‘Just’ saber-rattling perhaps, but Russia appears to be stepping up the psychological pressure on the Baltics still further.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says there are “whole segments of the Russian world” that may require Moscow’s protection, and has singled out [the] Baltic states by saying that Russia will not tolerate an “offensive” against its language there.
The Russian World (Russkiy Mir) is a concept adopted by Putin that describes a realm extending beyond Russia proper that includes Russians cut off from their ancestral homeland by the breakup of the Soviet Union. It comes with the idea that Moscow is entitled to “protect” the inhabitants of this world. There are large Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia (and a smaller minority in Lithuania), a population that the Kremlin has long described as oppressed, an adjective that owes more to Russia’s ambitions in the region than anything so mundane as the truth.
Back to the Moscow Times:
If this sounds reminiscent of the rhetoric that accompanied Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the Foreign Ministry made no secret of the intended parallel. The ministry’s chief monitor of human rights overseas, Konstantin Dolgov, cited the policies of Ukraine’s government in Kiev as an example of a rise of “xenophobia” in Europe, according to a transcript of a speech published by the ministry Monday. But Ukraine is not the only place whose policies need correction, Dolgov said in his remarks, delivered over the weekend during a meeting with ethnic Russians in Latvia’s capital, Riga.
”It has to be stated with sadness that a huge number of our compatriots abroad, whole segments of the Russian world, continue to face serious problems in securing their rights and lawful interests,” he said. “One of the obvious and, perhaps, key reasons for this state of affairs is the unrelenting growth of xenophobic and neo-Nazi sentiments in the world.”
”Neo-Nazi” was also a term that Moscow used to describe its opponents in Ukraine earlier in the crisis.
It was a line that worked well in Russia and there’s no reason to think that it will not do so again.
Of course, to suggest that today’s Baltic is a nest of neo-Nazis is nonsense, but the accusation resonates very powerfully with a Russian public understandably still seared by memories of the Second World War. For decades those memories–of all too real horror–were twisted by a Soviet regime determined that its people should remember the Great Patriotic War in the right way. And in this narrative, the Baltic States have a darkly ambiguous role to play, as ‘liberated’ Soviet brothers, to be sure, but also the source of a large number of recruits for the Reich. There will be plenty of Russians who will thus be all too prepared to believe that Baltic fascists are on the rampage.
“We will not tolerate the creeping offensive against the Russian language that we are seeing in the Baltics,” Dolgov said.
In what seemed to be a call for ethnically based discontent and allying with Moscow, Dolgov appealed to his ethnic Russian listeners to preserve their “true priorities and the strategic vision that unites us all.”
He also pledged that Russia would “provide the most serious support for you and your activities.”
Note that Dolgov was able to make his remarks in the Latvian capital freely and without interruption. Riga is not Moscow.
While there is nothing particularly new about menacing talk from the Kremlin about the status of the Baltic’s Russian-speakers, comments such as these are particularly sinister in the wake of the annexation of Crimea and the creation of ‘Novorossiya’ in Eastern Ukraine, not to speak of the recent kidnapping of an Estonian security officer, the threat to prosecute Lithuanians who refused to serve with the Soviet Army after still-Soviet Lithuania declared independence in 1990 and, earlier this week, the detention of the Russians of a Lithuanian fishing boat in (apparently) international waters.
And there’s this from the Latvian Information Agency:
KIEV, Sept 18 (LETA–UNIAN) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has revealed that during one of his recent conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader had threatened to him that ”I could capture Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest within two days if I wanted to”.
According to the German newspaper ”Suddeutsche Zeitung”, Poroshenko told European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso about these threats by Putin on September 12.
Idle threats? Theater? Maybe, but as this gloomy (August) report from Estonia’s International Centre for Defence Studies notes, there has been a substantial Russian military build-up in the region.
The conclusion reads as follows:
[D]uring the last four or five years the Russian Federation has purposefully and systematically built up its military capabilities in the Baltic Sea region to be able to: a) organise an assault operation by regular forces with a short or non-existent notification time in the operational space encompassing the Baltic countries, thereby achieving military dominance over the defence forces of the Baltics in the initial phase of the operation; b) block any unwanted air traffic in the airspace of the Baltic countries at the time—in particular the arrival of support units from NATO allies that use air transport; and c) hit the majority of land targets in the whole Baltic Sea region and Poland, in this way deterring the Alliance from intervening in the possible crisis.
The best way to head off that crisis is for NATO to boost its presence in the region now. Deterrence works, but only if it is believable.