IHAD a heated discussion with a woman of Lithuanian descent the other day on the subject of the ‘Russian threat’ to her country of origin, where she has friends and family. She claimed the Baltic countries are desperate to be spared another Russian takeover like the one that happened in 1939, only ending in 1991 as part of the events that led to the implosion of the Soviet Union.
When I asked her what Russia could possible gain from the addition of three countries whose total real estate, 67,574 mi², together constitute scarcely 1% of that of Russia’s 6.602 million mi², she claimed that the Baltic states had Baltic Sea oil. When I pointed out that Russia has more oil than almost any country in the world, as well access to the Black Sea at Kaliningrad, and that it also has the ability to prospect in the Arctic, she claimed that the Baltic countries were ahead of Russia in terms of high tech. Unable to cite a single example, she fell back on ‘Russia is massing troops on our borders.’ When I pointed out that this was a perfectly legitimate response to the massing of NATO troops on Russia’s border, she refused to listen, continuing to repeat that Russia ‘threatens’ her country.
Curious as to whether history could account for such blindness, I went to Wikipedia, where I learnt that the origins of the Baltic peoples are very mixed, while its history involved Sweden, Germany and Poland and Belarus. After the 1939 Molotov/Ribbentrop pact divided Europe into spheres of influence, the Baltic countries were invaded by the Russian army and re-baptized as Soviet Socialist Republics, in which the predominantly independent farming population resisted collectivization.
This is where the story gets really interesting: When Hitler took over the Baltic states as part of its invasion of the Soviet Union, similar to the takeover of the Ukraine, the populations of all these countries believed the Germans would free them from Soviet domination and agree to their independence. All were sorely disappointed. Both the Soviet Union and Germany practiced deportations and mass killings. and the latter re-occupied the Baltics in 1944, under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement In 1989, the Baltic states initiated a series of events that would be repeated in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria and culminating in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Twenty-five years later, it’s difficult to see any grounds for Baltic fear of a Russian takeover, given the Russian government’s ever closer cooperation with China in just about every area of significance, including the One Belt One Road project that is linking the Pacific with Europe via Central Asia. I believe the Baltics are crying wolf because they want to finally be considered part of Europe (aka the West), not to mention the attraction of NATO funding and materiel. The idea that these three tiny countries have anything to offer Russia is ludicrous, while Russia, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the role they played in the past, together with Poland Belarus and Ukraine, as transit routes into its territory.
In the game currently being played out, the Baltics states are like three mice who, through fear of a herbivore horse, allow themselves to be swallowed by a serpent.
New Eastern Outlook, September 21. Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist who has been at the forefront of international politics for over 30 years and writes exlusively for the online journal New Eastern Outlook.