Russian-Baltic relations are shoddy, but it's because of Baltic capitals' own anti-Russian rhetoric rather than any real Russian threat
This article originally appeared at RT
When it comes to trying to scare people in the West about non-existent threats, neocons and right-wing hawks in the US and Britain have no peers. In 2003, they told us that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. War ensued and thousands died.
They repeatedly told us – without supplying a shred of evidence – that Iran was producing nuclear weapons, so harsh sanctions were imposed on the Islamic Republic, causing great suffering to ordinary Iranians. Now, they’re working 24/7 to persuade us Russia poses a major threat to NATO members, with a particular focus on the Baltic States.
“Why Putin’s ‘Russification’ campaign against the Baltics should be big news for us” includes not just warnings about Russia, but also the obligatory attacks on RT, a channel which launched in 2005, but which the author states is “barely two years old.”
The very first sentence of Edwards’ article sets the fear-mongering tone: “Washington policymakers are overlooking a potentially serious foreign policy crisis: the mounting Russian pressure, economic, political and military, on the tiny but strategically located Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”
Edwards explains to his readers what those dastardly Russkies are up to: "All this activity is calculated to build a Russian presence in the Baltics that would justify Moscow coming to the aid of ‘threatened’ compatriots as it has done in eastern Ukraine."
In his article, Edwards echoes the warnings made by Britain’s belligerent Defence Minister Michael Fallon. In February, Fallon said there was ‘a real and present danger’ of Russia trying to destabilize the Baltic States. ‘I’m worried about his (Putin’s) pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing NATO,’ Fallon declared.
But does Russia really pose a threat to the Baltic States? Here’s the case for the prosecution.
The Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced last week they had summoned the Russian Ambassador to express ‘strong protest on the repeated Russia’s naval activities in the Baltic Sea’.
The Lithuanians stated that ‘on April 30 a Russian ship of the Russian Navy Baltic Fleet during its regular military exercises entered the Lithuanian exclusive economic zone and illegally ordered a change of course to the ALCEDO ship managed by the ABB group’. They also said ‘similar incidents’ took place on March19, April 10 and April 24 this year. In addition, the Latvian authorities claimed on Sunday they have detected two Russian ships and a submarine near Latvia's border.
The Russians haven’t replied to the Lithuanian charges yet. Should we take them, if confirmed, as evidence that the neocons for once are right? It’s very important to see the bigger picture.
Relations between Lithuania and Russia are not very good and it’s been the Lithuanians, whose rhetoric has been the more aggressive. Last year, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite called Russia a “state with terrorist elements” in an interview with the the Washington Post.
In answer to the very loaded question: “Are you worried that he (Putin) will next attack the Baltics?” which is of course predicated on the mistruth that Putin “attacked” Ukraine, Grybauskaite replied: “If he is not be stopped in Ukraine, he will go further.”
Then, rather outrageously, the Lithuanian president compared Russia to ISIS (commonly known as the Islamic State), saying: “The danger of Russia’s behavior today is not smaller than what we have with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
In another interview, with a German magazine, Lithuania’s so-called ‘Iron Lady’ compared Putin to Hitler and Stalin. ‘(Putin) uses nationality as a pretext to conquer territory with military means. That’s exactly what Hitler and Stalin did. Such comparisons are spot on.’
In April, Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov accused Lithuania of driving the EU’s anti-trust case against Gazprom, which could lead to the Russian energy company being hit with a fine of more than $10 billion.
Let’s be fair: one can understand, given 20th century history, some fear of Russia and indeed security fears in general in the Baltic States, which are small, strategically important countries, and vulnerable to attack from larger, more powerful nations. The Baltic States were invaded by the Soviet Union in 1940, under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and there were mass deportations.
Estonia is a country that at one time or another seems to have been invaded/occupied by just about every major power on the European mainland. The permanent exhibition at the Estonian Museum of History in Tallinn, where I spent a fascinating day in 2013, entitled ’Spirit of Survival, 11,000 Years of Estonian History’, helps give you an understanding of how important national independence is to a people who’ve spent most of their history under the rule of others.
