AMALGAMATION OF CIVILIZATIONS IN THE BALTICS
By Dr. Jiri Valenta & Leni Valenta
Geography is Destiny
As with nations everywhere, the geography of the Baltics has been their destiny. Located at a strategic crossroad between the Baltic Sea and Eastern and Western Europe, Estonia is about a third smaller and relatively flatter than Latvia. In medieval times, the Western part of present day Latvia was known as Vidzme, while the Eastern part was, and still is called Latgale. Vidzme and Estonia were also joined together in a single country known as Livonia. (Lithuania, for centuries part of a single commonwealth with Poland, will be discussed at a later time).
What both Latvia and Estonia have in common are numerous lakes and waterways which have figured as routes for trade as well as conquest. Among these is Estoni'a's Lake Peipus, one of Europe's largest lakes, which shares a border with Russia, and the Narva River which flows from Lake Peipus to the Baltic Sea. What distinguishes Estonia from Latvia, however, is that Estonian geography has undergone more significant changers over the centuries. From the 5th to the 16th century, as the map of Livonia clearly indicates, there was a well known Viking and Russian warriors' and traders' waterway going from the Baltic Sea through Tartu to Lake Peipsi.
As posited by Tartu scholar Malle Salupere, the main rivers of Estonia were the Emajogi and Parnu, known by the Latin name Mater Aquarum [mother of waters], in Estonian as “Emavesi" and in Russian as "Omov’zha [mother water]."10 Both rivers helped to comprise the shortest trade route between the major Russian trade centers of Novgorod and Pskov, the Estonian city of Tartu and the Baltic Sea. As Malle explained to us, however, this important river route to Tartu and then to the Baltic Sea was interrupted with geologic changes during the Middle Ages. After that, Tartu’s commercial and strategic importance declined and it became primarily the intellectual and cultural center of the country.
In contrast to Estonia, Latvia has preserved its largest river the Daugava (in Russian, Dvina), as its main river. Unlike the Emajogi, however, the Daugava has been preserved, becoming the waterway of warriors and traders. The "roots of Latvian culture," in Ivans words, "are associated since ancient times with the Daugava, the "ebonit river." It is the force behind capitol Riga’s growth as a major trade center. 11 As Ivans told us and has also written, the Daugava has been the main force in shaping Latvian civilization. “Without the river, there is no farmer… River is life’s road through the world.” 12
Yet, even more important than the river waterways was the Baltic Sea. Also a route for conquest, it enabled Estonia and Latvia to trade with Western nations, particularly nearby Finland and Sweden, but also Denmark and Germany. By contrast, Lithuania, with its short coastline, marshes and deep forests, was more isolated. Still today, with the whole Baltic region lacking a viable system of modern railroads and super highways, the best routes to Tallinn and Riga are by sea from Helsinki, Stockholm and St. Petersburg -- not, as we ourselves experienced, from ports in the Baltic countries. Land access to Estonia from central Europe is available by buses and taxis from Warsaw via Vilnius and Riga. The land route, however, goes through territory sandwiched between the Russian territory of Kalingrad on the left and Belarus, the last communist dictatorship on the continent, on the right. Our Polish taxi driver was understandably nervous about straying into either one.
Clash of Civilizations
Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis presents a useful -- if incomplete --departure for discussing Estonian and Latvian history. Undoubtedly, clashes of civilization were encouraged by the geographic location and setting. As Dominic Lieven shows, the existence of great, navigable waterways linking the Muscovite heartland with the Baltics encouraged Russia to not only trade with these neighbors, but to repeatedly attempt to conquer them. 13
The first foray came during the Kievan Rus when Prince Yaroslav captured the strategic, then commercial center of Tartu in 1050. During the eleven years of Russian occupation, Tartu‘s name was changed to the Russian “Yurjev.” Another occurred in 1558, when Russia’s Ivan the Terrible began the Livonian War, using as his pretext the so called “Tartu tax” that had been levied on the city’s bishopric centuries ago. The Russian occupation lasted until 1581. Ivan’s conquests included Narva as well as the Hanseatic, Latvian city of Cesis (1571), another important trade center.
