Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 235

At its congress on December 16, the United People’s Party–UPP, largest Russian party in Estonia–issued a resolution “On Estonia’s foreign policy,” opposing the country’s quest to join NATO. The resolution incorporates the Russian government’s main arguments against Baltic accession to NATO: first, that it would “aggravate the political and military situation in the region;” and, second, that the Baltic states’ security ought to be guaranteed by a treaty or a set of treaties among Russia on the one hand and the European Union and the Baltic Sea countries on the other hand.

The UPP congress resolution and speakers criticized the “Estonian governing circle’s unwillingness to consider the political and military reality and its pro-Western foreign policy [which] has slowed down economic growth.” The party resolved to enter its candidate in the 2001 presidential election. The UPP’s chairman and parliamentary deputy, Viktor Andreev, is the likely candidate. The effort has no chance of success, but it might earn added support from Moscow for the party (see below).

The “aggravation” argument is Moscow’s familiar way to warn of countermeasures. It is a textbook case of an insolvent warning in the absence of realistic countermeasure options, now or in the near term. By the same token, such warnings unwittingly confirm the urgency of admitting the Baltic states into NATO, so as to ensure that today’s talk of “countermeasures” does not become tomorrow’s fact of preemptive measures, if the Baltic states are left outside the alliance. The cross-guarantee proposal rehashes that of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, on offer since the days of Yevgeny Primakov as minister. It would essentially institute a condominium in the Baltic region, with ample potential for competition and instability. The somewhat heavier stress on the European Union’s possible role reflects Moscow’s current hopes that the EU’s own defense and security initiatives might ultimately divide NATO.

Another pro-Moscow party in Estonia, the Russian Unity Party (RUP) had held its congress on November 25 in Tallinn. Its resolution opposed Estonia’s goal to join NATO “because this could upset the geopolitical balance in the area between the West and Russia”–a formula which identified the RUP with Russia’s interests. Unlike the centrist UPP, the RUP defines itself as left-of-center. Both parties officially agree, along with Moscow, to Estonia’s aspiration to join the EU.

In Latvia, the left-of-center National Harmony Party (NHP) and the hard left Socialist Party (SP) held congresses on November 25 and December 4, respectively. Both are components of the bloc For Human Rights in a United Latvia, whose sixteen parliamentary seats make it the strongest Russian/”Russian-speaking” political force in the Baltic states. Janis Jurkans, reelected leader of the NHP, came out at the congress against Latvian membership in NATO and in favor of EU membership. He attempted to present those two goals as, in effect, mutually exclusive, because Latvia “can not afford both,” and “Latvian taxpayers can not be asked to bear such disproportionate burdens.” That plank appeared designed to complicate the Latvian government’s uphill effort to raise the defense budget as part of the qualifications for admission to NATO.

Jurkans argued that Latvia’s NATO aspirations “complicate the country’s relations with Russia.” The NHP urged Latvia to seek security in good relations with Russia and in the “EU’s defense structures which are current under development.” That proposal is consonant with Moscow’s hopes to counterpose the EU in the defense sphere to NATO, and it asks Latvia to turn away from NATO in favor of an as yet nonexistent defense organization. Such proposals mark another stage in Jurkans’ political evolution from a one-time national leader–he was a co-founder of the Popular Front and foreign affairs minister in 1990-92–to figurehead leader of a mainly nonnative bloc. Three years ago, Jurkans was–with his words, at least–still supporting Latvia’s quest to join NATO. When the NHP’s ally, the Socialist Party, officially came out against that goal, Jurkans threatened to break the alliance. Instead, Jurkans himself has been drifting toward an anti-NATO position.

The Socialist Party is the main vote-getter in the bloc For Human Rights in a United Latvia. The SP congress came out against Latvia’s accession to the European Union as well as to NATO. The party correctly anticipates that Latvia’s accession to the EU would render the economic reforms irreversible. The SP is the direct successor to the Communist Party of the Latvian SSR. That party’s one-time first secretary, Alfreds Rubiks, was reelected as leader of the SP at the December 4 congress.

The pro-Moscow parties in Estonia and Latvia normally coordinate their steps with the respective Russian embassies and with Moscow. Their simultaneous anti-NATO moves in Tallinn and Riga suggests that Russian policy may reach for the ethnic card against NATO’s enlargement in the Baltic states. The stance of those parties, however, ought not to be confused with that of the Russian electorate as a whole. UPP, RUP and SP leaders represent what the head of the Human Rights Information Center in Estonia, Aleksei Semyonov, recently termed “the professional ‘near-abroad Russians,'” whose political careers depend primarily on support from Moscow. Public opinion surveys suggest that the Russian/”Russian-speaking” electorates in Estonia and Latvia include substantial segments, particularly among younger age groups, which are not burdened by Soviet-era perceptions and accept Baltic membership in NATO (Itar-Tass, December 16, 17; LETA, November 24-25; BNS, November 25, December 4, 16).

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