UPNorth – The Northern European
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia Should Not Exist
Nikolay Mezhevich, a St. Petersburg professor who heads the Russian Association of Baltic Research, says that “for Russia the [three Baltic] countries should not exist” and that there are no prospects for an improvement in relations because the Baltic regimes can function only as anti-Russian actors.
In an interview with Rubaltic’s Aleksandr Nosovich following a conference at the Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad on relations between Russia and Poland, Mezhevich says that relations with Warsaw while bad now can improve but those with the Baltic countries never can.
Asked by Nosovich what the “optimal” Russian policy toward the Baltic countries should be, the St. Petersburg professor is blunt: “For Russia, there are no such countries. Legally, they exist, but we do not maintain any economic or political contacts with them.” The Baltics are thus “a dead zone, a Chernobyl.” He nonetheless opposes breaking diplomatic relations with them. “Why give them that happiness?” Mezhevich asks rhetorically. “They are always dreaming about this. But the presence of diplomatic ties does not mean that me should develop any contacts with them because in these countries already nothing will change.”
Moscow Slams US
Moscow has accused the US of a “gross violation of international law” after being given two days to shut a Russian diplomatic outpost in San Francisco. The departing Russians burnt papers as the clock ticked down. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow would “reply with firmness” also that they “needed time to study Washington’s directive” and to decide on a response. “We will have a tough response to the things that come totally out of the blue to hurt us and are driven solely by the desire to spoil our relations with the US,” Lavrov said in a televised meeting. The measure is the most serious by the US against Russia since 1986, when the two powers expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats. US-Russia ties have fallen to their lowest point since the Cold War after the Kremlin’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
The Moscow Times
May Buy 5 Rocket Engines From Russia
A U.S.-based space company ,United Launch Alliance, is expected to confirm plans to buy five previously banned Russian rocket engines by late September, the Kommersant business daily reported. ULA reportedly has been engaged in secret talks for over a year with Russia’s Energomash on the purchase of 10 RD-180s. Initial plans to sign a contract were scrapped because of the U.S. presidential campaign, according to Kommersant. Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014, U.S. banned the use of Russian engines for U.S. military and spy satellite launches after 2019. The ban has been partly lifted given the U.S. space industry’s reliance on the RD-180 engines.
Stars and Stripes
Ungunned Stryker Boosts NATO Firepower on Eastern Flank
WIESBADEN, Germany — The 2nd Cavalry Regiment will begin fielding the first of a new fleet of upgraded Stryker armored combat vehicles next summer, the result of a two-year push to give the unit greater range and firepower in response to concerns about a more assertive Russia. The decision to speed development of the upgraded Strykers was made in 2015, not long after the Russian intervention in the Ukraine. The intervention spurred NATO to enhance its presence along its eastern frontier.
Currently, there are four multinational battle groups in the Baltic states and eastern Poland, including an 800-soldier squadron from the 2nd Cavalry. The regiment is one of only two full-time combat units stationed in Europe.
Finnish President Niinistö: European Defence Force Necessary
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö says the development of a common European defense force will require a great deal of patience and time. He nevertheless senses that movement in this direction is already underway.
“EU defense is still a long way off, in terms of an objective. It will require substantial changes in attitude, and long-term advancement towards the goal in small increments,” he told Yle in a Saturday morning interview.
“It seems to be the case that Europeans will perhaps slowly have to forsake the notion that NATO and the US provide security, and do something about it themselves. Fortunately, Finland has already made quite a bit of progress in this area,” Niinistö said in the interview.
NATO-OTAN North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NATO Battlegroups in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland Fully Operational
NATO’s four multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are finally fully operational. This milestone comes after the Canadian-led battlegroup based at Camp Ādaži in Latvia became the fourth battlegroup to complete its Certification Exercise.
Four multinational battlegroups totaling approximately 4,500 troops have deployed to the Baltic nations and Poland. Canada leads the battlegroup in Latvia, with contributions by Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. Germany leads the battlegroup in Lithuania, with contributions by Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. The United Kingdom leads the battlegroup in Estonia, with contributions by France. The United States leads the battlegroup in Poland, with contributions by Romania and the UK.
Task and Purpose
Russian And NATO Pilots In Tense Standoffs
Some 25,000 troops from the U.S. and 23 other countries are taking part in the Saber Guardian military exercise in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania this month — the drills are designed as a deterrent and are “larger in both scale and scope” than previous exercises, U.S. European Command said in June. U.S. bombers also traveled to the UK in June in preparation for two separate multilateral exercises in the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe that month.
