February 23, 2008
Riga – Bickering over energy issues, dealing with Russia’s influence and joining the EU and NATO have damaged the unity of the three Baltic countries, according to a political observer. Mutual cooperation earned Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania freedom from the Soviet Union in 1991, but Baltic unity has soured since they joined the EU in 2004.
“The Baltics are just too small a unit to have weight in the sea of 27 countries,” says Andres Kasekamp, head of Estonian Foreign Policy Institute and professor of Baltic politics at Tartu University in Estonia.
Working together with Scandinavian countries on the Baltic Sea, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can manage to pull some weight in the EU, he says.
In the past, however, the Baltic countries who share the region’s brutal history, cooperated with each other in times of adversity.
In 1989, the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed the Baltic human chain in an effort to show Moscow – and the rest of the world – their thirst for freedom and independence.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Baltics set the foreign policy goals of joining the EU and NATO, which were fulfilled in 2004.
The cooperation hasn’t disappeared completely. The three Baltic states export their experiences in European integration and democracy to other former Soviet states, like Ukraine and Georgia.
In a sign of solidarity, the three countries display national flags on each other’s independence days.
Russia’s policies toward the Baltic Three, whose total population is less than Moscow’s, adds to the pressure on Baltic unity. Russia and the Baltics have long argued over the history of World War II and rights of national minorities, while Moscow have played a favourite.
“Right now, Estonia seems to be in the doghouse and Latvia seems to be in the good books (with Moscow),” Kasekamp told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Estonia’s decision to relocate the Soviet-era monument and the remains of Soviet soldiers from the centre of the Estonian capital, Tallinn, to a military cemetery in April caused a diplomatic row with Russia.
Latvia, on the other hand, has agreed the border treaty with Russia and Latvian President Valdis Zatlers is expected to visit Moscow later this year on the first official visit by the president of a Baltic country.
The disunity is especially pronounced when it comes to energy security issues.
In the past year, Latvia has watered down its objections to the construction of the Baltic Sea gas pipeline between Germany and Russia in the hope of benefiting from Russia’s use of the natural gas storage facility, Kasekamp says.
Estonia and Lithuania opposed the project, saying it would offer the Kremlin an opportunity to use its energy resources to advance political goals.
“Baltic unity has disappeared – Latvians have been tempted by Russian business projects,” he says.
Although it started off as a promising project for Baltic unity, the effort to build a new nuclear power plant has turned into a disaster, Kasekamp said.
Estonia has been getting frustrated with the constant delays in the project which aims to replace the existing power plant reactor due for a shut-down at the end of next year.
Lithuania has asked Poland to be part of the project without consulting other partners.