Baltic States Between Russia and a Hard Place

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Baltic States Between Russia and a Hard Place

A Russian special forces operator during the Day of the Special Operations Force (27.02.2017)

The political and, in some cases, military stand-off between the West and Russia that has unfolded over Ukraine and Syria also includes a number of secondary fronts in which the two actors’ interests clash. The Baltic States, a long dormant political issue, reactivated themselves following the Ukrainian coup of 2014 as their leaders believed they could benefit from fanning the flames of conflict. In that they were likely mistaken, as the status of the Baltics in the future European order is far from certain.

“Little Green Men”

The coup in Ukraine and the subsequent defection of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia followed by the attempted secession of the Donbass prompted the leaders of the Baltic States to claim they were the next target of the “resurgent Russian imperialism” that sought to restore the USSR via a variety of “hybrid war” measures. Perfectly normal peacetime activities, such as Russian military maneuvers in the European part of Russia, Baltic Fleet exercises, or military flights over the Baltic Sea were suddenly depicted as somehow illegitimate and aggressive. This approach had a twofold rationale: first, delegitimize ethnic Russian organizations and parties in the Baltics which seek to counter the worst discrimination regime in Europe which deprives many of them of citizenship in countries they reside. Secondly, the “look, look, Russia is attacking us too” card was intended at securing economic and military assistance from EU and NATO that, in 2014, seemed about to shower on the front-line states in the new “Cold War” against Russia.

NATO to the rescue?

These hopes so far look misplaced. While NATO maneuvers on the Baltic Sea and on the territory of its “eastern flank” states do command headlines, so far they are far less than meets the eye. NATO’s bark is still considerably worse than its bite. The most significant indicator of NATO intentions is the construction of permanent bases and logistical infrastructure. Thus far, the eastern-most permanent NATO presence appears to be in Poland, in the form of expanded logistical presence and a Polish-led divisional headquarters that, in the event of war, would coordinate the actions of Polish and Baltic States military formations. However, even the supposedly “permanent” US troop presence in Poland is limited to brigade rotations, deployed away from their permanent bases in Germany or even the United States. Those rotating brigades then spin off battalions on forays into the Baltics where they make use of local bases and training grounds, but with no indication of intent to “bed down” for the long haul. Other NATO countries have also contributed units to exercise in the Baltics, and the three countries still benefit from NATO air policing mission, which collectively make them a significant security drain for NATO member-states. All in all, NATO exercises seem more due to the shock at Russia’s ability to mount major surprise operations with hardly a warning from NATO’s intelligence services than a real effort to bolster the Baltics’ defense posture, which in any event would be a very expensive proposition.

“It’s the economy, stupid”

The center of gravity of Baltic States politics are their economics. During the Soviet era, the three countries were significant manufacturing centers, well integrated into the overall economy of USSR. Following independence and the eventual EU integration, their economies have deteriorated to the point the single most important economic activity is transit of goods betwen the EU to Russia (and, to a lesser extent, China) and vice versa.  In that respect, they are no different from Ukraine whose economy also heavily depends on transit of goods between East and West. The closest Western European equivalent would be the Netherlands and Belgium, whose economies by themselves would not justify the existence of Rotterdam and Antwerp as the largest and second largest sea-ports in Europe. By the same token, Estonia has the ice-free port of Muuga, Latvia boasts of Riga, Liepaja, and Ventspils, and even Lithuania’s economy benefits heavily from the port of Klaipeda. All of these facilities were built by USSR in order to provide commercial links to the rest of the world, and now they are the cornerstones of these countries’ economies. But if you can imagine what would happen to these two countries’ economies if they decided to declare a “hybrid war” on the EU, one gets a small idea of the effect of the Russia-West confrontation on these countries’ economic viability. Even though members of the EU and, in the case of Estonia, of the Eurozone, they have not succeeded in reorienting their economies westward, toward the EU which, frankly, has a very limited need for these countries. Russia’s response in the form of expanding its own maritime infrastructure in the Baltic and, more recently, requesting that Belarus refrain from using Baltic States’ terminals to export its refineries’ products from processing Russian petroleum, therefore represents a very effective means of political pressure particularly since the EU, already planning to limit the structural adjustment subsidies for its Eastern European members, can hardly be expected to come up with the billions of euros necessary to offset the cost of losing Russian transit business. Even in the best of times, the “Baltic Tigers” have experienced major demographic problems due to the rise in emigration and the decline in birth rates, with the resulting aging of the population likely to place a major strain on the countries’ finances.

