Eesti Elu
Bad relations with the Baltic states benefits the Russian leadership
Arvamus 13 Oct 2011  Eesti Elu
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“It’s a clearly intentional, that information about our European neighbours appears in our Russian media during periods when it’s necessary to find foreign enemies to serve the interest of our domestic politics. This tendency is scary and it can’t be labeled as the type of politics that could benefit Russia or peaceful coexistence internationally,” Olga Vlassova, a leading figure in the liberal Russian party Yabloko recently stated.

“The possibilities for close contacts between Russia and the Baltic states are many but the Russian political elite are clearly motivated in destroying any attempts at bringing this about,” she observed.

The Kremlin, in regularly articulating its displeasure, with Estonia and Latvia especially, often uses time-honoured themes: Moscow insists that the Estonian people, via the elected ‘parliament’ asked for Estonia to become part of the USSR in 1940. (Moscow disdainfully dismisses any notions that the ‘parliament’ was not actually elected, as normal elections are defined. The West’s non-recognition policy arose from the fact that the Soviets occupied and annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by force, not by obeying the will of the people.)

The Kremlin periodically reminds us that the Soviet forces that re-invaded the Baltic states in 1944 were not the vanguard of a prolonged occupation but liberators who pushed German forces to the west. They brought freedom, not captivity to the Baltic states. (Russia labels as revisionists all (most everyone knowledgeable about it) who saw the Soviets, yes, initially, as vanquishing the Nazis from the region but immediately thereafter becoming a repressive regime of foreign occupiers. It’s quite telling that just recently, two very different gatherings in Tallinn commemorated the same event for diametrically opposite reasons. Russians placed wreaths at a monument of a Soviet soldier at a military cemetery in remembrance of the Red Army’s ‘liberation’ of Tallinn in the fall of 1944. Simultaneously Estonians honoured those who put up a resistance to the invading Soviet forces at the Freedom Cross in the dowtown Freedom Square.)

Russia self-satisfyingly insists that by being part of a powerful and progressive USSR, Estonia was able to flourish and not wither on the vine had they been independent. (It irks Russia that Estonia’s fast progress in the last 20 years is mostly due to the shedding of the Soviet political, economic and social encumbrances. Even more irksome is Estonia bringing NATO to Russia’s border.)

Wielding self-righteousness as a weapon Russia accuses Estonia of discriminating against Russians, denying them citizenship. (Moscow ignores the facts: most non-ethnic-Estonians, who are genuinely motivated in becoming Estonia citizens, have applied and received citizenship through naturalization – a process common in the majority of democratic countries. Only 7.5% of Estonia’s 1.35 million population are stateless (down from 32% in 1992), holders of alien passports – a document that allows them visa-free travel to most European countries. Ethnic Russians, both citizens and non-citizens, make up 25% of the population.)

The perennial Russian mantras above are acknowledged by Vlassova also. Moscow’s accusations against the Baltic states serve to whet Russian vigilance. Differences in evaluating the victory over communism and the consequences of WWII make normal relations that much more complicated. Some have indicated that in the absence of a true enemy, the Kremlin must invent one, at least initially through invective.

Good relations presupposes mutual trust. It thrives on candour and survives wildly antagonistic opinions. But normal relations cannot grow when a nation’s historic self-image is totally ingrained and reinforced by successive leaders to bolster distrust of neighbouring countries. Distorting history gives the Kremlin leadership a sense of empowerment, a political high not easily abandoned.
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