Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 116

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov’s warnings, just delivered in Vilnius, that Moscow rules out the Baltic states’ accession to NATO, has triggered a sharp reaction from Lithuania’s body politic across partisan lines. The country’s leading daily, Lietuvos Rytas, no friend of the governing majority, comments that Russia “can not reconcile itself to Lithuania’s independence,” and that Moscow “is prepared to fight to the end–not only through diplomatic means”–in order to prevent the Baltic states from joining NATO. Citing Colonel General Leonid Ivashov’s recent warning that Moscow can retaliate by deploying tactical nuclear weapons near the Baltic states, LR describes it as “nuclear blackmail” and anticipates that Moscow “may even provoke conflicts” in order to block Lithuania’s path to the Atlantic Alliance.

In a similar vein, Respublika, the other leading daily, comments that Russia’s leadership “to this day has not renounced imperial ambitions. The tone in which it speaks to Lithuania and to the other Baltic states shows that [Moscow] is still firmly convinced of its right to decide for us what we may or may not do.” These reactions accompanied Defense Minister Ceslovas Stankevicius’ reaffirmation of Lithuania’s goal to join NATO. (Russian agencies, June 16; and see the Monitor, June 15 and 16).

As foreign minister of Russia, Primakov has pursued a policy of differentiation toward the Baltic states, using some blandishments for Lithuania while applying pressure alternately on Estonia and Latvia. Primakov described his visit to Vilnius as a demonstration that Russian-Lithuanian relations are “much better than relations with the other two Baltic states.” However, Moscow does not differentiate among the Baltic states on the issue of accession to NATO, the decisive issue in Russian-Baltic relations. Lithuania’s response defeats Primakov’s wedge-drawing tactics.