Although Moscow does not officially endorse the term “near abroad,” it is still a useful term to define the relationship that Russia has had with the former soviet states. Russia has a patriarchal tendency to influence the formation of the states to its west and to assert its interests over the region to create a buffer zone from the influence of the United States and the Western Europe. Russia appeals to the former soviet states in their shared cultural heritage, but not in their current political ideologies. Russia highly opposed the inclusion of the Baltic States in NATO, as it felt that the expansion reflected growing U.S. influence within its own region of the world.
Russia would not be overly intimidated by NATO if not for its U.S. military backing. The expansion of the military treaty organization closer to Russian borders undermines Russian feelings of national security, in that newly renovated military forces can now move within member states closer to Russia’s western borders and that Russia cannot become a major global power if it is not respected or acknowledged within its own realm of influence. Russia wants to regain its ability to assert its interests on the global stage, but with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the expansion of NATO is a threat to that aim.
If Russia is able to gain control or highly influence the Baltic States outside of the influence of NATO, then there is a potential threat to the strength of NATO. These states may make it harder for the organization to form a common response for Russian policy. However, if tensions rise between the Baltics and Russia and turn violent, then the association with these states through NATO is an expense to the U.S. for military backing. Either way, the tug of war over the Baltics have long been a source of contention for international politics and should not be ignored by the United States in the future.