Current Affairs Military Politics

Ominous Portents For The Baltic States?

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia
This time tomorrow, comrades, we will be sipping vodka in Riga…

Last week I had a quick look at the purchase by Latvia of surplus armoured vehicles from Britain as part of the Baltic nation’s commitments to its NATO membership. The questionable utility of the decades-old armour for modern battlefield conditions was obvious, even in the operational deployments planned for by the strategists in Brussels. However, as I pointed out, dealing with a serious domestic security challenge in Latvia itself would be a different matter. This was a reference to the country’s large and heretofore relatively acquiescent ethnic Russian population, not to mention recent events in Ukraine. Which makes this (slightly overexcited) Vox article a wee bit worrying:

“A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official says that Moscow has a responsibility to protect ethnic Russian citizens of other countries, “regardless of where they live,” and that “we will do everything possible to defend the rights and interests” of ethnic Russian minorities in the neighbouring Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The comments came from Anatoly Makarov, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department for Interaction with Compatriots Abroad.

Here’s why that’s a bad sign: Russia premised its two invasions of Ukraine (first to annex Crimea in March, then to invade eastern Ukraine in August) on protecting ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minorities in the country. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has embraced the imperial-era idea that Moscow is the real authority responsible for ethnic Russian minorities in other countries. The fear has always been that Putin might extend this thinking to Russian minorities in the Baltic states, as possible prelude to a Ukraine-style invasion there.

Putin may well be merely testing his limits in the Baltic states, which is probably why President Obama himself flew to Estonia and gave a speech warning Russia that the American military would defend it and other Baltics from any Russian aggression. Less than 48 hours later, though, Russian agents crossed the border into Estonia and kidnapped an Estonian state security officer who works on counterintelligence. While far short of an act of war, it certainly seemed like a provocation intended to signal Moscow’s willingness and desire to bully its Baltic neighbours, NATO mutual defence treaties be damned.

After speaking with Putin in early March, Chancellor Angela Merkel described him as out of touch with reality and “in another world.””

As I stated in the Comments beneath my original post I can’t see Vladimir Putin risking a confrontation with NATO, the European Union and the United States by undermining the authority of a member government or ally of all three. Exploiting existing chaos and disorder in a faraway politically, diplomatically and militarily weak Black Sea state is one thing. Attempting to foster the same situation in a nation on the periphery of the EU is something else altogether. Now that really would be another world.

19 comments on “Ominous Portents For The Baltic States?

  1. Jim Monaghan

    Imagine an united Ireland where a Mosley figure was encouraging pro British elements around Belfast and scaring them with stories of compulsory Irish and English being banned.

    • The Russian language is not banned in Latvia.

      Latvian, however, is compulsory there (in education, for public servants and so on).

      And guess what – the Russians are actually learning Latvian and most of them are fluent speakers.

      • Didn’t you say that Russian was banned from public signs, and expressed surprise when I mentioned that I’d found the odd one or two when looking around on Google Streets?

  2. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania enjoyed a little more than two decades of independence after World War I before they were annexed by the Soviets early in World War II. That’s about the same length of time all three have been independent this time around.

  3. john cronin

    The problem is, 30% of the population of the Baltic states are Russians. They were sent there to colonise and (hopefully ultimately outbreed) the locals by Stalin in the 40’s. You can say they were sent there unilaterally and illegitimately, and you’d have a point: prob is, they are there, whether you like it or not, and have been for nearly a century. I am frankly at a loss to understand why NATO were so keen on the eastward expansion when they knew perfectly well that it would be kicking the hibernating Russian Bear if they did: especially after George Bush I promised Yeltsin faithfully after 1989 that it would not occur.

    • The Latvian government declared neutrality during 1930s.
      But of course USSR and Nazi Germany did not give a shit about it.

      So this time our government made the right choice and joined NATO as soon as possible.
      NATO is the only thing that protects the Baltics from Crimea’s fate.

      There can be only two kinds of relationships with Russia – you can either their slave or their enemy – they do not respect neutrality. And I’d rather be their enemy. No way in hell I’m going to become a west Russian.

      And all that talk about “provoking Russia” is the same thing as talking about “provoking rapists”.
      Russia wants to take its former colonies back no matter what – it does not recognise them as independent and sovereign countries. It hasn’t even recognised that USSR illegally occupied the Baltics and insists that we joined it voluntarily. (My grandparents also went to Siberia completely voluntarily according to Russian bullshit)

      And those Western “useful idiots” that try to justify Russian aggression are doing the same thing.
      If you side with Russia – you’re supporting their position that the post-Soviet countries are not real countries and that Russia is right to interfere into their internal affairs, because they’re too stupid to govern themselves.

