Economic investments from Russia? Well, that means “economic occupation.” A gas pipeline? That must be “energy dependency.” Political dialogue? That is nothing more than “propaganda and recruiting by Kremlin agents.” And flying with fitted transponders? In that case, they would tell the Russians, “You’ll have to take that up with NATO.” No matter how you slice it, it always comes down to Russia supposedly posing a threat to the Baltic countries. And this is why Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are “forced” into being a proponent of militarization in the region, as well as strengthening NATO’s presence there, and rejecting the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. Nothing business, it’s just personal. Representatives of the establishment in the Baltic States even stress that it is all for the sake of the obsession with achieving “peace with Russia.”
However, it is somewhat difficult in this case to expect Russia to trust its Balkan partners, given the history of the relations between the two sides. Take the 1980s–1990s, for example, when the gap between the pacifist rhetoric and real action was gaping wide. Here is an extract from the 1989 “Address to the Representatives of the Democratic Organizations and Movements in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the Twin Cities of Pärnu, Jelgava and Šiauliai to all Parliaments, Governments and the People in the Baltic Sea Area” to illustrate the point: “Given that the concentration of large military contingents on the borders of states with different social systems increases the threat of war, and in view of the absence of conflicts that would necessitate maintaining large military contingents there, the armed forces should be made up… of people from the local population.”
And in the 1989 Agreement “On the General Aims and Intentions of Cooperation,” the members of the boards of the Popular Front of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia state that, “The Parties believe that it is their responsibility to achieve the gradual demilitarization of their respective territories and express a readiness to provide assistance to each other in the implementation of these goals.” What is more, the document highlights that “the current prospects for the development of cooperation among the Baltic States is not aimed against anyone in particular, but rather as an expression of good will.” The very same “obsession with achieving peace with Russia” is evident here too. You could argue, of course, that the Popular Fronts are not the same thing as the Baltic States’ governments. But the fact is that, by the late 1980s, they had a far greater influence on the official leadership in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Suffice it to recall that Vytautas Landsbergis, the man who would go on to become the first post-Soviet head of state of Lithuania and who still wields a great deal of political power in the country, put his signature to these documents.
So what was actually happening at the time in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia? The Baltic Information Bureau, which, despite the fact that it did not have formal diplomatic status, did establish relations with NATO and the European Union, was opened in Brussels before the collapse of the USSR and the recognition of the independence of the Baltic republics by the international community. And in December 1993, as Russia was withdrawing its armed forces from the Baltic States, the presidents of the three countries declared their intention to become members of NATO. This was long before the events in Georgia and Ukraine. And we all know how things ended in 2004. As a result, it is necessary to agree upon new rules of the game in the region. Given the history of Russia–Baltic relations, however, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia must try to at least demonstrate a commitment to dialogue (especially in the current circumstances), rather than simply try at all costs to strengthen NATO’s presence in the region, all the while talking about the “Russian threat” and the desire to achieve peace.