Those military exercises come ahead of war games planned for September by Russia and Belarus. Those exercises could involve up to 100,000 troops and include nuclear weapons training.
Lithuania- 5,000 Strong Military Drill
Lithuania is kicking off an international military exercise with more than 5,000 troops from nine of its allies across three different parts of the country, Baltic news site Delfi reports.
The land-training drill also will include the 1,200-strong NATO battalion deployment in Lithuania. One of the foreign contributions is a German-led brigade in Rukla, a small town in central Lithuania. British, U.S., Polish and Portuguese troops will also take part.
Canadian troops lead NATO mission on the Latvia-Russian Border
As Canadian soldiers join NATO troops in Latvia as part of Operation Reassurance, the tensions between Russia and its Baltic neighbors are especially felt in Latvian border towns.
Operation Reassurance is a multinational NATO mission aimed at discouraging Russian aggression in central and Eastern Europe. Canada is deploying a total of 450 troops to Latvia to lead a battle group of soldiers from five other NATO countries: Italy, Spain, Poland, Slovenia and Albania.
The battle group is hoping to deter Russian troops from entering Latvian towns like Karsava, which is close to the Russian border and has a large Russian population. Following Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine more than three years ago, there are fears that similar scenarios could occur in Latvia.
Latvians and Lithuanians Back EU Military Alliance
A majority of Latvians and Lithuanians are in favor of an EU army amid simmering tensions in the Baltic region with their neighbor Russia, Latvian news agency LETA reports.
More than a half of Latvia’s population (59 percent) and over two thirds of Lithuania’s (71 percent) back the idea of an EU army—a divisive proposal among the bloc’s members, an Euro barometer survey carried out in April shows.
Neighboring Estonia, the northernmost of the Baltics, was just shy of majority support for the idea of an EU army, with 48 percent backing. The highest support for an EU army came from the Netherlands and Belgium (both 74 percent).
Russia sends 2,500 troops to Latvian and Estonian Borders
Russia has called 2,500 troops to an airborne military drill in its Pskov region, bordering NATO allies Latvia and Estonia, state news agency Itar-Tass reported on Wednesday. The drill will involve 40 aircraft, with airborne troops practicing landing in unfamiliar lands. The exercises were described as “counterrorist” drills.
Estonia and EU to assist Ukraine implement Cyber Security
The e-Governance Academy, an independent Estonian mission-based non-profit think tank and consultancy organization, founded in 2002 by the United Nations Development Program, Open Society Institute, and the Government of Estonia for the creation and spread of knowledge and best practice concerning e-governance, e-democracy, cyber security and the development of open information societies, has completed its public procurement as a part of the EGOV4UKRAINE project of the Ukrainian U-LEAD administrative reform support program, which will create an inter-institutional secure data exchange
Cold War Tensions Rise as Canadian Soldiers on Latvian Soil
The Canadians are the first of 450 soldiers that are expected to land in Latvia over the next week to maintain a stronger NATO presence near the capitol in a tactical position called the “enhanced forward presence” in military parlance.
They will lead a battle group composed of a multinational force of troops and heavy equipment from several European countries including Italy, Spain, Poland, Slovenia and Albania. The mission is expected to cost $348.5 million over the next three years.
Maj. John Hagemeyer, a company commander, jumped off the plane carrying his kit bag and exclaimed to CBC, “It’s good to finally be here. We want to be here. Latvia wants us here.”
