Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 95

Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov tried change-the-subject tactics at the May 10-11 session in Strasbourg of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. By general consent, the session was scheduled to look into Russia’s conduct of the war in Chechnya and the human rights implications of that war. Ivanov, however, asked the forum for a discussion of what Moscow terms “human rights violations” in the Baltic states, and took the floor to attack Estonia and Latvia over the treatment of their “Russian-speaking populations.” The forum did not go along with either the agenda change or Ivanov’s own polemics. Following the session, Ivanov admitted to the press that his effort had met with “sharp protests from member countries’ delegations,” but promised that Russia would continue bringing up the Baltic “problem” at the Council of Europe.

Foreign Affairs Ministers Toomas Ilves of Estonia and Indulis Berzins of Latvia observed in their succinct rebuttals that international organizations have given their countries a clean bill of health on human rights, and that the Council of Europe itself, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–including the office of the OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities–had approved of Latvia’s and Estonia’s legislation on citizenship and language. Noting the singularity of Russia’s position, Ilves and Berzins also observed that it would be more advantageous for Russia to establish goodneighborly relations with the Baltic states and take international opinion into account.

The episode showed that Moscow uses anti-Baltic polemics not only as a distraction from internal problems, but also as a countermeasure to international criticism of Russia’s own misconduct such as that demonstrated in Chechnya. The selective application of pressure on the Baltic states vindicates the three countries’ quest for admission to NATO. In a German press interview recently, Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga observed that Moscow’s relapse into Cold War language adds to the uncertainty over Russia’s future intentions, which in turn increases Baltic resolve to seek security guarantees within NATO and to work hard toward admission to the alliance.

In Tallinn, the former ambassador to Russia and expert on that country, Mart Helme, wrote this week that the Baltic states need to brace for a “war of nerves” during Vladimir Putin’s first term of office as president of Russia. That term will overlap with the transition of the Baltic states toward membership in the European Union and NATO. Putin will probably use that remaining time for attempting to achieve economic and political influence on the Baltic states, Helme forecast. “We can expect the Kremlin to start in the near future an active, double-handed game of chess, holding enticements and advantages in one hand, and constant threats and irritants in the other hand.” (Itar-Tass, May 10-11; LETA, Riga Radio, May 9, 11; BNS, May 8-11; Eesti Paevaleht, May 9; Sueddeutsche Zeitung, May 8).