The third Russian conquest of Livonia came in 1710 as the tsar Westernizer, Peter the Great, subdued the leading regional power, Sweden, in a coalition with the Danes and Poles. He officially annexed it to Russia in 1721. There it would remain for 200 years. However, Latgale, then under Polish rule, was incorporated into Russia, together with Poland and Lithuania during the 1775 partition of the Poland under the Empress Catherine the Great.
Briefly gaining independence in 1919, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were re-conquered by the empire’s brutal forces in 1940-41 and again in 1945, this time for the next 46 years. There were certain differences with Latvia, however. During WWI, the Latvians, unlike the Estonians, were allowed to create their own army and fiercely but unsuccessfully fought the Germans on behalf of the Russian empire. Following the armistice, Latvia, earlier than Estonia, became independent on November 18, 1918, with the blessing of Lenin. The favor was in part returned as some Latvians, like Ivans’ uncle, served in Lenin’s Latvian Riflemen, the faithful Kremlin guards. Yet most Latvians, like the Estonians, resented the 1940-41 and 1945 Soviet occupation of their country.
Clash Within Civilizations
Here we depart from Huntington, as the use, and even over-use, of “clash of civilizations” is too simplistic to explain complex Estonian and Latvian history. Both of these countries rich histories also include the dynamic process of clashes and conquests within Western civilization. Tallinn was first occupied in 1290 by the Danes. The name of the city is an abbreviation of the Estonian name Taani Linnus, which means “Danish stronghold.”
In the 14th century, the Danes sold the city to the German Knights of the Teutonic Order, who renamed it Reval. German knights, landlords and scholars left their lasting influence in Estonia and latvia German also became the language of erudition. Under German, and later Swedish rule, both countries accepted Protestant values.
Other major clashes within civilizations occurred in the 16t-17thh centuries. Livonia, was ceded to Sweden, while Latgale [Eastern Latvia], experienced repeated occupations by the commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania. Unsurprisingly, Latgale was greatly shaped during this period by the Polish Catholic, counter-Reformation culture. Eventually, the Polish Jesuits advanced from Latgale to Eastern Estonia, where in 1558, they established a college of higher education in Tartu. However, the city’s citizens resented the attempts of the Jesuits to convert them. “Since they were human beings and not geese … they wished to serve the faith of their fathers.” 14
Largely neglected by historians, Polish conquest and rule lasted for forty years in Tartu and seventy in Latgale. In the 17th century, however, the determined Catholic Jesuits were replaced by Swedish “fanatical Lutherans,“ who brought with them not only their religion, but the requirement that every adult be literate. 15 It was they who founded Tartu University in 1632, operating out of the former Jesuit college establishedoriginallly by the Poles. Yet, although the city of Tartu changed hands five times thereafter, the Catholic-Polish era is still remembered today in the design of the city flag of Tartu, a close cousin of the Polish flag as explained to us by Tartu deputy mayor Aadu Must.
Meanwhile, Catholicism and a strong, historical-religious tie with Poland remained persistently rooted not only in Lithuania but in Latgale. Even today, the basilica of the Latvian city of Aglona serves as a center for Catholic programs and pilgrimages for the whole Baltic region as well as Russia. Thus, the clash within civilizations here described has also had a lasting effect on subsequent history. Consider also that during their first struggle for independence in WWI, Estonians together with West Latvians defeated German units with the tacit support of the British fleet. Meanwhile, the Easterners in Latgale allied themselves with Catholic Poland and Lithuania to defeat the Bolsheviks.
Amalgamation of Civilizations
By now it should be obvious that Estonian and Latvian history cannot be encapsulated simply within the struggle between East and West. Aside from excluding clashes within civilization, the weakness of Huntington’s paradigm also lies in the absence of the amalgamation of civilizations -- which have also shaped the political cultures of the Baltics.
