NATO Reenacts Baltic Guerrilla War
History meets psyops in this video
Arvids Eriks Bluzmanis, a former border guard, was a Latvian resistance fighter — or Forest Brother — when his unit received word that 200 Soviet soldiers were heading their way. The partisans dug trenches and hid behind trees.
As the Soviet troops approached, the guerrilla fighters readied their weapons — a hodgepodge of German and Soviet rifles and machine guns.
“A man called Pakulis was the commander of our group and he gave the order that we would not take one step back,” Bluzmanis recalled. “When they will be one hand grenade throw away, only then will we open fire. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Bluzmanis recalled the ambush in a recent, slickly-produced video published by NATO to its official YouTube channel, adding a less-than-subtle political context behind this story of Baltic guerrillas resisting Soviet occupation.
With soldiers from the rest of the alliance — including the United States — now regularly rotating through the Baltic States to deter Russia, consider this video to be a history lesson melded with psychological operations.
As propaganda, it’s clearly more effective than typical — often dull — NATO films, and it’s one of the most-watched videos on the alliance’s YouTube page after less than two days. The video recalls similar interview-and-reenactment mashups produced by the Finnish Defense Forces.
If the resisting-Russia message couldn’t be clearer, NATO emphasizes the link between the Latvian partisans to that country’s present-day special forces. The same goes for the Estonian and Lithuanian armies, which also trace their lineage to the partisan wars with the USSR.
“All our history derives from the Forest Brothers,” a modern-day Lithuanian commando says in the video, his face covered.
“Their tactics of spreading out to the forest in small groups, then getting back together to fight a large enemy and fight always behind enemy territory, this is what we’re prepared for, this is what we train to do every day.”
“Zalilukas,” he says, as the camera points to a shoulder patch bearing the name. “What it says is a person who blends in the forest. It’s mostly the English translation is a Forest Brother, Zalilukas is a Forest Brother.”
The Baltic partisan campaign was one of Europe’s bloodiest post-World War II conflicts. Following the Soviet Baltic Offensive in 1944, nationalist guerrillas formed well-organized armed resistance movements. This anti-Soviet partisan war resulted in the deaths of thousands of Soviet troops and tens of thousands of partisans. The guerrillas ultimately failed to achieve their aims, and the insurgencies collapsed by the mid-1950s.
One Latvian partisan, Janis Pinups, held out until 1995.
The partisans owed their existence in part to Nazi attempts to create pro-Axis forces in the Baltic region following Operation Barbarossa in 1941.
Many civilians in the Baltic States welcomed the German invaders and collaborated with them. In Lithuania, armed resistance to the Germans occurred on a limited scale by Polish militants, communist partisans and the United Partisan Organization, a Jewish group which emerged in the Vilna Ghetto and escaped — linking up with Soviet forces — before the Nazis murdered most of the ghetto’s inhabitants in 1944.
The Baltic populations increasingly took to passive resistance as the war ground onward. Germany created Estonian and Latvian Waffen-SS units, but never established a Lithuanian one because of a civilian boycott. The Nazis also disbanded a short-lived Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force due to fears of rebellion.
These soldiers went on to become the core of the Lithuanian Forest Brothers. In Latvia, former soldiers with the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS enlisted with the partisans, as did civilians.
Beginning in 1949, the anti-Soviet partisans received covert assistance from Western intelligence services, which quietly shuttled agents into the Baltic States aboard small, speedy E-boats. However, the intelligence campaign was a disaster as the Soviets neutralized the operatives, killing or flipping them into becoming double-agents, contributing to the decline of the Baltic resistance movements.
Nevertheless, the insurgency kept Soviet troops mired in a conflict for nearly a decade, and it’s a model for how the Baltic States would attempt to resist a Russian invasion in the 21st century. While Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all part of NATO, the alliance is likely unable to stop a full-scale Russian thrust into the region. The Russian army could conceivably seize the Baltic capitals in a matter of days.
NATO is signaling, in an implicit manner, that Russian tanks parked in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius would be the beginning — not the end — of a conflict.