Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 47

Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday called on "the world to act in concert as soon as possible and correct the human rights situation in Latvia." "The Latvian authorities’ cynicism is boundless," the statement continued, charging that the country had "turned militant nationalism into state policy, using it as the basis of relations with neighboring countries" (i.e. Russia). The Ministry’s statement described Latvian police as "radical nationalists using their fists and clubs," and denounced Prime Minister Guntars Krasts for suggesting that the March 3 disturbance in Riga (see Monitor, March 5, 6 and 9) may have been provoked.

The Russian statement further charged that a Soviet military memorial in Latvia’s city of Liepaja was damaged "with the local authorities’ obvious connivance" on March 8. "Those responsible must be punished," the Ministry demanded. The Duma’s first deputy chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov, of the governmental "Russia is Our Home", warned that "a settlement of Russian-Latvian border issues is out of the question as long as Latvia does not cardinally improve its policy toward national minorities" — implying mass naturalization of Russians. Russia’s State Fund to Support Compatriots Abroad, describing Latvian behavior on March 3 as "barbarous," endorsed economic sanctions as suggested by Kremlin foreign policy coordinator Sergei Yastrzhembsky the preceding day. (Russian agencies and TV, March 8 and 9)

This type of language and warnings has not been heard in Europe since the Soviet era. Today’s Russia can neither use nor credibly threaten to use force. Its tactics appear designed, in the short term, to isolate Latvia and pressure it into political concessions. In the long term, this propaganda assault is undoubtedly a warning to the other two Baltic countries. Russia’s basic accusations against Latvia — alleged "oppression" of ethnic Russians and the aspiration to join NATO — are renewable and repeatable against both Estonia and Lithuania.

Official Moscow’s tactics invalidate the notion — sometimes accepted by some Western officials — that the Russian government acts this way to appease the Communist-nationalist opposition. In this case we see the reverse. That opposition — itself no well-wisher of Baltic independence — as followed the government’s lead. The Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry have not been under any internal pressure to act in the manner they chose.

Baltic Response Unedifying.