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2 The Stages of Russian Policy

In order to map out the general development of Russian-Baltic relations in 1992-96, this chapter has a double task. To assess Russian policy towards the Baltic States, it must be put in the context of Russia's general foreign policy orientation to the West, and the simultaneous formulation of policy towards the other former republics of the Soviet Union. In addition, for the purposes of analysis, the period will be presented chronologically in three stages. The themes covered are the permanent elements of Russian policy: security, minority rights and economic links. The aims and means of Russian policy are deduced from the dynamics of the interaction of these elements, as evidenced by the events shaping the relations. One might expect one or another element to be emphasised at different times, and vis-à-vis the Baltic States, there was never serious competition for precedence: even after the completion of the withdrawal process Russian policy was primarily concerned with security issues, NATO expansion in particular. However, all elements influenced the formation of Russian policy, and in this chapter I will examine their mutual balance.

The criteria used to distinguish the three stages are not categorical, but signify shifting trends. The stages highlight the varying degrees of influence the various elements have had on policy formulation, and are reflections of the general pattern of developments in Russian foreign policy in this period. In a relatively non-contradictory initial phase, the emphasis was on the gradually emerging negotiations on troop withdrawal. This was transformed by increasing interaction of the withdrawal and the minority issue, whereupon the nature of Russian policy became more demanding. This development was based on the shift in focus of Russian foreign policy in general, by which it began to lay more emphasis on its relations with the other republics of the former Soviet Union (henceforth "the FSU") after a deviation in the direction of a passively pro-Western policy. The lack of clearly defined objectives in terms of the "near abroad" countries, that had characterised the initial phase, was consciously changed by policy-makers who understood the value of the diaspora issue and the geo-strategic concerns that had never really disappeared. The end of military presence in the Baltics allowed Russia to actually use stronger and more diverse pressure tactics in the pursuit of its own aims.

2.1 Moderation: 1992

In the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup in August 1991, the three Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania declared the restoration of their independence. Russia's independence was effectively brought about by the creation of the CIS and the dissolution of the USSR in 1992. The new Russia and its leadership accepted the declarations of sovereignty of the Baltic States as a continuation of the policies of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who had supported Baltic independence claims. During this early period, Russia needed to be quickly accepted by the West as a democratic partner. The essential foreign policy aim focused therefore on developing both political and economic ties to Western countries and international financial organisations as a response to the acute crisis Russia was facing as a consequence of the Soviet economic system. This paved the way for Russia's relatively positive and non-confrontational stance towards the Baltic region. The lack of a coherent strategy and clearly defined objectives vis-à-vis the Baltic States implied also that the region was not considered of primary importance to Russian leaders at this stage. This is not to say that geo-strategic imperatives were totally ignored in Russia, but that the balance of influences on foreign policy making was tipped away from the immediate neighbouring states.

The main elements at this stage of Russian policy consisted of security issues relating to troop withdrawals from all three states, and the question of the substantial Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia. These problems were taken to the international arena by different parties in order to gain support, but the issues were dealt with independently from each other. In the initial stage of independent statehood, Russia's approach towards the Baltic States can, all in all, be characterized as one of moderate accommodation. The question of troop withdrawal was the immediate concern of the newly independent Baltic States: the demand for the withdrawal of army, KGB and MVD forces came instantly after the re-establishment of independence. Thus it was clearly the most prominent issue in Russian-Baltic relations at this stage.

Negotiations on withdrawal had begun already in September 1991 with delegations named by Gorbachev.(46) Initially, the Soviet side had set the year 1994 as the starting point of the withdrawal process, that is to say, after the pullout from East Germany and Poland would be completed. Russia took over the jurisdiction of the Soviet armed forces in January 1992 and agreed to regard the troops as "foreign military forces to be withdrawn".(47) Russia's acknowledgement of the necessity of withdrawing the former Soviet troops from the territory of the newly independent states was considered to be an important reflection of its new democratic credentials. The basic understanding of the need to withdraw troops from the independent Baltic States was no longer officially questioned by the beginning of 1992, despite the occasional statement to the effect that Russia would be interested in retaining or jointly administering some bases in the region.(48) Sporadically, officials might also issue a blunt statement to the effect that the troops should stay put until the Baltic States could afford to finance the relocation, in particular the construction of housing for the military personnel in Russia. A degree of confusion was detectable among the Russian leadership concerning timetable pronouncements, with different officials giving dates ranging from the year 2000 to 1993 as the completion date. The conditions set by Russia were that social guarantees for military pensioners should be settled, housing questions resolved and the pullout from East Germany and Poland completed before Baltic withdrawal was to begin. However, troops in Lithuania and Latvia began their pullout in February 1992.(49) Lithuania became the first state to sign a formal agreement on withdrawal in September 1992, with the completion date set at the end of August 1993.(50) Despite the twists and turns of the negotiation process, which can be interpreted as Russian stalling tactics, often on economic grounds, the validity of the promise to withdraw was never officially renounced.

