Baltic States Are Welcomed Into Nato, But Russia Still Looms In The Background

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 44

The Istanbul summit marked the entry of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into NATO as full members. In one of the keynote addresses during the summit, Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga spoke for all the ten countries that joined NATO between 2002 and 2004. She looked back on these countriesÕ’ recent history as captive nations, from the 1945 Yalta agreements — “one of the 20th century’s gravest mistakes,” she noted — through decades of Moscow-imposed totalitarianism, isolation, and lost generations, until self-liberation and, now, their return to the West under NATO security guarantees. Vike-Freiberga cautioned NATO against overlooking traditional-type threats to security while the alliance retools to deal with new types of threats. A full capacity for collective military defense remains indispensable for shielding the member countries against any external pressures and coercion, she said.

During the summit meetings, Baltic delegations strongly supported Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO. The Balts offered to share their successful recent experience as NATO candidates with Ukraine, assisting it to meet the criteria for NATO membership. By the same token, the Baltic delegations urged NATO as a whole to encourage Ukraine’s Western orientation and its reform efforts by offering Ukraine a clearer prospect of eventual membership in the alliance. The Balts suggested graduating Ukraine from an Action Plan to a Membership Action Plan, once the current plan cycle is completed, provided that the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine are free and fair. Lithuanian delegates also reported on their country’s assistance to Georgia on military reform and related issues (BNS, June 24-30).

On the eve of and during the summit, Lithuania narrowly averted a takeover of its presidency by Moscow-connected political forces in the June 27 runoff presidential election. Amid public apathy and widespread fatigue with long-serving mainstream politicians, candidate Kazimira Prunskiene closed to within 10 percentage points of the pro-Western frontrunner Valdas Adamkus a week before the runoff. Prunskiene, who has career-long Russian connections, catapulted to that level of support thanks to being endorsed by the recently deposed president, Rolandas Paksas, a populist orator with a steady protest-vote constituency of some 25% of the electorate. Paksas was impeached and barred from high office for life after knowingly allowing Russian agents of influence to penetrate his presidential office. Prunskiene, showing equal contempt for the rule of law, offered to support Paksas’ return to high office in exchange for his endorsement of her presidential ambitions. Some of Prunskiene’s campaign statements clearly hinted at decoupling Lithuania from the United States and NATO if she won.

Five days before the presidential election runoff, a domestic intelligence agency headed by a Paksas-regime holdover launched a public campaign of accusations and intimidation against pro-Adamkus parties, painting them with a broad brush of corruption. Acting without a valid legal or political authority, the Special Investigation Service (SIS) clearly sought to change the election outcome in Prunskiene’s favor. In the event, Adamkus won narrowly with 52.5% against Prunskiene’s 47.5% of the votes cast. Adamkus, a Lithuanian-American, stated in the wake of the election that it involved a choice between East and West for Lithuania (BNS, June 24-30).

These events hold a twofold lesson for NATO allies. First, Russia’s overt attempts to gain a voice in NATO’s decision-making process — e.g. via the NATO-Russia Council — are being accompanied by covert actions aiming to subvert political processes in certain NATO member countries and to penetrate their institutions. Second, NATO countries targeted by such actions need assistance in immunizing their institutions against this type of subversion. It is common knowledge that Bulgaria currently is a prime target for penetration by Russian intelligence services.