Russophobia?

by Andrew Stuttaford

 The Baltic Times is reporting that Sergey Markov, a former member of the Russian parliament for the ruling United Russia party and, according to Lithuania’s Delfi, “director of the Institute of Political Studies… and [a] close ally to President Vladimir Putin”, is explaining what’s what to the Swedes:

 “Russophobia is racism against Russians. Give up Russophobia, and your life will become easier.”

 “Russophobia”, of course, may be partly explained by comments such as these:

 ”You should not be afraid in Sweden. However, Latvia and Estonia should be. If there is a great war, it is likely that nothing will be left of these countries…”

That’s the way to make friends for Russia, Sergey!

 Meanwhile the Baltic Times also reports this:

 A Latvian mayor has voiced concern over the build-up of pro Russia activities on the Latvia-Russia border, the Diena newspaper reports.

It follows after Kraslava mayor Mayor Gunars Upenieks claims pro Russia activists are carrying door to door campaigns in the Latgale region near Russia and handing out brochures over the possibility of the region joining Russia.

 ”Information reaches the city council fast enough, however, we have no way of stopping this movement. They are also visiting schools and other public institutions,” Upenieks told the Diena newspaper.

 ”There are rumors about payments in order to get people in high posts to their side. I have discussed this matter with colleagues from other municipalities, however, there is nothing we can do. What are the Security Police doing, I do not know.”

 He admitted that people who have a job and an automobile are a lot less likely to be approached by the pro-Russia activists, however, “it is easier to persuade needy residents that the large neighbor will save them.”

Latgale, Latvia’s easternmost region, has a Russian-speaking majority, much of it concentrated in the city of Daugavpils, close to the Lithuanian and Belarusian borders. There were reports earlier this year that locals had been asked for their views on some sort of Crimean-style operation in that area and hadn’t shown much enthusiasm. I’d be very surprised if opinions had changed much in recent months. Latvia’s Russians may tend to root for their ancestral homeland in its adventures abroad (Crimea, Georgia and so on), but that enthusiasm is not the same as wanting the Russian army (or its proxies) to turn up on their doorsteps. They would not want to see Daugavpils (not particularly prosperous, but a nice enough place) to be transformed into a Donetsk-style battlefield. They also know that, despite some unhappiness with life in an independent Latvia, they are, for the most part, better off there than they would be in Russia and, even more so, a, say, ‘Daugavpils People’s Republic’. There is a reason that these activists would find it “easier to persuade needy residents”. These are the people for whom that equation is less clear, and there are quite a few of them: Latvia’s economic transformation has not been easy.

The fear that haunts many in Latvia is that the Russians will arrange a ‘spontaneous’ rising in Daugavpils and that NATO will decline to get involved on the grounds that it is supposedly an internal matter. The events of the last twelve months have made that much less likely than before, however, and I doubt if the Russians would want to put it to the test at this stage, especially if the locals are not that supportive.

That doesn’t mean that Moscow won’t keep probing, if only (for now) to remind the government in Riga that Russia is large, nearby and has strong views about what happens in a state that—thanks to geography, that large Russian minority and the Kremlin’s view of history—it still regards as being part of what Putin calls the ‘Russian world’.

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