The ethnic issue was the second element in Russian policy, but at this stage it did not yet command a major role in official policy, although the situation of Russian minorities and their lack of citizenship rights in Estonia and Latvia were topics frequently discussed in the Russian media. The existence of ethnic problems was evident and was articulated by the Russian side on various occasions, but the criticism did not reach vast dimensions. The first institution to articulate any policy on the issue was the State Council of the RSFSR(51): it issued a statement on its intention to use all lawful means to protect the rights of Russians in all of the former republics in the autumn.(52) Therefore it can be assumed that the question of Russian minorities was acknowledged to be of importance from the very beginning, but it did not immediately become prominent in Russia's official policy towards the Baltic States.

The citizenship issue was avidly debated in the three Baltic States. In mid-October 1992, Latvia adopted guidelines for its citizenship law. Through the 1970s and 1980s two thirds of population growth had been accounted for by immigration and so the new nationalistic-minded Supreme Council was determined to set strict guidelines for naturalisation. The criteria for citizenship included knowledge of language and the Constitution, 16 years residence and an oath of allegiance. Dual citizenship would not be recognised.(53) The Estonian Supreme Council adopted the 1938 citizenship law in November 1992 with amendments soon to follow.(54) Lithuania had opted for a more inclusive citizenship law in 1989 whereby citizenship was granted without nationality considerations, and even after a later amendment in December 1991 that introduced e.g. residence requirement (10 years), the law was much more liberal in comparison to those of its neighbours.(55)

Towards the end of 1992, the opposition outside official circles to the lack of involvement in the affairs of the Russian diaspora grew in strength and numbers. Leading officials as well as conservative and nationalist opposition politicians increasingly came out in favour of linking the issue of troop withdrawal to the rights of the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic States. Gradually, the strength of this opinion persuaded decision-makers to take a harder line, which can be interpreted as giving in to pressure from nationalist or "patriotic" forces.(56) The accusation of Baltic 'human rights violations' became widespread in this connection, along with the internationalisation of the ethnic conflict. This led to intensified deterioration of relations between Russia and Latvia, and Estonia.

The Baltic States saw early on that bringing the troop withdrawal issue to the international arena would increase the pressure on Russia for a speedier completion of the process, and thus appealed to the United Nations and to the United States for support. Russia interpreted this as a tactic used purely against itself and for a long time continued to emphasise and work only through bilateral negotiations with each Baltic country. The internationalisation of the withdrawal question began in earnest at the 1992 CSCE summit meeting, where its concluding document included a demand for "early, orderly and complete withdrawal", which must have satisfied both sides - early and orderly being interpreted in an appropriate way. Baltic leaders called for NATO assistance in May, but the Russian response ruled out third parties mediating in the withdrawal issue.(57) However, the internationalisation of the issue led to the US Senate stipulating that its aid to Russia was contingent on the continued process of removal of forces from the Baltics.(58)

In terms of the minority question Russia was, on the contrary, quick to internationalise its case. The foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, has widely been portrayed as a believer in international law and the arbitration of the international community on inter-state conflicts. (59) The subsequent change in his policy, which will become clear later, suggests a less sincere belief in these values or at least in their implementation. The personal beliefs of the politician aside, he wanted to use the concept of international law and human rights to push through changes in the situation of the Russian minorities. Russia's first steps were to present a memorandum outlining the supposed human rights violations against the minorities in Estonia and Latvia at the Council of Europe in May, at the UN in September and at the CSCE meeting in December 1992. As a result, several missions were sent to the Baltic States to monitor their minority situation. They all presented slightly different reports, providing enough ammunition to please either side in the dispute, when only partially reviewed in the national press. Shortly after Kozyrev's first memorandum, the commander of the Russian North-Western Group of Forces, Colonel Valerii Mironov, made veiled threats by implying that a Transdniester-type conflict could erupt in the Baltic region because of the problems between the ethnic groups.(60) However, the Russian leadership refrained from painting such scenarios.

