Which countries are allies of Estonia?

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania

Kai-Olaf Lang

To person

holds a doctorate in political science and is a Senior Fellow in the EU / Europe research group of the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin. [email protected]

For the foreign and security policy of the three Baltic states, Russia has been a formative element and an overarching determinant of risk assessment since its renewed independence at the beginning of the 1990s - even after Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO and the EU in 2004. [1] Because despite phases of pragmatic coexistence, the relationship between all three countries and Russia has never been completely free of tension since then. Time and again there are frictions and collisions, which not only testify to the fragility of the Baltic-Russian relationship, but also document the asymmetries and power imbalances between the three countries and their large neighboring countries.

While doubts about its predictability had already increased in recent years, especially after the Georgian War in 2008 and against the background of Russia's generally tougher foreign policy, the Baltic states now see numerous previously abstract conflict scenarios as possible as a result of the Ukraine crisis in 2014. Russia has turned out to be a "revanchist and revisionist neighbor" who wants to change the existing European order. [2] The fears in the Baltic states are also fed by the fact that Russia obviously regards them as part of the Russian sphere of influence and that its new protection policy can create pretexts for intervention against its own compatriots. As a result, the three countries are becoming aware of their open flanks vis-à-vis Russia with new explosiveness.

Russian minorities

Large Russian (speaking) communities live in all three Baltic states. The proportion of Russian minorities in the total population in Estonia and Latvia is around a quarter, the proportion of Russian speakers, including people of Ukrainian or Belarusian nationality, is even higher at around a third. [3] In Lithuania, the Polish population group forms the largest national minority with just under six percent, and around four and a half percent of the Lithuanian population belong to the Russian minority. The proportion of Russian speakers is estimated at around one seventh. [4]

Relations between the majority populations and the Russian (speaking) minorities are tense and characterized by mutual distrust. In addition to citizenship and language-related questions, the politics of the past and memory is a particularly sensitive complex of problems, especially with a view to the 20th century. [5] The riots after the removal of the so-called bronze soldier, a memorial commemorating the liberation of Estonia by the Red Army in 1944, from downtown Tallinn in 2007 was the most impressive testimony to date of the explosive power that the different interpretations of the recent past harbor. Even more pragmatic Russian forces in the Baltic states are often unwilling to openly deal with the ambivalence of the "liberation" of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and to call it what it was - the beginning of a totalitarian dictatorship. The "geopolitics of history" (Nils Muižnieks) is therefore a burden especially for Latvia and Estonia, since memory patterns for majority and minority populations create identity and remain politically relevant to action.

In view of the obvious areas of conflict and against the background of the Ukraine crisis, the question arises as to the susceptibility of the Russian (speaking) population groups in the Baltic states to possible Russian destabilization measures. After all, in acute situations there are always noticeable differences of opinion between the majority and the Russian (speaking) minority. In Latvia, for example, two-thirds of the respondents from the Russophone community consider Russia's action in Ukraine to be justified, while almost four-fifths of the Latvian population group are of the opposite opinion. [6] In Estonia, there are great differences in attitudes towards security policy issues: 78 percent of the Estonian and 41 percent of the "non-Estonian" population consider NATO to be the best guarantee of security, while 53 percent of the minority see cooperation with Russia compared to 18 percent of Estonians . [7]

But surveys show that the Russophones' relationship to their home states is heterogeneous. So neither a clear pro-Russia attitude nor a dominance of "Euro-Russian" or "Baltic-Russian" attitudes can be discerned. In this respect, one should speak of the existence of several Russian minorities in Estonia or Latvia rather than of a single one. In Estonia, five sub-clusters were identified according to their political, legal, linguistic and economic integration: a total of half of the Russophones are therefore poorly or not at all integrated. In contrast, 16 percent are "Russian-speaking Estonian patriots" and 21 percent are "successfully integrated". In turn, 13 percent of those surveyed are critical of politics in both Estonia and Russia, have good knowledge of the Estonian language, but have a weak civic identity. [8]

Politically and in terms of security policy, the behavior of the Russian minorities must therefore be de-dramatized on the one hand. The support from Moscow for the minority movements in the Baltic states seems to have only limited effectiveness, [9] and the separatist efforts of the Russian (speaking) minorities are extremely low due to the living conditions alone. The Estonian political scientist Andres Kasekamp sums this up when he proposes not to ask his Russian-speaking compatriots how they feel about the annexation of Crimea or Vladimir Putin, but rather whether they prefer to pay in rubles instead of euros, or whether the Russian healthcare system would prefer to pay in rubles instead of euros Estonian would prefer. [10]

On the other hand, identity differences, a lack of inclusion of parts of the Russian community and integration into the Russian media sphere certainly offer starting points for external destabilization. Above all, the "infosphere" is considered the central arena for the exercise of Russian softpower. [11] Indeed, there are signs of a "divided media space" in the Baltic states, with Russian speakers in the three countries consuming predominantly Russian media. The television stations NTV Mir or Pervyj Baltijskij Kanal are particularly popular. The Baltic states are therefore looking for opportunities to develop new media offers for these communities. In Estonia, for example, ETV +, a Russian-language television channel for the public broadcaster, was set up in 2015.

For the Russian (speaking) minorities, Estonia or Latvia are economically and politically attractive for the most part, but there are still cultural and linguistic ties to Russia. Russophones or Russians in the Baltic states therefore increasingly see themselves as part of the cultural Russian world (russkij me), but do not want the political Russian world (rossiysky me) belong to. [12]