Baltic Pipe vs. North Stream 2

If anything, the Baltic States are expected to stop being net subsidy recipients and become active energy consumers from the West which will make the dilemma facing the Baltic States even more acute. Nowhere is this more evident than in the construction of LNG terminals in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and Swinoujscie, Poland, and the plans to construct the “Baltic Pipe” gas pipeline linking Poland with the natural gas deposits in the North Sea. Collectively, and consistent with the at least decade-old US aim to achieve dominance of the global energy markets, these efforts are supposed to “wean” the Baltic States off Russian oil and natural gas and replace them with more costly Western imports. In a way, this makes the Baltics’ the victim of their own policies because, as Donald Trump made clear on a number of occasions, buying US LNG is the price these countries must pay for protection against  “Russian aggression” provided by US troops.

However, the US is not the only country with designs on the Baltics. Poland has reactivated its interest in these countries, all of which at some point where part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The fact that Baltic Pipe would run through Poland appears to be part of the effort to recreate a Polish “sphere of influence” expanding into the Baltics. Sweden, whose sovereignty also used to expand into the Baltics, is also seeking a greater political role through the Nordic Council, in which the Baltic States all possess observer status, and whose activities have been endorsed by recent US administrations.

Conclusion

It is not clear whether the current Baltic governments can easily reverse course, given the empowerment of nationalists in each of the three countries. However, the combination of Russia-West conflict, EU retrenchment and renewed focus on integration among its core states, the political pressure exerted by Poland and the US, and the continued loss of Russia-Baltic economic ties may lead to a rapid deterioration of these countries economies with entirely unpredictable political and even military consequences.

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  • EmilyEnso

    Hard to see what Russia or anyone else would want with these three feeble states.
    Let them pay more for their energy or get cold next winter.
    We have thousands of them pour into Britain after free houses and benefits – parasites on the British taxpayers.
    It was all this lot – and near on 2,000,000 unwanted and unneeded Poles plus limitless numbers from Eastern Europe – all after largesse and legalised plunder – that directly resulted in the British voting Brexit.
    They have overwhelmed this country and their welcome.
    If I was Russia I would leave the Baltics to stew – turn down their heating and forget them.
    Hopefully after Brexit we in Britain can do the same.

    • Brother Ma

      Yes ,nationalism has led these countries to ruin and thus a drain on rest of Europe.I dont mind nationalism but in my opinion they should have tried ro reach an agreement with post soviet russia if anything.Many countries have been sucked into leaving Russia ,ukraine,Georgia and Baltic States as a minimum.All to their detriment.

      • Attrition47

        Nationalism is a boss class ideology and has led to the enrichment of the Baltic State boss classes. The effect on the working class is of no consequence as long as the boss classes can expect US help to keep the plebs down with a mixture of racism, antisemitism and repression. EmilyEnso is an example of the servile deracinated ignorance that boss classes like in their toadies.

        • Brother Ma

          I certainly agree with your view of nationalism trying to keep the non ruling caste of people fighting with one another and down with various methods.my view of nationalism is that people should be allowed to be proud of their culture and national sovereignty and should get to choose who they want to let into their country.
          Wanting no one else in my country doesnt make me a racist if i make that decision on economic and sovereignty grounds.

          • Turbofan

            “Wanting no one else in my country doesn’t make me a racist if i make that decision on economic and sovereignty grounds.”

            Be careful with that statement.Many nationalist dont want other people in their country for one reason or another but are ok with their governments plundering the resources of other countries.

          • Brother Ma

            Yes you are right.However Nationalism does not always mean imperialism.I for one do not need my country to be imperialistic, getting what it needs via voluntary trade agreements is enough for me.

          • Terra Cotta Woolpuller

            The most important thing you fail to understand is the reason why many people don’t want any newcomers, is even more simplistic than you think. The very obvious reason which escapes any coming to the country and when they are there is realized then. When they start to live there they realize the infrastructure is over burdened and actually complain they had better care and standard of living elsewhere, my answer is that they never seem be quite satisfied with what they have in believing elsewhere is always better.

