TCS Daily


Baltic Bully

By Christian Jokinen - July 7, 2005 12:00 AM

For years Flatlandians have fought for their independence from Rightland's domination. Rightland's oppression has led to the formation of Flatlandian resistance movements which in turn have started a violent campaign against Rightland and the Rightlandian minority in Flatland. Uprisings, terrorism, counter-terrorism, ethnic cleansing, organized crime. In spring 2005, the violence escalated to full civil war, with hundreds killed and 300,000 refugees. The conflict caught the attention of the Western media and finally the UN Security Council made a decision to send more than 2,000 NATO troops to Flatland and Rightland for peace implementation and peacekeeping.

Sound familiar?

In June, soldiers from more than a dozen countries came together in Lithuania to participate in the multinational peacekeeping exercise "Amber Hope 2005". Side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and British soldiers trained for the "worst case". The United States was represented only by one officer.

Although the scenario was imaginary, similar conflicts unfortunately are reality around the world. Lithuania was an excellent venue to organize an exercise like this. The Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, regained their independence in the years 1991-1992 after half a century of Soviet Russian occupation. Since their independence, the three Baltic countries have witnessed a remarkable recovery, becoming again members in the family of Western democracies. The three countries became full member states of NATO and the European Union just last year. For the Baltic countries tight relations with the West and especially America are a matter of national survival, a core value of their security policy, and a top priority in their foreign policy agenda. The three Baltic states are part of the so-called "New Europe": Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian soldiers are fighting international terrorism side-by-side with American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Baltic Sea region has been quite stable for the last decade. This is true thanks to NATO's active interest in promoting stability and security in the area. The war on terror has shifted the frontline far away from the Baltic. But it would be a mistake to regard the Baltic as a haven of peace, where instability would be unthinkable. Behind the curtains the Baltic states have to put up with an unpredictable Russia, which under president Vladimir Putin has taken a path of reviving Soviet strategic thinking.

For Russia, the Baltic area is of vital national interest, and its strategic importance is increasing rather than decreasing. Not only is Russia's second biggest city, St. Petersburg, located on the Baltic Sea, but Russia's economic interests are expanding in the area. Russia has built an important oil harbor in the occupied area of Karelia in Koivisto that has altered the geostrategic balance in the Baltic Sea region. The West has paid little attention so far to the justified concerns of the Baltic countries regarding Russian oil transports in the Baltic.

Europe has been quite passive while Russia has continued its bullying in the Baltic. This bullying has taken many forms: Russia canceled the border agreement with Estonia that had been already agreed on, in Russia's favor, in June. As a pretext for the canceling of the agreement, Russia used an Estonian Parliament resolution that called the Soviet Union's occupation of Estonia...an occupation. Putin's Russia has started a campaign against its Baltic neighbors, using denial of historical facts as a way to attack its neighbors experience with Soviet Union.

Finland, Russia's biggest neighbor in the Baltic, has witnessed even more serious bullying: only this year Russian airplanes have violated Finland's airspace more than 20 times. Russia has denied all these violations, explaining that it needs more airspace to fly to the occupied Königsberg/Kaliningrad enclave. The real cause may turn out to be more sinister: Finland is debating whether it should join NATO or maintain its "neutrality" and "special relations" to Russia. Russia's campaign may be an attempt to influence the Finnish debate over NATO.

As so often is the case, Russia's strategy of bullying may in the end harm its own interests. Russia's fear of NATO enlargement to Finland has to be seen in a wider perspective: for Russia, a NATO country is out of its sphere of influence and so possibly an enemy (or at least an obstacle). Violations of Estonian airspace ended suddenly when NATO airplanes started to patrol Estonian airspace.

Vladimir Putin's strategy of cooperation with America can be short-lived. The United States' active role in the Baltic should be constant. For the Baltic countries the keys of a secure environment and stable future lie firmly in Washington and NATO. Contrary to "Old Europe", the Baltic wants more America.

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