A decree with which Russia wanted to move its borders in the Baltic Sea has caused a stir. But suddenly the document disappeared. Military expert Ralph Thiele believes two opposite interpretations are possible.

The Russian decree disappeared just as inconspicuously as it had appeared. The Defense Ministry’s initiative to “determine geographical coordinates” caused a stir on Wednesday, because it would probably have resulted in a unilateral shift in Russia’s borders with Finland and Estonia.

That would be particularly tricky because the Baltic Sea is strategically important for both Russia and NATO. A shift in the borders in front of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and in the Gulf of Finland between St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Tallinn would hit two critical points in the Baltic Sea.

So why did President Vladimir Putin’s government first publish the decree and then withdraw it? Ralph Thiele, a former colonel in the Bundeswehr, believes two opposite interpretations are conceivable. In any case, the incident must be seen in the context of Russia’s conflict with the entire West.

Thiele’s first interpretation: Russia only wanted to make small adjustments to the border. “In fact, maps around the world are occasionally corrected based on current measurements. As a rule, these are small, insignificant changes,” explains the military expert in an interview with FOCUS online.

But because the announcement made waves, the Russian government may have had an unintended side effect, Thiele suspects: “The resulting excitement in the West could contribute to a sense of solidarity among the NATO states, which is not at all in Russia’s interest.”

Moscow’s argument that the previous coordinates were approved in 1985 and that there are now more precise and up-to-date measurement results supports this interpretation of an unintentional provocation. But if this is actually routine, the question arises as to why Russia did not communicate the intended change in advance.

The Finnish government said it had not been informed in advance. This would constitute a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It regulates how the borders can be adjusted – and not unilaterally. Russia signed this agreement.

This leads to the second interpretation of the incident. “The intention was possibly to use information warfare to scare the West into the possible consequences of its involvement with Russia,” explains Thiele.

Some politicians also adopted this interpretation. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that “another Russian hybrid operation” was underway “with the aim of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about its own intentions in the Baltic Sea.”

Other politicians were much more reserved because of the unclear intention. In Finland, President Alexander Stubb was emphatically relaxed: “Finland is acting as always: calmly, prudently and based on facts.” The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Finnish Parliament, Kimmo Kiljunen, even stated that a mere review of the maritime borders would also be one-sided could be carried out by Russia.

After the decree disappeared, uncertainty remains – but without concrete consequences. Military expert Thiele advises to remain calm: “We are probably seeing a storm in a glass of water, or rather in the bathtub – just like the Baltic Sea neighbors see their waters.”