Shimkus Cosponsors Visa Waiver Program Legislation
Washington, DC. Congressman John Shimkus (R, Illinois-19) is joining as the lead Republican sponsor of Visa Waiver Program legislation introduced by Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D, Illinois-5). The Visa Waiver Modernization Act of 2007 (HR 1543) is similar to Senator Voinovich’s amendment that has already passed the Senate. (March 19, 2007)
Baltic Leaders Mourn Yeltsin
Leaders in the Baltic states on Monday mourned the death of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, praising his courage in helping them regain independence from the Soviet Union. “Yeltsin was the statesman who laid the ground for Lithuania to regain independence,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been forcibly incorporated into Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga stated “Boris Yeltsin played a significant role not only in Russian history but in the history of the whole of eastern Europe.” “We are mourning along with Russia… this is a loss for Europe,” she said. (Independent on Line April 24, 2007)
NORDEA: Baltic Rim Outlook: Record-strong growth spills over into overheating
Press Release – Baltic Rim Outlook: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are among the fastest growing economies in the world. The Baltic economies are currently expanding even faster than during the previous boom year 1997. The expansion has been strong to the point of overheating and devaluation fears in Latvia. While we remain positive on the authorities’ ability to control the situation, the risk is that the current very fast expansion will end in a hard landing. The real estate market is one important factor behind the expansion. Despite the strong advances in recent years, the potential is far from exhausted yet. “We believe that the Baltic countries will continue growing faster than the EU on average in the coming years as well. (23.4.2007 Nordea Bank AB)
Resistance Growing to the Baltic Seabed Pipeline Project
The Russo-German project for a gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed is meeting with growing skepticism and resistance in the region. The Gazprom-led consortium, Nord Stream, has now unwittingly added to those concerns. It has distributed a poorly substantiated, omission-fraught information package to countries around the Baltic Sea regarding the project’s environmental, economic, and other implications for the region. The report has raised more questions than it answered about those and other aspects of the project. In the course of April, governmental institutions and NGOs from Baltic riparian countries have replied to the consortium’s report, noting its imprecision, missing facts and details, and unclear methodology. The replies, particularly from Sweden and Finland, are raising a host of technical and environmental issues. Those focus on alternative options for the pipeline route in various sectors of the sea, the project’s environmental impact, its consequences for safety of navigation, and risks posed by poorly documented dumps of World War II explosives and chemical munitions on the seabed. (Vladimir Socor April 23, 2007 The Jamestown Foundation)
EU Votes on Holocaust Denial Law
LUXEMBOURG (AP) — The three Baltic nations on Thursday demanded that major Stalinist atrocities should be included in plans for a European Union law to make incitement of racist violence and Holocaust denial a crime. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia demanded that a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers agree to make it illegal for people to publicly condone, deny or trivialize crimes against humanity committed under the Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin. “Stalinism and Nazism should be treated equally,” said Jurgita Apanaviciute, a spokeswoman for Lithuania’s delegation to the EU. The EU ministers were close to agreeing on the contentious anti-racist package after six years of negotiations on how to combat racism and hate crimes. But other EU nations were loathe to agree to the demand by the Baltic states because they do not legally recognize crimes committed under Stalin as hate crimes or equate them with the genocide perpetrated under the Nazis in Germany during World War II.(CNN 19/04/07)
Barroso: Lithuania’s Problems are Europe’s Problems
On his first visit to Lithuania, Chairman of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso during his speech at the parliament praised the country and reminded about challenges to the European Union. At the celebratory parliamentary meeting on the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome, Barroso said that he wanted people to know that Lithuania’s problems are Europe’s problems that over two decades Lithuania has become a prospering country and that within two years Vilnius will become the European cultural capital. (30/03/07 The Baltic Times)
Latvian Cabinet Approves Ratification of Border Treaty With Russia
Latvia’s government has approved and submitted to parliament a law to ratify a border treaty with Russia, the government’s press service said Tuesday. Russian and Latvian Prime Ministers Mikhail Fradkov and Aigars Kalvitis signed the border treaty in Moscow March 27, ending a drawn-out period of contention between the two post-Soviet neighbors. By signing the treaty, EU member Latvia officially recognized the post-Soviet borders with Russia, backtracking on its earlier territorial claims on a district in the neighboring Russian region of Pskov, which was part of the Baltic state before World War II. (RIA novosti April 10, 2007)
Russia Builds First Floating Nuke Station
