Westerners in Russia, especially those who speak and read Russian, report that state controlled Russian media has seemingly reverted to stories and attitudes right out of the Cold War. It is, in short, unreal but actually happening. Russian media is full of stories of NATO aggression against Russia and anything that is going wrong in Russia is blamed on a NATO conspiracy to destroy Russia. The Russian aggression in Ukraine is described as largely a fable created by a NATO conspiracy to take over the Ukrainian government and institute a terror campaign against the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine, especially eastern Ukraine. There, the Russian media described ethnic Russians leading a rebellion against this NATO puppet government running Ukraine and NATO soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians doing most of the fighting. No captured NATO agents are presented which Russian media describes as proof of how clever and dangerous this NATO aggression is.
The reality is that Russian soldiers are regularly captured (dead and alive) and presented on Ukrainian TV but this is ignored and dismissed by Russian media as more insidious NATO propaganda. Those Russians familiar with their own history who point out the current government propaganda in Russia is similar to what went on in 1939 and 1941 are condemned as traitors. But it is a fact that in 1939 the communist Soviet Union signed a peace treaty with Nazi government of Germany and overnight Germany went from threat to valued ally according to Soviet media. That switched again in mid-1941 when Germany broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union. But during the time the treaty was in force Russian invaded Poland, the Baltic States and Finland. Russia was defeated in Finland and only got control of some territory just across the border. But eastern Poland was seized (as part of the 1939 treaty, with Germany taking most of Poland) as were the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)
Russia now ignores the fact that Poland and the Baltic States make no secret of the fact that they joined NATO to gain some real protection from renewed Russian aggression. Some Baltic State leaders have been openly comparing Putin’s aggression to that of Stalin and Hitler before World War II. Russians who agree with this, and the truth of the historical comparisons, are dismissed as misguided or traitors. The Russian government is officially very upset at these comparisons, insisting that they are only seeking to regain territory that is really theirs’ and lost due to foreign conspiracies (like World War II and the Cold War). Thus the official Russian explanation for all this fear of Russia is that it involves plots by NATO and the United States which strike Westerners as absurd but appeals to a lot of Russians. That’s what really makes Russia’s neighbors nervous. Too many Russians actually believe this frightening fairy tale.
Meanwhile Russian aggression in the Baltic has been increasing since mid-2014 and in some scary ways. NATO interceptors based in Poland and the Baltic States have been sent up more frequently because of a growing number of incidents of Russian military aircraft making unsafe flights over the Baltic Sea. These Russian warplanes were detected by NATO military radar, but had their transponders turned off and had not filed a flight plan with the air controllers who regulate air traffic over the Baltic. Some of the Baltic States use transponders only to track large aircraft and have no way of knowing where Russian aircraft with transponders turned off are. With no flight plan and transponders turned off these warplanes were inviable to flight controllers. This sort of thing risks collision with commercial aircraft and Russia has ignored criticism of this dangerous practice. NATO has responded by sending up interceptors, which do have their transponders on, to escort the Russian aircraft and give air traffic control radars something to identify and track. It’s not just the Baltic States either. In December a commercial aircraft taking off from a Swedish airport nearly collided with a Russian warplane flying in international airspace with its transponder turned off.