By John Ruberry
The effects of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea are being felt in the Baltic States–Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The three states were part of Czarist Russia, but they won their independence from the Bolsheviks after World War I. It was not to last–the tiny nations were seized by the Soviet Union in 1940. My wife, who was born in Latvia, was told that the three nations “requested” to join the USSR by her teachers.
Shortly before the collapse of the Evil Empire, the Baltic States regained their independence.
Despite being hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008, the Baltic States are the wealthiest of the former Soviet Republics. The democratic nations are members of NATO and the European Union.
But not all well in what was known in imperial Russia as “our West.” Thousands of Balts were deported to Siberia in the 1940s, Russian speakers took their place. It was an essential part of Josef Stalin’s policy of Russification–one people, one language. Over two decades after the collapse of the USSR, ethnic Russians comprise roughly one-quarter the population of Latvia and Estonia. Lithuania has a tiny Russian population but it borders the Kaliningrad exclave of Russia.
Needless to say, some people are nervous in the Baltics about the Ukraine crisis and Russia. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former president of Latvia, told NPR earlier this month, “We have to worry every minute of every day.” Latvia and Lithuania suspended the broadcasts of the international service of a Russian government-owned television network for three months because of what they deemed inflammatory broadcasts.
An ethnic Russian member of the European Parliament from Latvia is under investigation by Latvian authorities for being a Russian Federation agent.
I’ve been to Latvia twice. When walking the streets of its capital, Riga, one is just a likely to hear Russian spoken as Latvian.
The most tense situation is in Estonia. Its third largest city, Narva, sits on the border of the Russian Federation. Just four percent of the residents are Narva are Estonian. The two nations have an unresolved border dispute. Estonia was the victim of a 2007 Russian cyber attack.
To become a citizen of Estonia or Latvia, Russians and their descendants who emigrated there after 1940 have to pass a difficult language test, which is significant challenge for the elderly. Russians born there after 1991 can choose citizenship. In Lithuania Russians were offered citizenship upon independence.
In response to the Crimea crisis, NATO dispatched some F-16 jets to Lithuania and President Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden there. I’m sure the Balts appreciated the former more than the latter.
But if Vladimir Putin uses the same reasoning–the protection of Russians–to seize Narva as he did with Crimea, will President Obama and NATO have the stomach to view such a move as a violation of Article V of the charter of the alliance, “An attack on one is an attack on all?”
Or will Obama simply draw another of his meaningless red lines, as he did in Syria?
Putin has called the collapse of the USSR a “geopolitical tragedy.”
But now he has Crimea. Is there a next move?
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.
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