      • john cronin

        “If you side with Russia – you’re supporting their position that the post-Soviet countries are not real countries and that Russia is right to interfere into their internal affairs, because they’re too stupid to govern themselves.”

        I am not siding with Russia, or casting any aspersions on the intellectual capacity of the Baltic peoples. I am just pointing out the geopolitical realities of the situation: Russia is very big. It has a large army. It also has nuclear weapons. If they did take it into their head to invade, I am unsure what Nato could do about it: especially as the U.S. – and even more so the U.K. – forces have basically been stretched beyond breaking point by a decade of bombing all these Moslems in various places. Giving military guarantees to countries which you can’t physically defend is foolish: as Neville Chamberlain found out re Poland and Czechoslovakia in 38-39.

        • West Berlin also was not physically defensible .
          And yet – the Russians did not invade it, because they were afraid of causing much bigger conflict with NATO.
          Russia also has a physically non-defensible Kaliningrad exclave.
          And then there’s also China that would love to take over Russian far east and would probably try to strike some deal with NATO in case of open Russia-NATO conflict.

          So it’s unlikely that Putin would attempt to invade the Baltics openly. However it’s possible that he would try start some NI style shit over there.

    • All true, John, but the presence of Russian-speakers in the Baltic states should not serve as a fig-leaf to cover Russian expansionist plans.

      That said the legal position of “ethnic Russians” in Latvia for instance is somewhat anomalous. Around 40% are still classed as non-citizens. Some of those have adopted Russian citizenship/passports in lieu of Latvian recognition. Nearly half the population of Riga identifies in some way as ethnic Russian. That gives Moscow greater leverage.

      It should be noted that both the European Union and the Council of Europe have expressed concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Baltics. In the former case, technically they are EU citizens. Except when they are not. The EU has not pressed too hard on the matter. They have their own worries about politically assimilating ethnic Russian communities if Russian believes it has the right to act as their guarantor. It is complex to say the least.

      • Around 40% are still classed as non-citizens
        ———————-
        That’s because Latvia was founded in 1918 not 1990.
        Those people immigrated from the USSR and never had Latvian citizenship in the first place.

        They have the same status as I have here in Ireland – no one granted me Irish citizenship when I stepped out of the plane either.

        Those people can permanently reside in Latvia and are free to naturalise and obtain citizenship at any time (just like me here in Ireland). More than 100k of them have already done that.

  4. The U.S ‘defends’ it’s people anywhere in the world. They pride themselves on that fact.Irrespective of international law. When Putin and his ilk utter the same type of thing they are demonised for it?
    Russia entered Georgia a few years ago and successfully managed to protect its citizens living there who were under threat from the Georgian govt. They left as quick as they entered once the safety of its people was secured. This surely counters the narrative that Putin wants to create the Soviet Union again. I.e why leave?
    It’s doesn’t go down too well with the americanised people’s of the world but the truth is that the U.S. has been the biggest warmongers in the world for some time now. That to me is ominous for all of us, I.e how far will the U.S. go in continuing their participation in wars?

    • The Russian occupiers haven’t left Georgia at all.
      They took a part of its territory and established two puppet states there.

      That was a complete failure in their foreign policy because almost no one recognises those “countries” – not even Belarus or Armenia.

    • WT, some of that is true. However the United States is equally as wrong as Russia in its construction of a new Pax Romana where any American/Russian can stride the world free of concern knowing that hell-fire will rain down on anyone who dares lift a hand against them. A simplification perhaps but not much of one when you hear some politicians speak in the house of representatives or state duma.

      Russia, like the US in Latin America, believes it has a sphere of influence that it has the absolute right to interfere in. Both are wrong.

      A thought. The Baltic nations are to Russia what Cuba is to the United States?

      • The Baltics unlike Cuba are not totalitarian shitholes.

        • Nor was I implying that 😉 I was simply suggesting that the Russian approach to the Baltic nations is similar to the United States’ approach to Cuba (or most of Central and South America). They view those nations as lying within their “backyard”, to use the American term. I’m not saying that is the right approach. I think both are wrong. Just an observation.

          • But for some reason “American backyards” are way better than “Russian backyards”.
            East and West Germanies and South and North Koreas are perfect examples.

            Mexicans risk their life to get into the USA.

            You don’t see people scaling the wall from the American side.

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