The foundation of the Western economic system in both Estonia and Latvia was laid in medieval times. While Russia remained isolated from Europe by the Tartar rule, all the Livonian cities, Tallinn, Ravel, Tartu, Parnu and Riga, flourished as members of the Hanseatic League. The prosperity of these towns was based on their amalgamation not only of the Western, Protestant religions, but also a mercantilist, Western, economic system. The legacy of that system would remain their dominant mode -- even through the communist era.
During this process, the Latvians and Estonians evolved different political cultures as well as what some view as a different national characters. The Estonians evolved, in the words of Anatol Lieven, as “cool, rational, organized, hard working and careful with money a people who tend to command respect rather than love.” Their character is also “embodied in their national anthem, (the very one we saw and heard sung at the Savisaar gathering) “a beautiful but grim and implacable sounding Protestant hymn which they share with the Finns.” 16 Their flag, a cerebral and ascetic blue, black and white, also reflects the national character.
On the other hand, Lieven posits the Latvians as “more emotional” and “mystical” than the Estonians, asserting that both the Germans and other Balts regarded them as “an unreliable people, with a rare capacity to be passive and patient but to suddenly flare up into gusts of terrible violence.” 17 Whether true or not, it was surely apparent during Russia’s 1905 revolution and in 1988-91, that there was far more fire and fury in Latvia and Lithuania than in Estonia, with its prevalent, nonviolent, legalistic culture.
In contrast to the Estonian national flag, the Latvian one that we saw in Riga and Cesa is not ascetic, but rather bound in spiritual myth and meaning. Dainis Ivans explained to us, and also wrote, that the flag was born when a wounded and dying chieftain was wrapped by a Latvian tribe in a white flag. It is “saturated with blood, and in the middle, as a symbol of the virtue of honor and love of one’s native land -- is the river of destiny. The white Daugava.” 18 To him, the white color of the river symbolizes not only “clean” but also “beautiful.” Moved by Ivans’ lyric romanticism, we strove to remember that the Daugava, originating in Russia and flowing through Belorussia, is actually very polluted and a subject of deep concern to the populace.
Yet other aspects of the Estonian and Latvian natures have been described. While writer Jan Kross attributes the survival of the Estonians to "cheerful skepticism,” the ability to doubt the religious and foreign values offered to them by others without getting too excited about it, Anatol Lieven describes what he views as the Latvians’ “weird capacity to believe two contradictory things (belief systems) at the same time.” 19 Here Ivans also furnished a good example -- his uncle, whose picture hung on the wall, served not only as chief of Lenin’s guards during the 1917 revolution, but also in the German legion at the end of WWII. During the war he was exiled to Siberia by the Soviet Union.
To Lievan, the Latvians mixed character is also reflected in their language, resembling Lithuanian spoken with an Estonian accent. He also attributes what he calls the “indecision” and “a certain lack of direction” in the Latvians to a different regional and geographic history, including a greater variety of rulers. He further notes that the Latvians are “politically and culturally divided -- neither fish nor fowl.” However, these differences within Latvia are not as deep as those within the Ukraine, whose eastern and western parts are to be discussed in another section. Nevertheless, the Western province of Latvia, Vidzme, is still closer culturally to Estonia with its Western Protestant, German and Swedish traditions, while the Eastern province, formerly Latgale, is more associated with Catholic Poland, Lithuania and Orthodox Russia. Thus the Latvians are less homogenous than either the Estonians or Lithuanians. Indeed, the dialect spoken in Latgale is almost a separate language. 20
Liberal-Minded Russian Rulers
The obsession with the “clash of civilizations paradigm” has also permitted some scholars to forget the dramatic and positive amalgamations and changes introduced by some liberal-minded, Russian tsars and commissars. Having defeated Napoleon, yet influenced by French revolutionary ideas, Tsar Alexander I understood well the prevalent, Western orientation of Baltic culture and consequently introduced significant reforms. Above all, he abolished serfdom in the Baltic states several decades before his grandson, Alexander II, did the same in Russia in 1862. Unlike the Russian peasants, the Estonian and Latvian ones could buy and sell land.