RUSSIA has begun to build the world’s first floating nuclear power plant despite warnings from environmentalists that it risks creating a disaster. The $239 million vessel, the Lomonosov, is the first of seven plants that Moscow says will bring vital energy resources to remote Russian regions as well as potential foreign markets. It will house two 35-megawatt reactors capable of supplying a city of 200,000 people when it starts operations, in three years’ time. Environmental groups and nuclear experts fear that floating plants will be more vulnerable to accidents and terrorism than land-based stations. They point to a history of naval and nuclear accidents in Russia and the former Soviet Union, most notoriously at Chernobyl in 1986. Nils Boehmer, an expert on Russia’s nuclear industry at Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group, said that floating power plants “raised a lot of new questions because this kind of facility has never been used in the world before”. (Tony Halpin 17/04/07)
Poland, Estonia: Construction of New Nuclear Power Reactor in Lithuania Will Boost Their Energy Security
Poland and Estonia agree the construction of a new nuclear power reactor at Lithuania’s existing Ignalina plant will boost their energy security, Speaker of Poland’s parliament Marek Jurek said after Wednesday talks with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, DPA reported. “This has great meaning for the energy security of both states and is a chance for all of our states to create an enterprise which can have great economic significance,” Jurek said, referring to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland. Poland and Lithuania have also forged plans to hook up their electrical power grids in order to plug all three Baltic European Union states into the EU’s larger electrical power network. (Eurasian Secret Services Daily Review, AIA 08.04.2007)
Small Baltic Nations Play Large Role for Alliance
NATO’s growing role in the western Baltic-rim region is behind a revised Baltic Air Surveillance Network (BALTNET) agreement signed April 12 by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The agreement replaces the original 1998 pact and provides a legal basis for establishing a Control and Reporting Center (CRC) to oversee NATO fighter jets patrolling in the national airspace of the independent Baltic states. The new BALTNET will deliver a more effective airspace surveillance and control dynamic, said Jurgen Ligi, Estonia’s defense minister. “The improved BALTNET agreement shows the importance of collaboration in air surveillance and in other defense matters between the Baltic nations,” Ligi said. “Together, we can achieve more, and we are actively looking for more ways to cooperate.” The developing interoperability of BALTNET has helped the Baltic states integrate with NATO structures and facilitate the more efficient use of resources. (Gerard O’Dwyer, Helsinki defensenews.com, posted 04/23/07)
Baltic Nations Promote Democracy, National Security Advisor Says
Riga, Latvia — The Baltic nations may be small, but decades under foreign occupation have made them powerful allies dedicated to democracy and freedom, said National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. White House officials traveling with the President were struck by the Baltic leaders’ deep-felt moral commitment to promoting democracy, Hadley said. “[T]hese are also countries who are punching above their weight in both Afghanistan and Iraq,” Hadley said. (28 November 2006 by Vince Crawley USINFO Staff Writer)
Baltic Assembly Urges Russia to Ease Off Georgia
Members of the Baltic Assembly, a group of lawmakers from the three countries, passed more than a dozen documents at last week’s meeting in Vilnius, including a call for Russia to discontinue its campaign of psychological and political pressure on Georgia and a request for the Belarusian administration to respect human rights. It urged Moscow to discontinue psychological and political pressure upon Georgia. (The Baltic Times, RIGA/VILNIUS Dec. 21, 2006)
Giuliani Praises Latvia’s Democracy
Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani sees Latvia as an example of democracy and freedom, he said during the current NATO summit in Riga. After meeting with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former New York mayor told the press that the Riga NATO summit was an “excellent opportunity for the United States and other NATO members to see what Latvia is like and where it is moving.” In her conversation with Giuliani, the Latvian president reiterated Latvia’s hopes to see bigger U.S. investment inflow as well as the lifting of visa requirements for Latvian citizens traveling to the United States. (BNS Nov 28, 2006)
More Details on Visa-Waiver Plan
U.S. Officials are providing more details of the President’s proposal to broaden the Visa Waiver Program, sketching the outlines of an ambitious plan for an electronic visa-lite system, which would enable travelers to get pre-cleared against terrorism and immigration watch-lists before traveling to the United States. In remarks in Europe this week, President Bush addressed complaints from the leaders of several of the post-Soviet democracies there about the restrictive requirements for the program. Bush said officials in Estonia had been ‘straightforward and very frank’ about the issue. He said there was ‘deep concern’ that people from countries fighting alongside the U.S. military in Iraq weren’t able to travel to the United States as freely as they would like. Bush promised Tuesday to send a proposal to Congress to ‘modify’ the program, ‘to make sure that nations like Estonia qualify more quickly,’ while strengthening its security. (By Shaun Waterman – UPI Homeland and National Security Editor Dec.1)
Gates Announces Grants for Latvia, Botswana, Lithuania
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced grants totaling $17.5 million to help people in Latvia ($16.2 million), Botswana ($1.1 million), and Lithuania ($220,396) plan for or provide free information technology services and training in public libraries and reading rooms. The grants are part of the foundation’s Global Libraries initiative, which is expected to invest $328 million over seven years to support computer and Internet access in public libraries in 12 to 15 countries. Latvia will benefit from dramatic technological upgrades, as it already has made significant investments in public libraries, with 80 percent offering Internet connections and two-thirds of library staff trained in Internet use. Lithuania will receive a $220,396 grant, to be managed by the Martynas Mazvydas National Library, used to develop a plan for providing no-cost computers and Internet access in public libraries. (December 8, 2006)
