MOSCOW INVOCATION OF “RED LINE” GETTING PRETTY THIN.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 115

Estonia’s Defense Minister Juri Luik told a Monitor representative yesterday that Moscow “has no means, except purely military ones, to stop Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from joining NATO.” And because military means are unusable in modern Europe for the foreseeable future, Moscow is using political pressures and a “war of words” in the hope of discouraging the Baltic states’ accession to the alliance.

In recent days, those tactics have taken the form of all-but-open claims that the Baltic states somehow form part of a Russian sphere of influence and that the Soviet occupation of those states was somehow legitimate. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a German press interview on the eve of his visit to that country, described NATO’s possible enlargement in the Baltic region as “hostile to Russia and adverse to Russia’s security. Regarding the talk about NATO integration of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, I would like to stress once more: NATO’s crossing the borders of the former Soviet Union would be fraught with extremely serious consequences for the security situation on the entire continent” (Welt am Sonntag, June 11; DPA, June 12).

The statement suggests that, in the Kremlin’s view, the Soviet borders–those of a country which no longer exists–retain a measure of validity as a demarcation line between the Western world and Russia, and that the countries situated behind that line are supposed to defer to Moscow’s unilateral Russian definition of what constitutes European and regional security. Putin’s statement stops slightly short of explicitly invoking the “red line” which Yevgeny Primakov had introduced to Moscow’s official vocabulary while foreign affairs minister and prime minister of Russia. That term was, however, resuscitated during Duma hearings two weeks ago by the first deputy minister of foreign affairs, Aleksandr Avdeev, a former deputy minister under Primakov and long in charge of Baltic affairs.

On June 9, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry defended Stalin’s occupation of the Baltic states in an official statement. Commenting on a bill, pending in the Lithuanian parliament, on compensation claims arising from the forty-five years of Soviet occupation, Moscow’s statement maintained that “the USSR sent in its troops in 1940 with the consent of that country’s leadership, in keeping with the valid international law of the time,” and that “the USSR Supreme Soviet admitted” the Baltic states into the Soviet Union following “requests by the Baltic states’ parliaments. Assertions about an ‘occupation’ and ‘annexation’… ignore the political, historical and legal reality and are therefore baseless” (Itar-Tass, June 9).

The references to Baltic “parliaments”–in fact, Soviet-appointed bodies–and to the “international law of the time” seem intended to cover the 1939-1940 Soviet-Nazi agreements, which formed the real basis of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. By resurrecting those classical Soviet theses, the Russian Foreign Ministry takes a big step back from the perestroika-era decisions of the Soviet Union’s Congress of People’s Deputies [enlarged parliament], which had in 1989 condemned Stalin’s incorporation of the Baltic states. Moscow’s statement also backtracks on former President Boris Yeltsin’s 1991 acknowledgements of the unlawful Soviet annexation of the Baltic states. During the last few years, however, the Russian government regressed into maintaining that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had “joined” the Soviet Union of their own accord. But the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s June 9 attempt to rationalize the Soviet occupation legally, politically and historically goes further than any Russian statement on the subject in recent years.

On June 6, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga received Russian Ambassador to Latvia Aleksandr Udaltsov and the Duma’s CIS and Compatriot Affairs Committee Chairman Boris Pastukhov–the purview of which includes Baltic affairs–during a conference in that country on Latvian-Russian relations. The two Russian officials told Latvian media that they had spoken to Vike-Freiberga “openly and frankly”–terms from Soviet diplomatic parlance meaning no holds barred–“about obstructive factors which prevent the formation of stable, profound and many-sided relations between Latvia and Russia.” Those adjectives tend to crop up in the context of Russian offers to “improve relations” and provide “security guarantees” if the country concerned gives up the aspiration to join NATO. As “obstructive factors,” Udaltsov and Pastukhov purported to list “marches under Nazi flags,” Latvia’s prosecution of several of “our war veterans”–a reference to ex-NKVD and KGB officers involved in crimes of repression–as well as Latvia’s movement toward NATO membership (BNS, LETA, June 6).

In Vilnius, the veteran Russian human rights campaigner Sergey Kovalev expressed moral and political concern over recent trends in Moscow’s policy and over ambiguities in Western Europe’s response to those trends. Addressing an international conference on Soviet crimes in the Baltic states, Kovalev admitted that “my nation welcomed, and was fascinated by, the communist ideology and occupied the Baltic states, and not only them.” Personally apologizing for those facts, Kovalev went on to say that “the current bloody war in Chechnya has not been rejected by my people. Instead, the Russian nation is strongly supporting it. It was our nation who overwhelmingly elected the new Russian president, welcoming the KGB’s and other special services’ return to power. This should concern you as our closest neighbors, as well as the international community at large” (BNS, June 12). Kovalev, the closest disciple of the late Andrei Sakharov, and formerly the Human Rights Commissioner of the Russian Federation, was dismissed from that post by Boris Yeltsin and replaced with a Kremlin loyalist during the first anti-Chechen war. Kovalev’s stance contrasts with official Moscow’s attempts to build a “human rights” case against the Baltic states.

To the surprise of the Moscow press, it was U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott–a diplomat “rather favorably disposed toward Moscow,” as Izvestiya thought–who on June 7 sharply rebutted Moscow’s anti-Baltic accusations. In Tallinn for a regular meeting of the quadripartite U.S.-Baltic Partnership Commission, Talbott termed those accusations “unwarranted by the facts, to put it mildly”–an extremely serious statement in diplomatic terminology. Talbott specifically rejected Russian officials’ statements about human and ethnic rights violations and a “fascist revival” in the Baltic states. He urged Moscow to desist from “name-calling, stop the unilateral “war of words,” and seek a genuine dialogue with the three Baltic states (BNS, LETA, ETA, June 7, 8; Izvestia, Kommersant daily, June 9).

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