In an interview with the Baltic News Service, Valeri Fjodorov, the director of the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VtsIOM), stated that amongst the residents of Russia there is a noticeable lessening of negative attitudes towards the Baltic states.
Fjodorov, known for his pro-Kremlin stance explained that “There are two reasons for this. First, Barack Obama, with replacing George W. Bush as president, there was a world-wide lowering of international tensions, a renewal of relations between the USA and Russia, brought with it the easing of the fears and fobias of the West as a whole and of their satellites in the post-Soviet region.”
Observers note that by referring to the independent central and eastern European countries, formerly of the Warsaw Pact, as now being “satellites” of the West, Fjodorov betrays a definite resentment of their preferring NATO as well as the European Union rather than a Moscow-led alliance.
Russia’s obsession for entitlement of a “near abroad” does not translate well into genuine mutual respect in relations. Observers also feel that at the very least Moscow’s “near abroad” starts with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Fjodorov’s second reason for hostility declining towards that Baltic states is the significant decrease in causes for conflict and confrontation in relations. Those that wish to “take out the cannons” in both Russia and the Baltic states are for the time being in the minority, he says. Political power now resides with those who have taken a moderate and pragmatic course.
It seems that Fjodorov was referring to the Moscow-friendly mayor of Riga Nils Usakovs, one of the leaders of the socialist party alliance Harmony Centre, whom he considers striving for cooperation and dialogue especially in reference to attitudes towards the Baltic states.
But he tempered his observations with the remark that “the relations are still affected by the deep scars of the near past”. “In a 2010 opinion poll, seven percent of Russians responding are convinced that the relations between Russia and the Baltic States for the next 10-15 years will be fraught with tensions and conflict.”
Though the results are not directly comparable with VtsIOM, Russia’s Levada Centre claimed that in 2007 (the year the Bronze Soldier was relocated in Tallinn), Estonia was considered an enemy of Russia by 60% of respondents, making it the number one enemy in the world that year. In 2005 and 2006 the results were 32% and 28% respectively.
It seems that Russian public attitudes towards the Baltic countries fluctuate from year to year depending on issues current at the time. The controversies between Estonia and Russia have been many over the last 20 years: the departure of Russian troops from Estonia fully three years after independence was regained; the Orthodox church controversy; the unsettled Russian-Estonian border issue; language and citizenship questions of Russian residents of Estonia; Moscow’s accusations of fascism against Estonia; Russia’s resentment of Estonia’s accession to NATO and the EU; the relocation of a Soviet war monument in Tallinn; Russia’s 2007 intention of stopping all oil transit through Estonia; cyberattacks from Russia; Estonia’s exhibit dedicated to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; Russia’s regular protests on gatherings of Estonian war veterans who fought with the Germans etc.
The causes for forming attitudes have been plenty. Certainly the Russian media here plays its central role. An anti-Estonian pejorative neologism, eSStonia, appeared in the Russian media and
at street protests during the Bronze Soldier incident in 2007. In fact in November 2007 the largest daily in Russia, the Komsomolskaya Pravda ran a campaign asking readers to boycott Estonia, its goods and services. The slogan “I don’t go the eSStonia” was prominent. President Ilves was spelled IlveSS and Prime Minister Ansip as AnSSip. Obviously all of these neologisms were meant to portray Estonia as a Nazi state.
Fjodorov seems to leave the impression that the Russian population`s sentiments towards the Baltic states change organically, uninterrupted by artificial stimuli. It`s more likely that systematic manipulation from the Kremlin is often the cause. Some even insist that the Russian leadership always needs a foreign enemy as a diversion from domestic problems and as a way to stimulate nationalistic fervor.
Is Russian hostility towards the Baltic states on decline? (3)