In 1802, Alexander reopened Tartu University, which became the “Sorbonne” of not only old Livonia, but the Russian Empire. Many students who studied at Tartu later emerged as professors at leading Russian universities, often acting as agents of European culture. In general too, the Russian rulers supported the civilizing role of the Baltic Germans, particularly in economics, administration and law.
In the early 1860’s, Alexander I’s liberalization efforts in the Baltics continued under Alexander II, who permitted the founding of the Estonian Aleksandrikool [Alexander School] in memory of his grandfather. During the long Russian-Soviet rule of the Baltics, liberal minded leaders have also tolerated repeated resurrections of nationalism. The first one arrived in the 1860’s under Alexander II, following the lost Crimean War. In the spirit of glasnost, the first Baltic newspapers were printed and the first freedom-oriented song festivals were allowed to organize in Tartu and Riga. In Mart Larh's words, the Estonians "sung themselves into a nation." 21
Remarkably, more than a century after Alexander II, in 1985, another of the empire’s liberal-minded rulers, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, like Alexander II earlier, eventually allowed economic reforms and publications of independent newspapers in the Baltics as part of his own policies of glasnost. The Estonians again sung themselves into a nation in 1988 with the Kremlin's acquiesence. This time, the empire's rulers even allowed the creation of popular fronts, orginally permitted to support Gorbachev's reform-minded policies.
The Struggle for National Independence
In both Estonia and Latvia, the struggle for independence ensued twice during the 20th century during the empire's weakening and collapse. In both cases, the first phase was a struggle just for autonomy. The initial struggle occurred in 1917-1918 following the Bolshevik Revolution in October. Both countries declared themselves independent, democratic countries. But Russian forces, occupying the Baltics during WWI, did not recognize their independence. Nor did the Bolsheviks, who attacked the country in 1918. Estonia, and especially Latvia, were occupied both by German and Soviet forces, terror raging on both sides. However, with the collapse of the German Empire, the weakness of the new Soviet one, and sea support from the British Royal Navy, Estonia and Latvians in Vidzme were ultimately able to defeat both armies. In 1918, the Latviadeclared their independence. That Lenin’s embattled government provided the first international recognition of Estonia in 1920, might explain why Lenin’s enormous statue still reigns before the Herman Order castle in Narva.
The second struggle for national independence began in the late 1980‘s. Once again, the Estonian and Latvian people, with their basically Western traditions and outlook, began their peaceful struggle for the revolutionary transformations of their countries. First came their rejection of economic dictates by the empire’s military-industrial complex, which sought to introduce industrial projects that would ruin the local ecology. In Estonia, the intellectuals and students, primarily in Tartu, began their quiet protests against the building of phosphate mines in the countryside. In Latvia, as explained to us by Ivans, the struggle was to prevent the construction of three power plants on the Daugava River, a project advocated by the Soviet military industrial complex. Ivans became one of the key writers advocating that the project be discarded. While doing so, he found the support of the key, glasnost-minded Soviet journal in Moscow.
The ecological struggle both in Estonia and Latvia had, by 1988, once again turned into a strugge for political freedom and autonomy within the Soviet Empire. Thus, in 1988, both Estonians and Latvians, while organizing popular fronts, were initially aiming not for full independence, but something similar to what the Finnish duchy had enjoyed under the tsars; domestic autonomy but foreign policy guided by Moscow. However the resentment and pressures of the Kremlin hardliners to reverse this process radicalized both Estonians and Latvians. The struggle for autonomy gradually transformed itself into a struggle for independence. Tthe 1991 attempted coup in Moscow was the proverbial straw that broke the camel.
