Riga — The cover of the British edition of Anna Arutunyan’s The Putin Mystique features a grainy, somewhat sinister image of the Russian leader, remote, mysterious, distant. In a bookstore on Riga’s Krisjana Valdemara Street, the Latvian edition is on sale; its cover shows Putin at the shooting range, a gun in his hand, a wry smile on his face, close, too close.
The key to understanding Putin, explained one Latvian official, is to think of him as a petulant and badly behaved teenager who likes to provoke, prod, and see what he can get away with. For quite some time now, that’s what Russia has been doing in the Baltic. Planes skim and sometimes cross borders. Military exercises are staged that seem intended to intimidate rather than to train. Last year saw some 70,000 Russian and Belarusian troops war-gaming a scenario in which “Baltic terrorists” were the villains.