President Bush Calls for Peaceful Resolution of Russia’s Neighborhood Conflicts
Preceding the first NATO summit on former Soviet territory president George Bush has offered to help with Russia’s neighborhood conflicts resolution, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday. Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said he had discussed with President Bush in Tallinn the question of support for ex-Soviet countries, such as Georgia and Ukraine. Those countries have chosen the way to democracy and freedom, like Estonia, and would not bow to pressure from any of their neighbors Ilves told at a press conference. President Bush offered help to resolve the conflict peacefully. “Precisely what we ought to do is help resolve the conflict and use our diplomats to convince people there is a better way forward than through violence. We haven’t seen violence yet,” he told the news conference. President Bush thanked countries such as Estonia for helping other nations to transit to democracy. “I appreciate the fact that you’re training leaders from Georgia to Moldova to the Ukraine,” President Bush told Ilves. (MOS News 11/28/06)
Eastern Europe’s Stars – The Dynamic Duo
Europe’s Booming Baltic Corner – Doubling your living standards every six years would seem a breakneck pace of growth even in East Asia and unheard of in Europe. But two Baltic countries, Estonia and Latvia, are growing at 11.6% and 10.9% respectively. The pair’s growth is an exceptional product of good luck and good policies. Both countries are stable, business-friendly and cheap, and lie close to large, rich markets. They have flat taxes, cleanish government, balanced budgets (Estonia has no net foreign debt), and stable currencies pegged to the euro. Foreigners like all of this: Estonia is Europe’s biggest recipient per head of foreign investment. (The Economist, December 16th, 2006)
Baltic States in EU Energy Tie-Up
Lithuania and Poland have signed an agreement committing them to linking their power grids, thereby deepening EU-Baltic integration. The so-called “energy bridge” will be the second to connect the Baltic states to the wider EU electricity network. The first such link – between Estonia and Finland – was opened on Monday. Baltic leaders are hailing the new connections as historically significant, as they reduce their countries’ dependence on Russia. The opening of an undersea cable between Estonia and Finland on Monday was hailed by the Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, as an energy window to Europe, which meant the country’s energy security was no longer closely tied to its past. He said the cable was just the beginning of integrating the Baltic countries more closely into the EU’s energy network. The planned “energy bridge” linking the Lithuanian and Polish electricity networks is not expected to be completed until 2010. (Laura Sheeter BBC News, 12/8/06)
The New Threat to Europe
This year began with a European energy crisis caused by Russia’s cutoff of gas supplies to Ukraine, where a democratic government not to the liking of Vladimir Putin had taken power. Because Russian gas passes through Ukraine on its way to Western Europe, the pressure also dropped in Paris and Vienna and Rome — and Europeans suddenly realized they were dependent for electricity and warmth on an autocracy that was prepared to use energy as a tool of imperialism. It looks like the year will end the same way. Georgia and Azerbaijan are scrambling to find gas supplies by Jan. 1 to make up for Russian cutbacks or to avoid a huge and predatory price increase. He’s (German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier) proposing that the NATO alliance formally adopt “energy security” as one of its central missions. NATO, he told a German Marshall Fund conference alongside the recent NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, is “used to thinking in terms of conventional warfare between nations. But energy could become the weapon of choice for those who possess it.” That sounds daunting at a time when NATO has its hands full trying to fight a war in Afghanistan. But the energy threat goes to the alliance’s historic purpose: defending democratic Europe from attack by the autocratic and belligerent power on its Eastern frontier. And, as Lugar (Richard G. Lugar, U.S. Senator) pointed out: “The use of energy as an overt weapon is not a theoretical threat of the future. It is happening now.” (Washington Post Jackson Diehl, December 26, 2006)
Power Politics – An Assertive Russia Will Flex Its Energy Muscles
New power struggle between an increasingly assertive Russia (rich in oil and gas) and a weak-willed West will start in earnest in 2007. The big battleground will be energy. Poland and its allies in the Baltic countries will try to diversify their energy supplies, by agreeing to build a new nuclear power station at Ignalina in Lithuania, hooking up their electricity networks and accelerating their plans for a terminal on Poland’s northern coast to import liquefied natural gas. But Russia will find this little obstacle. Its cash-rich energy firms will step up their purchases of downstream firms in Europe.
Russia will develop its energy muscles in 2007. But it will flex them selectively. The Kremlin is keen to be seen as a reliable partner, playing by market rules. Those customers that pay on time will receive prompt deliveries. But countries and companies that challenge Russian energy hegemony will face short shrift. Two decades after the Kremlin started beating the retreat from the Soviet empire, a new hegemony, based on pipelines rather than tanks, is advancing—and shows every sign of proving durable. (Economist.com UK Dec 29th, 2006)