Clash of Two Totalitarian Empires
By now it should be obvious that the key to the present Russian-Estonian/Latvian tension is not simply rooted in the clash of civilizations, but also clashes and amalgamations within civilizations. Yet, perhaps the most crucial element in shaping present history was the 1941-45 clash of two implacable enemies of Western civilization and democratic values, Hitler‘s Nazi Germany and Stalin‘s communist USSR.
Here, one must recall that, whereas a Western economic system was ingrained in the Estonian and Latvian genes throughout the centuries, political democratic values were nevertheless rather weak. Democracy was substantially vitiated by internal coups in both countries in 1934, which empowered authoritarian regimes.
Then came a real catastrophe! Following the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, both dictators, Hitler and Stalin, divided most of central Europe into two spheres of influence. Midway in the underbelly of Poland, the victorious German army met the Red army to celebrate the 4th historical partition of this unfortunate country. Meanwhile, in the spring of 1940, the Baltic states became Stalin’s prize, as, like his favorite tsar, Ivan the Terrible, the Russian dictator imposed a reign of terror on Livonian lands and Lithuania.
The new empire's occupation and terror was distinguished by a peculiarity of Estonia’s political culture. Unlike their Ugro-Finnish brethren across the Finnish gulf, the Estonians have traditionally favored negotiation and legal treaties rather than formidable resistance to an attacking power. Thus, in 1940, while the Finns bravely fought the Russians against overwhelming odds during the Winter War, and while Latvia and Lithuania readied their armies to encounter a Soviet occupation, Tallinn, not even partially mobilized, simply surrendered to the Soviets, making joint Baltic resistence impossible. It also paid a heavy price. Ten thousand Estonians were deported to the Soviet Union. Yet 15,000 Latvians were likewise deported, many dying en route to Siberia.
By the end of June 1941, Estonia and Latvia were occupied by the Germans as they attacked the USSR, and mass confusion mingled with unfounded hopes. The Nazis were sometimes joined by self defense Estonian and Latvian commandos who resisted the Soviets in the forests and greeted the Germans at first as “liberators.” In return the Germans regarded the Estonians, but not the Latvians, as racially superior to other Baltic peoples and employed some of them in the task of destroying Jews and other “undesirables” like gypsies and left-leaning Estonians. Estonia had only a small Jewish population, just under 1000. On German orders, the Estonian self defense commandos killed them. 22 Doubtless, some were also involved in the transfer of thousands of other Jews from other European countries to Estonia for extermination. In Latvia, which had a prewar Jewish population of 95,000, only about a thousand survived the Nazi genocide. 23
Towards Conflict Prevention
It is impossible to determine whether the crimes and malice of the Nazi regime were more virulent than the Soviet one. But by no means could the occupation of the Baltic States by the Germans be presented as the defense of Western civilization as trumpeted by a few misguided writers in Estonia. Ultimately, many Estonians and Latvians awoke from their illusion that the Germans would ever restore their independence. Not surprisingly, some, like Estonian Viktor Palm, emigrated to the Soviet Union. Palm, who left with his father as a youth of fourteen, later joined the Soviet army.
There followed the allied victory and the enormous task of reconstructing bombed out Baltic cities. Meanwhile, following the Russian tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II, the commissars pursued an even harsher Russification. With it came further large deportations of prominent Estonians and Latvians. Nor had they abated even by 1949. Malle Salupere recalled to us the deportation that year of her own family and other kulaks (farm-owning peasants) to the Soviet Union. As the deportations drained the native Baltic populations, their places were taken by Russian immigrants.
As we have witnessed in our travels, all three Baltic countries, particularly Estonia and Latvia, are relatively poor and small by Western European standards. Yet, Western counterparts, Greece, Ireland and even perhaps Spain, are viewed as economically more risky than the Baltic nations. In particular, Estonia and Latvia have managed to reassure world markets by austere measures, dramatically lowering wages 10% in Estonia and 15% in Latvia, at the expense of employment and growth. Like the CEO's of embattled corporations, they have clipped spending despite the high social price, and remained solvent. Grounded in the Western economic tradition, and despite its tumultuous past, Estonia in particular has remained economically viable -- in contrast even to Latvia. Dainis Ivans told us that he felt the Euro might be introduced in Latvia by 2012-13, but no banks are presently discussing it.