Economic relations were strained throughout the initial period. The Baltics repeatedly accused Russia of staging an outright economic blockade, in terms of oil and raw material imports in particular. The trade and economic co-operation agreements between the states signed in March 1992 did not eliminate the problem of energy supplies, and it was thought that Russia was using economic levers as a means of applying pressure in the Baltic States. However, dire economic problems on both sides, increasing Baltic payment debts to Russian enterprises, and the virtual break-down of trade links and supply routes across the former Soviet Union created a substantial part of the problems. Therefore it would not justified to claim that Russian policy at this stage was intentionally trying to disrupt the Baltic States for its own purposes.

2.2 Bellicose Rhetoric: late 1992 - mid-1994

In the second stage of its policy towards the Baltic States, Russia underscored the linkage between troop withdrawal and the rights of Russian minorities. The rights of Russian residents in the Baltics were to be affirmed before the completion of the withdrawal process. This corresponded with the beginning of a more assertive phase in Russian foreign policy, when it began to emphasise its national interests alongside its relations with the West. In essence, the issue of the defence of Russians' (minority) rights in the newly independent states was co-opted from the nationalist opposition into official policy. Russia can be seen to have moved from a largely accommodating approach in its policy towards the Baltic States to a more dominating and uncompromising role. Negotiations with the Baltic States on the various problematic issues continued throughout the period, but were protracted and complicated. This stage can be said to have lasted from the end of 1992, when the linkage between minority rights and the continued presence of the army was officially made, until the completion of troop withdrawal in August 1994. Russia seemed to be conducting a much more forceful policy: its statements were certainly more harsh than earlier and contained more threats, but even at this stage there were no direct threats from the leadership that would have indicated a reversal of respecting the independence of the Baltic States.

The development of Russian foreign policy in general was characterised by a substantial shift in focus in this period. The foreign policy pursued by Kozyrev had been mocked as the "diplomacy of smiles" and the "policy of yes" throughout 1992, in opposition circles and the media hostile to the Western orientation. The results of the 1993 elections for the Duma increased the power of the patriotic forces, and gradually official policy shifted closed towards the nationalist position.(61) In addition, the shift signified that the leadership had become aware of the importance of the former Soviet territory in terms of security and economics. Policy towards the states in the post-Soviet space became assertive and more systematic. Russia began to increasingly use the expression of the "near abroad" countries in its policy concerning the other former republics. The "near abroad" term suggests that Russia did not conceive of its new neighbours as entirely foreign entities, but not as elements of domestic policy either. By the end of the year 1993, reasserting influence in the former Soviet republics was declared the foreign policy priority among the Russian leadership and policymakers, and modifications were planned in its policy towards the West. The shift was neatly reflected in Kozyrev's new stance: even he, the "liberal" cornerstone of the Western-oriented policy, began to refer to the "near abroad" with the implicit meaning that the territory constituted an area of de facto Russian dominance.(62) The territory of the former Soviet Union was no longer regarded simply as an economic liability, but as a region of vital importance.

The inclusion of Baltic States in the "near abroad" concept was not unequivocal. The Baltic States objected fiercely to its connotation, as they did not consider themselves as former Soviet republics at all, having been forcefully incorporated into the union. The question of whether the Baltics are included in the concept is debatable, but is at the heart of the matter when assessing Russia's attitude towards the region. The determined response from the Baltic States to any attempt at grouping them with the CIS countries and the apparent Western policy of driving integration with the Baltics have made it difficult for Russia to embrace them in its "near abroad" policy. Certain inconsistencies were apparent in Russian policy in this respect. Officially, it has been denied that the Baltic States constitute part of the "near abroad".(63) Nevertheless, when Kozyrev spelled out the Russian stance vis-à-vis its neighbour states, there was no differentiation between the approach towards the CIS and the Baltic States: "Countries of CIS and the Baltics are a region where Russia's primary vital interests are concentrated. The main threats to these interests also emanate from this region."(64) Kozyrev also stated that Russia was "prepared to resort to the most far-reaching, tough and radical measures, but within the framework of international law" to protect the rights of ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republics.(65) Occasionally, even the referece to international law was omitted, when Kozyrev stressed Russia's right to resort to any measures it felt necessary of "an international, economic, political and other nature" when the rights of Russians were being violated.(66)

