Slow improvement between Russia and the Baltic states is evident, but many remaining problems could turn to flashpoints if Russian ultranationalists come to power.
Progress has been achieved in promoting Baltic domestic reforms and in integrating with Western European institutions.
The Baltic states are concerned that their security can be undercut if the NATO enlargement process appears to stop after an initial enlargement.
The Baltic states' strategy focuses on the long-term; it is a slow process based on building concrete security steps and economic integration.
Three Separate Baltic States
The Baltic states are often discussed as a group without regard to their profound differences. Estonia and Latvia orient towards the Nordic states and both are primarily Lutheran. Lithuania is more Central European, has a close history with Poland, and is primarily Catholic. Latvian and Lithuanian are Indo-European languages while Estonian is closer to Finnish. Estonia and Latvia have Russian minorities that make up 30.3 percent and 34 percent of their respective 1.5 and 2.65 million populations, while Lithuania's 3.6 million population has a 9.4 percent Russian and 7 percent Polish minority.
The Baltic states share small size, geography, and five decades as republics of the Soviet Union. They all seek integration with the West but fear that Russian nationalism will deny them that right. Despite their differences, they will probably share a common fate.
Russian Power and Baltic Security
Other than two decades of independence after the First World War, the Baltic states have been controlled by Russia for the past two centuries. They were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 and again in 1944. Local populations were moved to Siberia by the hundreds of thousands as Russians were encouraged to settle in the region. Borders were adjusted. While the Baltic states chose not to be included in Russia's Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), many Russians regret the loss of these three countries and are prepared to intervene militarily should an incident occur. Because it considers the Baltic states to be in its sphere of influence, Moscow uses intimidation against them in ways that it would not with other European states. The Russian mafia is also prevalent in the Baltic states. It is no surprise, therefore, that there is a high degree of anxiety in the Baltic states about their ability to retain their independence, sovereignty, and Western orientation.
The most sensitive issues are citizenship and treatment for Russian minorities. Estonia's minority is concentrated in the East while Latvia's is concentrated in its largest cities. These two states are concerned that they will lose their sovereignty and cultural identity if they do not maintain strict citizenship laws excluding many ethnic Russians from basic political rights like voting in national elections and running for local office. Lithuania, however, has essentially given all of its Russians citizenship, whereas Estonia revised its laws this year to make the process even more difficult for Russian citizens. Because the five-year residency requirement and exams on the Estonian language, culture, and constitution are similar to the U.S. nationalization procedures, Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers monitoring the process now seem less critical. But the majority of the Russian community in Estonia is socially isolated from Estonians and generally speaks little Estonian. The hurdles for them are high even though many have lived all of their lives in Estonia. Russians generally refer to the policy as "Apartheid."
Another sensitive issue is the border dispute between Estonia and Russia. The border agreed to in the 1920 Treaty of Tartu was moved westward during the Second World War. Although Estonia has tentatively conceded the disputed territory to Russia in recent negotiations, it seeks reference to the Tartu Treaty in the new agreement in an effort to make Russia acknowledge that their annexation was illegal and to justify its citizenship laws. …