Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 177

A working group of Russia’s Foreign Policy and Defense Council has made public in Moscow in recent days a report on Russian-Baltic Relations. The authors include the Council’s chairman, Sergei Karaganov, and the senior presidential adviser Sergei Prikhodko. The Council is a private group which carries considerable influence with the government. Prikhodko’s co-authorship, however, in his capacity as deputy head of President Boris Yeltsin’s administration responsible for foreign policy, seems to confer the Kremlin’s imprimatur on the report. The document inches toward the conclusion that the Baltic states’ admission to NATO is, ultimately, unstoppable. On that assumption the report premises its policy recommendations to the Russian government

To arrive at that conclusion, the report works its way through some contradictory considerations, some of them phrased for political correctness in the runup to Russia’s elections. Thus the document terms the Baltic states as part of “Russia’s zone of vital interests.” It cites Russia’s military doctrine according to which “the entry of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into NATO would directly threaten Russia’s national security.” Finally, it considers the possibility that the Baltic states’ accession to NATO might–in the event of a crisis in Russia’s relations with the West–enable the allies to immobilize Russia’s Baltic fleet and cut the Kaliningrad region off from Russia. In what may be read as a warning to the Baltic states, the report predicts that their quest for NATO membership will “undermine recent positive trends in their relations with Russia and create a hotbed of tension in the heart of Europe.”

But the novel–and, it would seem, operative–part of the report, and possibly its raison d’etre, resides in the conclusion that “the Baltic states’ admission to NATO is highly probable, though their actual accession may drag on for a long period of time.” The resulting policy recommendation, as summarized by Prikhodko, focuses on “influencing this process so that, if the accession takes place, the damage [to Russia] may be minimized.” The document suggests: (1) cultivating bilateral contacts with governing elites in each of the three Baltic states; “upholding” Russian economic interests there by working with local business groups; (2) using Russia’s dialogue with Western countries and institutions in the interest of the “Russian-speaking population” residing in the Baltic states; and (3) offering Russian security guarantees–apparently in the hope of creating a counterbalance to NATO in the Baltic region (Itar-Tass, September 23-24).

The gist of the report seems to vindicate Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar’s recent forecast: “Russia’s attitude [to the Baltic states’ quest for NATO membership) parallels the Russian attitude to the Czech, Polish and Hungarian membership of NATO. The Russians first ruled it out. They then opposed it categorically. After that, they indicated that they don’t like it but can’t stop it. Finally, they said that they can live with it even if they don’t like it” (BNS, Radio Tallinn, August 18). It took Moscow some four to five years to go through those stages.