Some of Estonia’s economic success must be attributed to the ruling coalition led by Lahr in the early 1990’s. Yet both nations have enjoyed economic autonomy throughout their history, even despite forced Russification in the late 19th century and forced Sovietization in the 20th. Moreover, both have traditionally enjoyed a higher standard of living than most of the Soviet Union, as well as a relatively more relaxed political atmosphere since the 1960's. It was for that reason that prominent Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn found for some time a sort of refuge in the vicinity of Tartu as he was harassed by Leonid Brezhnev's KGB in the late 1960's.
Traveling through Estonia in 1987 the late Soviet dissident, Andre Sakharov wrote,
We were amazed by Estonia's high standard of living, the organization and tempo of economic activity, the
patent contrast to European Russia... We saw neat, well-spaced farmhouses, peasants preparing fodder
with their mowers for their cows (several per farm) and working the fields with their tractors... We often
heard people in Estonia saty that they work harder and better, and therefore they live better. That, of
course, is only a small part of the truth, the superficial explanation. The deeper reason is that the steamroller
of socialism passed over their land later, in a watered-down, rather slipshod fashion. It had less time to do
its destructive work. 24
As Gorbachev’s one-time chief advisor, the late Alexander Yakovlev, explained to us during our 2000 visit to Moscow, the higher standard of living, together with the Soviet industrial expansion into Latvia and Estonia, made these countries a target for Russian immigration. The key fact is that at the end of WWII, 90% of the population consisted of native Estonians, whereas now a third of the population is Russian. Meanwhile, half of Latvia‘s population is now Slavic. Of course, for both countries, this includes Ukranians and Byelorussians as well as Russians.
We are not qualified or eager to review the political differences among Estonian and Latvian parties. However, we do conclude that Estonia’s and Latvia’s unfortunate histories, marred by the struggle of and between two totalitarian empires, is still haunting these countries today. The problems concerning the rights of the Russian minorities in both Estonia and Latvia persist. The episodes discussed by Dr. Rosenfeld herein do not threaten Estonian security or its commitment to NATO, but neither can they be easily dismissed. They surely bear some watching.
There is one primary conclusion which emerges from this discussion. Senior diplomats in the U.S. must actively speak up against the glorification of the totalitarian past, be it communist or fascist. American policy should work towards keeping the Baltic states firmly within the Atlantic alliance and encouraging the buildup of strategic highways and railroads to join the defense policies of all three states. U.S. policy-makers and diplomats must develop a new, comprehensive framework for mitigating against the provocative occurrences that prevent the rapprochement of the Russian minorities in these countries with the Baltic peoples.
The events described by Rosenfeld only play into the hands of those in Moscow who would like to restore the Russian empire in the Baltics.
International Geostrategic Maritime Observatory
RUSSIA’S STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE IN THE BALTICS: A CHALLENGE TO NATO
Published on August 12, 2017
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Dr. Jiri ValentaNon Resident Senior Research Associate atBESA [Begin-Sadat] Center for Str... See more
Jiri and Leni Friedman Valenta
Published by the International Geostrategic Marine Observatory, under the aegis of European Affairs Executive Ellen Wasylina, Paris, Spring-Summer, 2017 No. 8 Strategic Baltic Sea
General Sir Richard Shirreff, a former NATO Deputy Supreme Commander of Europe and its highest-ranking British officer, has created a stir with a novel that anticipates a Russian invasion of the Baltics in 2017 followed by a war with NATO. In his fictional projection he raises the question of whether Putin might take a fateful decision in the region through NATO member Latvia, a state with about 30% Russian speakers, as he did earlier in 2008 Georgia, 2014 Crimea and 2014-2017 in the eastern Ukraine. Will he then, as Shirreff posits, blackmail NATO by threatening a nuclear response? And if NATO collectively responds according to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, will a conventional war transition into a nuclear one?