Interestingly, often Russia has let a controversial statement rouse anxiety and protest in the Baltic States, and then retract it. The demand that president Yeltsin made in mid-1993 for Russia to be given special powers from the international community to act as a regional peacekeeper in the post-Soviet space serves as an example. When this statement caused uproar in the Baltics, because they interpreted as a direct threat to their sovereignty, the Russian government was quick to correct that the president had not meant the Baltic States should fall under his peacekeeping jurisdiction. Further substantiation of this claim can be taken from another episode in early 1994. (67) Kozyrev stated that in the interests of international stability, Russian troops should remain in the former Soviet Union to avoid a security vacuum, the implication of which was that negotiations on troop withdrawal from Latvia and Estonia would face severe obstacles. The following day his spokeswoman denied that the minister had proposed a continuation of Russian presence in the Baltic States, and that the Russian newsagency Itar-Tass had misconstrued his comments when it indicated he had included them.

The Baltics tended to interpret these incidents as an example of Russia's neo-imperialist thinking, and as proof that Russia had not renounced its claims to having a "special mission" of expanding its civilisation. Russia's retaliation was to accuse the Baltic States, Estonia in particular, of attempting to discredit Russia in the eyes of the West by making such allegations. Russia also accused Estonia of seeking to encourage separatist movements in Chechnya.(68) This leads to the conclusion that the Baltics are not considered to be a part of the "near abroad" in Russia's eyes, but that does not preclude the fact that they are not considered to belong to the "far abroad" either. The accepted policy axiom became that the entire territory of the FSU, Baltic States included, constitutes a vital region for Russia in which its interests cannot be ignored. Whether these interests could be denied to Russia was the crux of the problem in terms of the Baltic States.

At this stage of Russian-Baltic relations, Russian rhetorical attacks at the state level had adopted most of the arguments of the patriotic front. Nevertheless, in terms of policy, no extreme action was taken against the Baltics. A case in point was the event that marked the very beginning of this phase in Russian policy, namely the decree issued by Yeltsin in October 1992 suspending the pullout of troops from the Baltics. The decision was seen to stem from the general hardening of Russian foreign policy and the influence of conservative nationalist forces on the president.(69) Decisively, in this directive Yeltsin explicitly linked the issue of human rights to the withdrawal, stating that no agreements concerning the troops would be signed with Latvia and Estonia "until they have brought their (human and civil rights) legislation into line with international standards."(70) The implication was that the troops would remain to protect the Russian civilians from perceived discrimination. He also stated that the condition for any economic agreements would be the resolution of these problems.(71) The decree, however, had no practical consequences as withdrawal continued. By way of another example, the conflict in Russia between Yeltsin and the Duma in 1993 did not directly affect Russia's policy towards the Baltic States either in terms of practical policy. A broad consensus on foreign policy was established after the defeat of the parliamentary opposition and by the end of the year the assertiveness of Russia's foreign policy only continued to intensify.

All the above led to significant changes in Russia's Baltic policy. Attempting to impress the West with speedy withdrawal was no longer on the agenda because of the change in policy priorities. More emphasis needed to be placed on safeguarding and expanding Russian national interests and the complaints about selling out to Western interests were to be disquieted. Russia did not renounce the use of pressure tactics against the countries of the region should they not conform to these interests. Having been relatively co-operative with the Baltic States in terms of troop withdrawal, Russia now claimed that it was necessary to retain military presence in the region to safeguard the Russian population and at least the rights of the military personnel themselves. Defence minister Pavel Grachev threatened openly on one occasion that the troops would stay until the minority question was resolved.(72) Despite the threatening rhetoric, no drastic action was taken to enforce the verbal threats. Troop withdrawal continued and the numbers of soldiers continued to decrease in all three Baltic States. In Latvia the decline was from 58 000 soldiers in the spring to less than 30 000 by the end of 1992.(73) Eventually the negotiations resumed as well, despite no official cancellation of Yeltsin's October decree.

