Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Patching the Shield: The Baltic States on the Road towards Practical NATO Guarantees

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Patching the Shield: The Baltic States on the Road towards Practical NATO Guarantees

Article excerpt

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia became members of NATO in 2004. However, they became members only on the map, not in practice. The Baltic States are still the most vulnerable and the hardest to defend in the event of aggression from the legal successor of the country that necessitated the foundation of NATO. Russia's armed conflict with Georgia and its military intervention in Ukraine have demonstrated not only its capability but also willingness to use military force. Because of the Ukrainian crisis, Allies proceeded with some tangible, albeit symbolic, steps to reassure the Baltic States that they remain under the umbrella of the collective defence policy. As a result, it is safer but still not safe on NATO's eastern flank.

Why Russia Would Need to Harm the Baltic States

In 2005, Russia's President Vladimir Putin admitted that "... the collapse of the Soviet Union was the largest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."1 Putin's Russia has consistently striven to increase its power and to improve its international image in almost every area, the political, the economic, the cultural, the military and other, by means ranging from hosting major sports events to resuming long-range strategic bomber flights. Russia has made significant progress in many of the areas mentioned above. However, when compared to the great powers it lags considerably behind, especially as an economic power. Militarily, it would not be able to challenge NATO as a whole on a conventional and linear battlefield.

Even though Russia is relatively weak globally, it is an important regional power. It projects this power in the post-Soviet space effectively and by different means. It ensures the continuation of several "frozen conflicts" in its neighbouring countries. It sustains the existence of other countries. It seeks control over the policies and choices of almost every one of its neighbours.

The Baltic States have been the most successful of the former Soviet republics in departing from the influence of Russia. They have integrated in the Euro-Atlantic political and economic establishments. In some respects, for example by joining the eurozone and the Schengen Area, they have embedded in the EU even deeper than some other members. They have generally departed from Russia's political and economic influence. And they are swiftly approaching the point of being independent of Russia's energy supplies, something that seemed to be in the distant future just a few years ago. This energy dependence has been decreasing constantly, thanks to the establishment of a liquefied natural gas terminal in Lithuania, connections to the electricity grids of Finland, Sweden and Poland, and a planned natural gas connection to Poland.

Russia is becoming increasingly disadvantaged in its abilities to influence the situation in the Baltic States, former Soviet republics and once parts of the Russian Empire. Russia can either accept that these countries have almost completely left its sphere of influence, or it can try to hold them back. So far, it has opted for the latter, and in many and different ways. Domestically in Russia, and internationally, the Baltic States have generally been portrayed by Russian mass media and authorities as "failed states" in which the Russian-speaking minorities are discriminated against and Nazism/fascism is resurrecting.2 Because of this negative portrayal, the Baltic States have for many years been considered by Russian society as among the "most unfriendly, hostile towards Russia."3

Russia has also tried to influence the internal and external policies of the three states. Issues such as economic and energy relations, local proRussian politicians (for example, some major political parties in Latvia and Estonia have been associated with possible funding from Russia4), mass media and the Russian-speaking minorities have often been used as tools for exerting influence. The latter should not be underestimated, as Russia has often criticised the situation of Russian-speakers in Latvia and Estonia in particular. …

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