          • Attrition47

            Culture is a myth and as such akin to superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Trying to dictate to other people and using nationalist rhetoric or economic or sovereignty grounds is inherently racist because you’re ignoring the local filth who are robbing you blind and scapegoating outsiders.

      • dutchnational

        In fact, the economies of the Baltic states have outperformed Russia, their per capita income is much higher than that of Russia, even taking into account that they hardly have any mineral or other richess in their soil.

        Life expectancy is much higher than in Russia, all economic indicators are higher than in Russia, except for the number of drunks and those countries are hardly a drain on the EU.

        We dutch are proud to help them a little bit by stationing some of our troops and airforce in the Baltics and Poland, as do many other Nato countries.

        Those troops, of all of us, are not there to start a war, there are way too little of them for that, but to help defend peace.

        • Robert Duran

          Stop supporting Terrorism

        • Brother Ma

          Having studied economics in a former life i can tell you that i can hide a lot of poverty,inequality of income and destruction of public goods in per capita figures.

          Also netherlands stationing troops of russia is breaking gentlemens agreement and international law, after all russia agreed to de sovietize only if you did not encroach on its sphere of influence.just saying.

        • Justin

          “In fact, the economies of the Baltic states have outperformed Russia, their per capita income is much higher than that of Russia, even taking into account that they hardly have any mineral or other richess in their soil.”

          BLA BLA BLA…
          Send a link! or STFU!

          And you Dutch made up this bullshit about MH17!
          Im Australian and BOTH THE DUTCH AND AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE said that “it is more likely the aircraft was shot down from the sky” yet the Dutch safety board is playing the US hand in this!

          Andrew Donahue, the head of the Australian Federal police stated this!

          Also, what does Russia or the rebels have to gain in shooting down a passenger plane?
          Its the same logic as asking what does Assad have to gain in bombing chemical weapons on an enemy and its civilians whilst the enemy is collapsing (and never using those weapons against isis)

          If you ask me, your nation is a piece of shit!

          Not to mention u have people openly selling drugs on the street in ur nation!

          So as for nations, I’ve got ur nation pegged as a crappy nation!

          Look it up, Andrew Donahue and the Dutch Federal police both say the Investigation done by the dutch safety board IS A SHAM! ITS A WITCH HUNT!

    • Attrition47

      Fuck off nazi dickhead, the only parasites in Britain are the hereditary rich and their lickspittles like you.

      • Brother Ma

        You seem very confused.from what i can see emily is just anti immigration.she probably agrees with you against hereditary rich attrition 47.dont make the mistake that all left leaning people are pro immigration or that being anti immigration means you love super rich clique. Who told you this?

        • Attrition47

          Far from it, she is using this board to spread racist propaganda. Anti-immigration is a racist euphemism.

    • gs1710

      Sorry, you missed that the US have built already fuel gas terminals in Eastern Europe. The Baltic states will not take any Russian gas at all in the future. German government wants to keep doors open for Russia, but stands against EU. If Russia makes the same mistake, as in Urkaine, they will loose complete Eastern Europe as gas customers. Chinese will be a much more difficult customer in exchange.

      • EmilyEnso

        US gas at double the price for states whose only export is their population.
        Great .
        They will enjoy the winter.
        In the meantime the USA is being fracked to death – water all over contaminated – earthquakes.
        And more Russian gas goes to China.
        What an achievement!

        • dutchnational

          Especially Estonia is now a high tech country.

          Several very lucrative pieces of software were developed in Estonia. Skype for example.

          They are not like Russia that only has weapons and minerals that are exportable. They use their brains and make much more money utilising it. It is called services, something they lack in Russia (oh, I forgot. They have their crime syndicates, so they have indeed some services)

          • Robert Duran

            Stop supporting ISIS

          • Brother Ma

            You are very biased against russia dutchnational.i dont mind but it makes it harder for you to persuade people of your view .

        • Brother Ma

          Could not have answered gs1970 better emily.

    • Simona Esenberga

      Actually it’s other way around, if not the eastern europeans in Britain, you british people couldn’t sit at home sucking for benefits. We are the ones who are working in your country- where being fat counts as disability ;)

    • Justin

      I agree, why waste time with these states, let them bleed money! Year after year as the cold continue to come for 9 months of the year the people’s energy bills will dictate the future!
      Get gas from a rich nation who Protects / occupies ur nation and charges u so much more OR get it cheap from your next door neighbour!

