Baltics blaze NATO trail for former Communist allies – Feature
February 7, 2008

Vilnius – Less than four years after they joined NATO, former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been advising their one-time Communist allies on how to join the 26-nation military alliance. And two months before the alliance is expected to decide on a further round of expansion, the Baltics were once more in the centre of attention on Thursday as NATO’s defence ministers gathered in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, for two days of talks.

Three former communist countries – Albania, Croatia and Macedonia – are currently candidates for the membership. And the Baltic states have already held several talks with them on NATO integration.

“We look forward to the continued reform efforts of Albania, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with a view to welcoming them to NATO in the very near future,” the three Baltic presidents said in January in a joint press release on the 10th anniversary of the US-Baltic Charter, a lobbying group created on the Baltic path to join the alliance.

The Baltic states’ assistance extends beyond promoting the Adriatic countries’ membership of NATO.

They have offered the Adriatic countries development aid out of a sense of solidarity and strategic interests in Brussels, David Galbreath, a political observer at the University of Aberdeen, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

“This is a great way to punch around their weight for smaller countries,” he said.

The three Adriatic countries may be formally invited to join the alliance at a summit in Bucharest on 2-4 April.

Albania, Croatia and Macedonia formed the US-Adriatic partnership charter in 2003, patterned after the US-Baltic charter, to lobby the US for their bid to join the alliance.

For Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, sharing the EU and NATO experience stems from their sense of “corporate responsibility” to assist other countries in transition to common European values, Galbreath said.

The Baltics have also been lobbying NATO to extend membership to the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine, encouraging NATO to withstand pressure from Moscow, which sees Georgia and Ukraine in its sphere of influence.

“If a country like Ukraine or Georgia has moved toward democracy, openness and the rule of law, and they want to join NATO, then there is no reason why we should not trust them,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told reporters at the NATO headquarters in Brussels this week.

The leaders of the three Baltic states have made frequent visits to Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova in recent years, strengthening the cooperation between the countries.

Speaking on Tuesday after a meeting with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili hailed Estonia’s transition experience as an example for his country.

“We wish to follow that experience,” Saakashvili said, according to Baltic News Service BNS.