But while it’s important – and indeed essential – to understand the Baltic perspective, the crude Russophobia of politicians like Grybauskaite is inexcusable, as are the actions of Western hawks who seek to exploit historic fears of Russia to further their own geo-political interests. The fact is, Russia fully respects the sovereignty of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. To claim that we are ‘back in 1940’ is ludicrous.
Two years ago, I visited the beautiful island of Saaremaa, in Estonia, which was the site of the most westerly base in the Soviet Union. The Red Army has long gone though, and the idea that Russia might return with tanks is quite absurd; no matter what the neocons tell us, it simply isn’t going to happen.
Only a real mischief-maker would interpret Russia’s legitimate concerns for the rights of ethnic Russians living in the Baltic States as an attempt to ‘destabilize’ those countries.
It’s clearly wrong that there is no official status for the Russian language in Latvia, a country where a large percentage of the population are native Russian speakers, and that ethnic Russians in Estonia, who make up around a quarter of the population, have to pass an Estonian language exam to get citizenship if they weren’t living in the country in pre-Soviet times.
Conceding that great wrongs have been done to the Baltic States in the past, shouldn’t stop us from speaking out about such current injustices, or indeed attempts to rewrite history when it comes to Nazi collaboration in the Baltic States in World War II, which has quite rightly caused outrage, and not just in Russia.
In his 2009 essay on this pernicious revisionism, the Guardian’s Seumas Milne wrote.
"The real meaning of the attempt to equate Nazi genocide with Soviet repression is clearest in the Baltic republics, where collaboration with SS death squads and direct participation in the mass murder of Jews was at its most extreme, and politicians are at pains to turn perpetrators into victims. Veterans of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS now parade through Riga and Vilnius's Museum of Genocide Victims barely mentions the 200,000 Lithuanian Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Estonian parliamentarians honor those who served the Third Reich as "fighters for independence."
The attempts to turn perpetrators into victims continue. In March, over 1,500 Latvians marched through the country’s capital Riga, to commemorate those who fought alongside Nazi Germany in the Waffen-SS Latvian division. The US Embassy in Riga warned US citizens to maintain ’a high level of vigilance,’ but the US didn’t condemn the march, as Russia and the anti-fascist Simon Wiesenthal Centre did.
Marches honoring SS divisions are not the only anti-Russian provocations to have taken place in the Baltic States.
In February, over 140 pieces of heavy NATO armory were paraded a mere 300 meters from the Russian border, in the town of Narva, in Estonia.
We can only imagine what the US reaction would have been if Russia had showed off its weaponry in such a way right on the US border.
This Monday NATO starts 10 days of ‘war games’ in Estonia, called ’Sill’. It involves 13,000 soldiers.
NATO is increasing tensions in the region with its maneuvers. It’s in the interest of the Baltic States and Russia to have a friendly relationship based on mutual self-respect. But the hawks in the West, and their local proxies, clearly don’t want constructive co-operation, but more baiting of the Russian bear.
We can expect warnings about the ‘threat’ Russia poses to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to intensify in the weeks ahead. Why? Because in July the current EU sanctions against Russia are due to expire. The very last thing the Western war lobby wants is for sanctions to be lifted – they want them to be extended to include draconian measures such as Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT banking system. But they’ve got a problem.
Minsk II is working well. Too well! The peace agreement brokered by Germany, France and Russia is generally holding, to the obvious frustration of the hawks who need a pretext to ‘punish’ Russia for blocking war against the Syrian government in 2013. Read Ray McGovern’s piece on neocon ‘chaos promotion’ in the Middle East – and my previous Op-Ed on the neocon anger that we didn’t bomb Damascus in 2013, and reflect how neocon fingerprints at the US State Department were on the ‘regime change’ operation in Kiev, which led to the country’s descent into a bloody civil war.
The anti-Russia brigade need another arena, in which they can point the finger of blame at Putin, to justify sanctions being maintained and (hopefully) strengthened. As a new front in the neocon Cold War versus Russia, the Baltics will do quite nicely.