      There is zero logic!
      Europe traded energy with the Soviet Union for decades even when they were each others worst enemy! The US is just bullying these nations!
      Until 2014, was there ever really a need for NATO? I think not!

      • Brother Ma

        Too true.

    • Justin

      On another point, these state are in NATO!
      Right on Russia’s border!
      Think about it! Its like having Russian missiles on the border with Mexico!

      • Brother Ma

        Too true.Trump actually said to these nations yes you will pay more for your energy from us but consider it the cost of us protecting you.! Yeh right ,smart people! Maybe your people are smart baltics but your power class is stupid.They said not a word.

        Also Ukraine, once rich now poor and having to pay alot more for energy because they had oh so bad under russians. Well guess what those ukrainians in crimea are now richer with more gov services and better quality of life .if russia lets even half of ukraine will go BACK to russia crying with relief!

        Oh poor poor Ukraine,stupid uKraine with your Jewish Nazi head chopping leaders now you are yesterdays news.europe and us niw bith sick of you and paying for you.Maybe next time you wont import stupid neocon ex georgian presidents to advise you! Now get ready ro live in filth and poverty and only real industry now is exporting your beautiful women to west to be some fat balds euro bureacrats prostitute.

        That is what happens when you listen to Nato fat cats!

        • Justin

          And to think these AZOV and DONBASS battalions with their NAZI insignia were created and funded by the Jewish Oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi!

          AND THEN THERE IS THIS On Petro Poroshenko (another jewish oligarch)
          (Why are all Jews funded and backed by right wing Nazi’s?)
          “Things that make you go ‘hmmmmmm’!”

          Panama Papers[edit]

          Main articles: Panama Papers and List of people named in the Panama Papers

          Poroshenko set up an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands during the peak of the war in Donbass.[126] Leaked documents from the Panama Papers show that Poroshenko registered the company, Prime Asset Partners Ltd, on 21 August 2014. Records in Cyprus show him as the firm’s only shareholder.[127] He said that he had done nothing wrong, and the legal firm, Avellum, overseeing the sale of Roshen, Poroshenko’s confectionery company, said that “any allegations of tax evasion are groundless”. The anti-corruption group Transparency International believes that the “creation of businesses while serving as president is a direct violation of the constitution”.[128]

          Investigation for possible state treason[edit]

          On 26 July 2017, Renat Kuzmin, First Deputy Prosecutor, and former Deputy Head of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine published a ruling by the Pecherskyi District Court (in Kiev) that orders the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) to investigate President Poroshenko for possible state treason under Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.[129][130]

          • Brother Ma

            Yep! All true.

      • Brother Ma

        Sorry Justin.i went off on a tangent then. I agree with what you saying. I said as much replying to dutchnational.

  • Brother Ma

    Excellent summary on how things are at present.Rest of Europe is sick of these states and so is US so in long term they will wither on the vine.Sucked in by Neo cons like Brsechynski…yes I know it is wrong spelling.

  • markusaa

    Funny how little people here know about the Baltic States. They belong to the world’s most innovative states with a lot of tech startups. Estonia is world leading when it comes to deploy information technology to its citizens. When it comes to their relations with west it is very clear what the people want: closer ties with Europe. But I doubt any reader of South front ever have spoken to someone from these countries or even less been in some of the Baltic States. The truth is that they are high educated and hard working.

    “Perfectly normal peacetime activities….”, well, Russia launched a cyber attack on Estonia 2007 and kidnapped an Estonian officer 2014, small detailes that you forgot.

    • Gary Sellars

      Baltic bullshit. Stupid lies for a stupid people.

    • cortisol

      The Estonian economy is pretty much based on the freebie social welfare state residing in Finland, for now. I.e. parasite economy, selling less tax burdened alcohol and prostitution. The rest of the Baltic economies lose population and are based on EU subsidies. Their energy policies, as is mentioned in the article, is based on political ideologies and not logic which makes it costly and in-efficient.

  • Gary Sellars

    Fuck the Baltic states… Nothing but pissant little collections of Ice Age glacial debris… They have nothing of value and are in a demographic free fall collapse. Serves them right for being Nazi sympathizers and Russophobic cvnts.