The Baltic countries this summer reached a record high in terms of the number of anti-Russian initiatives that they throw one after another to their EU neighbors. About the problem that these limitrophe states create for Russia, reasoning on the pages of the magazine “Profile” the editor-in-chief of the Kaliningrad portal RuBaltic.Ru Alexander Nosovich.
The policy of these states in previous years did not differ in friendliness towards Moscow. However, recently it has become, firstly, even sharper, and secondly, now it is directed not only against Russia as a state, but also against all its citizens without exception. All this made it clear to a broad Russian audience what has long been known to scientists studying the Baltics: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are part of the “cordon sanitaire” between Russia and the Western European “core” of the EU, and their role in the international arena is to deter any penetration from Russia into Europe of people, goods, energy resources or ideas.
The fight for the purity of the “Schengen”
The most striking and convincing evidence of the hostile attitude of the Baltic countries towards the Russians was the initiative to ban the issuance of Schengen visas to them. Estonia was the first to make such a proposal, whose Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that “visiting Europe is not a human right, but a privilege” and Russians do not deserve this privilege.
Tallinn’s call to “end tourism from Russia right now” was supported by Latvia and Lithuania. At the national level, the Baltic countries have practically stopped issuing visas to Russians in recent months. But this is not enough for Tallinn, Vilnius and Riga – they demand that the entire European Union follow their example.
President of Latvia Egil Levits shortly after the declaration of Russia by the republican parliament as a “country sponsor of terrorism”, he called on the EU not only not to issue new Russians, but also to cancel the old Schengen visas. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis (Vilnius officially recognized Russia as a “terrorist state” back in the spring) explained: the ban on entry into the EU will keep the Russian opposition at home, and this will contribute to the speedy collapse of the Putin regime. By the way, earlier Lithuania, on the contrary, accepted the most radical Russian oppositionists with open arms, so the words of Landsbergis can be regarded as a change in concept.
Another concept has also changed: until now, the Balts have defended the right of the EU member states to an independent visa policy. This right was used by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to explain numerous diplomatic scandals with entry bans not only for Russians with open Schengen visas, but also for pro-Russian citizens of EU countries. Now the Baltic approach is that all EU states, by decision of Brussels, must deny the right of entry to Russians. The Baltic capitals in this case are driven by more “higher” motives than the right of the state not to let undesirable persons into its territory. The inclusion of a ban on the issuance of Schengen in the seventh package of EU sanctions against Russia is in line with the “historic mission” of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: the destruction of relations between Moscow and Europe.
Grab and don’t let go
Only a naive person who is unfamiliar with the history of the Russia-EU dialogue and does not know how the Baltics influenced this dialogue can believe that the Baltic countries in the visa issue are driven by one concern for the fate of Ukraine and the related desire to put pressure on Moscow. The Baltic factor in relations between Moscow and the West has always been extremely destructive. When these relations were cloudless, the Baltics worsened them, creating out of the blue grounds for confrontation, for example, historical claims and “wars of memory”. When relations deteriorated, the Baltic States tried to speed up this process.
In the migration policy of the EU, this approach was especially pronounced. The Baltic countries have taken on the role of gatekeepers, all the time inventing pretexts to make it difficult for Russians to get to Europe. In 2008, Lithuania was the only EU country that opposed the visa-free regime between Russia and the European Union, and vetoed the corresponding negotiations with Moscow.
A trademark of Baltic politics is the compilation of “black lists” of Russian citizens who are officially banned from entering Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn at the national level, and then they try to extend this ban to the entire Schengen area. Of particular value in the eyes of Baltic politicians is the proclamation of public figures, ideally show business stars, as persona non grata. Their turn on the border for “support for Putin and the Kremlin” creates the necessary resonance and allows the Baltic countries to show the widest possible audience how seriously they take upholding European values and countering the henchmen of the Russian government. Therefore, the number of scandalous disruptions of events that occurred due to the ban on Russian journalists, actors and singers from entering the Baltic states goes to dozens.
Scandals were also frankly curious. For example, Oleg Gazmanov in 2013, he was charged with “justifying the Soviet occupation” for the line “Kazakhstan and the Baltics are also my country” from the song “Born in the USSR”. At Dima Bilan in 2016, there were problems with holding a concert on February 23 in Vilnius: his performance was regarded as a latent celebration in Lithuania of the day of the “occupying Soviet army”.
In the Baltics, they are not afraid to discredit their politics with the absurdity of these stories, because it is precisely the absurdity that guarantees interest in their efforts among consumers of pop culture.
The comical struggle with Russian artists for the Baltic republics is part of a systematic work to create obstacles to the spread of Russian culture in Europe, primarily mass culture. They approach this work with all seriousness, since they see it as their area of responsibility to counteract the “soft power of the Kremlin.”
