Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 29

The chairmen of the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian parliamentary foreign relations committees, along with prominent historians and political scientists from the three Baltic states, have decided to convene an urgent videoconference to restore the sense of common purpose in handling the challenge of the May 9 summit in Moscow (BNS, February 8). They have been invited, under pressure, to attend the triumphant anniversary of the 1945 event that sealed their half-century-long occupation, which had actually begun with the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

This invitation may be the type of offer that the Baltic states cannot refuse. The decision they must make is not about attending or staying away, but — in either case — about communicating together the right message to allies, on the one hand, and to ill-wishers, on the other.

Kremlin-connected policy consultant Vyacheslav Nikonov (grandson of Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov) declared on Russian State Television, “Moscow’s patience is coming to an end.” Endorsing the suggestion that “it may be worth banging our fist on the table to remind the Baltic states that Russia is a powerful country,” Nikonov warned, “Russia has various ways to bear upon the situation within the Baltic states. Their economies heavily depend on Russia. Moreover, in Latvia and Estonia there are well-organized Russian communities that can, of course, take a much more active stance than they have until now.” While pillorying “nationalism” in the Baltic states, he maintained that they had regained their independence in 1991 not through popular movements, but “thanks to the emergence of an independent Russia . . . These independent states came into being, [as] this was the will of the Russian leadership” (Russian TV Channel One, February 2). This thesis fits within the logic of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which insists that the Baltic states willingly joined the Soviet Union and were later liberated by it.

If this were the case, it follows that the independence movements could not have gathered popular support, apart from some “nationalists” aided by Baltic exiles from the West; and that independence could only be “granted” by Moscow. At present, those “immigrants [from the West] play a very large role in the elite of these states,” Nikonov complained, pillorying their “anti-Soviet and anti-Russian views.” It is not uncommon for Moscow officials to portray Estonians, Latvians, or Lithuanians returning to their home countries as foreigners (while indignantly rejecting milder descriptions of Soviet-era settlers from interior Russian regions to the Baltic states). Thus, “Russian diplomats not infrequently explain Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga’s ‘anti-Russian views’ with reference to her Western education. In Moscow diplomatic circles she is simply named ‘a Canadian woman’ ” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 2).

The Baltic governments and publics are perturbed by the content of the draft interstate declarations that Russian President Vladimir Putin proposes to sign with Estonia and Latvia, respectively, on the occasion of the Moscow summit. The Kremlin wanted the discussions on the drafts to remain secret and ultimately to present the Baltic publics with a fait accompli. It failed to realize that the Baltic states’ democratic culture made possible — and their parliamentary systems indeed necessitated — open debate on the texts. A frustrated Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally made the texts public (Interfax, February 1, 2).

These drafts would have the Baltic states simply recognize the “need to open a new chapter in bilateral relations” with Russia. This would not only relegate the annexation and its sequels to oblivion, but also enable Moscow to argue that remembrance contravenes good relations. The documents would commit Estonia and Latvia to observing bilateral and multilateral obligations and pacts on the rights of ethnic minorities. This would transfer those issues from the sphere of international law and domestic legislation into the spheres of Russia-Estonia and Russia-Latvia relations, enabling Russia to play judge over these countries. Rather than conforming to the European Union’s standards on these issues, Estonia and Latvia would be held accountable by Russia under the terms of the bilateral declarations, if these countries sign on. Moreover, the texts would have these countries agree with Russia to “raise the role and competencies of the OSCE in international politics,” “reinforce the central role of the UN,” adhere to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, and follow other positions by which Moscow hopes to decouple the Baltic states’ policy from that of NATO and the European Union.

The Estonian and Latvian governments were hoping that Russia would acknowledge the facts of occupation and annexation in these bilateral declarations. This will clearly not happen. Entanglement into further negotiations, inevitably descending into bargaining over formulations, will bring no results, but only the risk of diluting the Baltic states’ moral position, which is now ironclad and, as such, a pillar of their security. Interstate declarations of the type Russia wants are anachronistic — unnecessary at best, and possibly risky. Estonia and Latvia need not go any further down this track. They, along with Lithuania, need to work out among themselves a common message to the world, irrespective of their ultimate decision on whether to attend the Moscow summit or not.