Yet another warlike scenario for Russia’s conquest of the Baltics has been suggested by retired U.S. General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. An outspoken and thoughtful warrior and military intellectual, Keane posits the Russians would invade not Latvia, but Lithuania from their enclave of Kalingrad and then go on to conquer the whole Baltics region.
One should certainly not underestimate the threat from this former Teutonic city, 6000 square miles squeezed between between Lithuania and Poland. The nearest Russian territory to London and other major Western cities, Kalingrad is now the most militarized territory in Europe. The Russians have deployed not just conventional motorized troops, but Iskander-M and Bastion missile systems used very successfully in Syria.
As Keane posits, there is a real possibility of Russia launching a hybrid, military occupation similar to what he did in eastern Ukraine through Lithuania. He adds, “What Russia is attempting to accomplish is what they have rehearsed in more than a dozen exercises in the last three years -- to take away the US/NATO air and maritime power advantage by denying these systems access to the area.”
Yet a third scenario involves the purpose of the scheduled, largest Zapad 2017 maneuvers ever in Belorussia, bordering Latvia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, and coming in September 2017. In this regard, a third hypothetical scenario, posed by Belarus Digest, pictures Russian proxies operating as Belorussian nationalists or Ukrainian provocateurs or even local security forces, to perform a Kremlin coup in this non NATO country, which can then serve Russia as a flash point for menacing the Baltics.
Our paper examines the viability of these three war-like scenarios as part of our study of Russia’s possible interventionist moves within the geopolitically important Baltic area and what NATO and the countries threatened are doing in response. Importantly, these NATO countries present an enormous risk to Russia. First we examine the pattern of Putin’s interventionism at Russia’s periphery where, both in Georgia and Ukraine, Putin did not attempt costly, full interventions. The novelty under him has been limited, low-cost interventions aimed at carving only territories with sizable Russian speaking populations.
Putin’s intentions are also likely influenced by the re-emerging geopolitical realignment in the Baltics, where the deployment of a Russian naval force in the Baltic Sea and the buildup in Kalingrad, have brought significant changes to Swedish and Finnish perceptions. Both countries are getting closer to joining NATO -- surely at a major geopolitical cost to Russian calculations in the Baltics. Although they are not NATO countries, Sweden has signed a defense pact with the U.S. and Finland wants to do the same.
Of great concern to these countries, due to their vulnerability are Sweden’s Gotland Island and Finland's Ayland Islands. Falling into Putin’s hands Gotland would pose a strategic nightmare for NATO in its efforts to aid the Baltics. Thus, Sweden has already increased its cooperation with NATO forces as we saw in the recent Baltops [Baltics] exercises. This June the Baltops will include unusual high end military maneuvers. Sweden has also reintroduced troops into Gotland against a possible Russian invasion.
Our preliminary conclusion is that a direct Russia’s attack on a NATO members country like Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania is unlikely. Still, military conflict in the geopolitically important region of the Baltic Sea can indeed happen by policymakers’s] miscalculation and not necessarily through a suicidal direct, Russian invasion provoking war with NATO. We thus examine three scenarios. 1. Conflict between the ethnic, large Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia and their existing governments, perhaps fomented by Russia. 2. Cybernetic warfare and mission creep. In 2007 Russia waged a cyber war in Estonia, the first in the history of mankind. It’s a new weapon and war can erupt through a cybernetic miscalculation in the fall of 2017. 3. A coup and occupation by Russia of Belorussia and its spillover effects on the Baltic states.
While focusing NATO’s attention on Russia’s possible geopolitical moves in the Baltic littoral states, we also examine what has not received sufficient focus; the motivations behind Putin’s interventionism, the overall geopolitical changes in the region and --very important -- the linkages of the Russian threat to Belorussia with continuous interventions in Syria and Ukraine.
Since our paper was published, Russia has begun joint maneuvers in the Baltic Sea with China.
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