several months. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausea has predicted that “Putin will not stop in Ukraine if he will not be stopped.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has sought to reassure Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania of NATO’s protection and support as Russia has made caustic moves in Ukraine.
Latvian officials have said they want to shore up their air and coastal defenses in light of Russia’s aggression in recent months. The Baltic states are also gearing up to ask for an expanded military presence in their countries given Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“Putin is already out of it.”
With the future of the war in Ukraine uncertain, the Biden administration has said it is prepared to continue supplying Ukraine with weapons and equipment to fend off Russian forces and try to prevent a staggering loss, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Monday.
The Department of Defense is going to “work to intensify our shared efforts to meet Ukraine’s priority requirements to defend itself if Russia renews its dangerous assault in the Donbas,” the defense secretary said.
Regardless of how the question of the Baltics plays out, the future of Russia will also be determined during the war, Kasyanov predicted, noting that Putin seems to be a little off his rocker, politically speaking.
“I just know these people and by looking at them I saw that Putin is already out of it,” Kasyanov said. “Not in a medical sense but in political terms.”
Putin’s future serving as president of Russia isn’t going to last long, Kasyanov said, predicting that a “quasi-successor” will eventually step up and fill the power vacuum.
“I have no doubt that now, after the tragedy that we are all witnessing, the opposition will unite,” Kasyanov said.
Ridding Russia of all kinds of influences from Putin, however, will take some time. “This will be difficult, especially after this criminal war,” Kasyanov said.