At first glance, this specialization is associated with the prevalence of the Russian language in the Baltics and the presence of a large Russian community there, which is largely pro-Russian. However, such an answer would be incomplete. In Germany, by comparison, there are at least two million ethnic Russians, but until recently the Russian media worked freely there, books were published in Russian, and Russian artists toured. In Germany, unlike Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, they did not call the Russian cultural presence a threat to social stability and sovereignty.
In the Baltics, Russian culture is perceived primarily in the context of strategic communications – that is, as a weapon that is used or can be used by the Kremlin in a hybrid war against the West. The Baltic politicians feel like guardians who should protect Europe from enemy influence. Therefore, the blocking of the Russian media, the ban on the broadcast of TV channels, the seizure of printing houses and bookstores there have always been demonstrative – such practices were imposed on the entire EU as the only true ones when it comes to Russian influence.
After the start of the special operation in Ukraine, the Baltic line in Brussels prevailed: throughout the EU, they began to block Russian websites and turn off Russian TV channels. However, the Baltic states manage to be more radical than the mainstream even in this situation. In Latvia, nationalist politicians and intelligence agencies have questions about oppositional Russian media that have received shelter in the country and are recognized in Russia itself as foreign agents – the Dozhd TV channel, the Meduza Internet portal, and others. The stay of a large number of Russian journalists in Latvia was called a threat, employees of the media opposed to the Kremlin were summoned for interrogations by the state security service. Obviously, for the Baltic states, it is no longer about fighting the “Putin regime”, but about fighting absolutely any Russian presence.
Energetic fight with energy
Just as actively as the free movement of people, the Baltic countries oppose the free movement of Russian goods, services and financial resources within the EU. In many respects, this struggle is in the nature of self-improvement, since since the 1990s the Baltic states have been actively using the natural advantages of their transit position. During this period, Latvia gained fame as a “financial laundry”, in whose banks money was laundered from all over the CIS, Russian products were exported through the ports of Ventspils, Riga and Tallinn, and Lithuania played an important role in saturating Russia with European goods. In recent years, the Baltic countries have tried to do away with this practice by putting political considerations ahead of economic ones. Their banks refuse to work with Russian residents, and governments are lobbying the EU for sanctions against goods delivered to and from Russia by Baltic carriers.
The biggest bet by the Baltic countries is on the destruction of the common energy market between the EU and Russia. The Baltic politicians opposed the construction of Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2, despite the fact that, unlike Ukraine and Poland, Russian-German gas pipeline projects along the bottom of the Baltic Sea did not hurt their interests in any way and could even be profitable (the first thread ” Nord Stream” was proposed to be stretched through the territorial waters of Estonia, which she proudly refused). The Baltic countries lobbied for gas supplies to Europe from anywhere – as long as it was not Russian. For this purpose, Lithuania even rented a demonstration LNG terminal, to which, however, a few years later it began to secretly purchase liquefied gas from Russia. Finally, after February 24, the Balts completely abandoned Russian gas and electricity, emphasizing that they were the first and only in the EU to show such adherence to principles.
True, this adherence to principles, upon closer examination, turns out to be rather doubtful. Firstly, the Baltic countries now consume the same Russian gas, but supplied in reverse from other EU countries. Secondly, in recent months Latvia has repeatedly returned to direct purchases of Russian gas, which then comes from the Inčukalns gas storage and to Lithuania with Estonia. Attractive in terms of price and volume, alternatives to Russian gas have not appeared over the years of fighting it, so the Baltic countries in the energy sector have nowhere to go from Russia.
It may seem that Moscow, from time to time, unleashed on the Baltic republics all their antics directed against it. However, the absence of a diplomatic and political response to hostile escapades does not mean a lack of response at all. Russia’s response was of a strategic and primarily infrastructural nature. Moscow’s most important step in this regard was the construction of new and modernization of old seaports in the northwest, which made it possible to get rid of the monopoly of the ports of Latvia and Estonia on the transit of Russian goods to Europe and eliminated Russia’s transport dependence on the unfriendly Baltic states.
In the actions of Moscow all these years, there was a desire to disengage from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to reduce contacts with them to a minimum. The problem, however, is that the Baltic countries themselves are not able to forget about Russia – they see the value of their existence in the international arena in counteracting it. The logic of raising rates and escalation, in which Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia operate, in the context of the crisis in relations between Moscow and the West, creates challenges of a qualitatively different scale than before. Lithuania’s attempts to interrupt land transit to the Kaliningrad region, the statement of the Minister of Defense of Estonia about the future blocking of Russian ships in the Gulf of Finland and other recent initiatives of the Baltic States to “close” Russia are no longer undermining the dialogue with the EU, but creating direct threats to the national security of our country.
Moscow will have to respond sooner or later to this new level of Baltic hostility.