To complicate matters even further, the border question entered the negotiations between Estonia, Latvia and Russia in this period. Both Baltic countries held the view that the state borders should be considered to be those decreed by the 1920 peace treaties, thus claiming back territories annexed into the RSFSR after the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union. The territories in question were small and populated almost exclusively by Russians, so it was more a question of principle from the Baltic perspective. The issue came to a head when the Supreme Soviet unilaterally declared the administrative borders with all three Baltic States to be the official state borders.(74) Russia was adamant in its justification of the principle of the inviolability of borders in Europe: all attempts to revise borders would be unequivocally viewed as a destabilising factor in European life.(75) In addition, the actual shifting of state borders in the Baltics to the pre-WWII situation would have meant that Lithuania would lose its capital city and an area around it to Poland.

Attacks on Estonia and Latvia on their citizenship legislation increased in both in their vigour and frequency. Sporadically, Russia also threatened Estonia and Latvia with cutting off their gas pipeline and reducing the supply of raw materials for their industries. The hardening of Russian attitudes was clearly evidenced by an attitude survey of Russian Duma deputies, in which Estonia was rated as the country most hostile towards Russia, with the other Baltic States also ranking high.(76) Provocative concepts such as "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing" began to be used by Russian officials in connection with the Estonian and Latvian citizenship laws. However, no concrete steps were taken to enforce the verbal threats. The implication therein is, that although the Russian leadership found it necessary to conform to conservative and nationalist demands, and took a more confrontational stance in defence of the diaspora and its "vital" national interests, the primary objective still remained to retain good relations with the West and to prevent violent hostilities on its borders.

Occasionally, the Russian leadership still seemed perplexed by the key question of whether Russia should officially combine troop pullout with citizenship issues and sent confusing signals to the outside world. This was a reflection of internal struggles between various centres of power in a situation where policy-making was in disarray and division of powers was unclear among the Foreign and Defence Ministries as well as the Presidential Security Council. (77) The Defence Ministry consistently implied that it did make the connection, by claiming that the troops would remain until discrimination ceased, but the Foreign Ministry did not always acknowledge the link between the two issues, and there was no uniformity of opinion on the topic. This inconsistency may have been used as policy tactics, to "periodically have the military scare Tallinn and Riga and then have diplomats soothe things".(78)


Russia's relations with Estonia and Latvia deteriorated considerably over this period. With regard to Lithuania, it is interesting to note that there were no problems with Lithuanian treatment of its (small) Russian minority, and yet the suspension of troop withdrawal in October 1992 and Grachev's subsequent threat were both extended to cover all three Baltic States. It seemed that Lithuanian efforts to build good relations with Russia did not deter the Russian side from treating it on a par with the more offending neighbouring states. As in the other countries, the withdrawal from Lithuania continued in practice. But at the last minute, Russia in fact suddenly halted the withdrawal, two weeks before the agreed deadline of 31 August, 1993. The alleged reason was the lingering disagreement over the issue of compensation. The gravity of the situation was reflected by the fact that contrary to previous threats and halts, this one concerned the abrogation of a formal agreement, signed between Russia and Lithuania in September 1992, and was presented by the Foreign Ministry as opposed to the Defence Ministry.(79) The process was, however, duly completed and contrary to the situation with the other two Baltic countries, Lithuania signed trade agreements with Russia, including the mutual granting of most-favoured-nation status, and transit arrangements relating to Kaliningrad were negotiated.

Russian-Estonian negotiations on withdrawal ultimately reached a compromise between the two sides' demands in November 1993, when the completion date was set on August 31, 1994. The number of troops continued to decline while the negotiations were going on. The success of the negotiation process for Estonia can be seen as surprising, considering the new low-point in relations that year, when the Riigikogu (the Estonian parliament) had passed the new Law on Aliens. The caused great opposition and protests in Russia and among the non-citizens in Estonia. The statement issued by Yeltsin in response to the law was uncompromising: it reminded Estonia of "geopolitical and demographic realities that some seem to have forgotten" and threatened that "Russia will not be able to remain in the position of an indifferent observer" when the rights of Russian-speakers are not respected.(80) In the end, when the law was adopted, it contained amendments proposed by the CSCE and the Council of Europe. Although the Russian President and the Foreign Ministry had criticised the law in harsh terms, it was the Duma that called for "political, economic and other kinds of influence to bear on the Estonian Republic, including a total suspension of the withdrawal of Russian Federation troops".(81) Russia's animosity towards Estonia was explicitly reflected in its attitude to Estonian membership in the Council of Europe. Even though not a full member itself, Russia attempted to block Estonia's admission by claiming it to be "premature" and in the end, Kozyrev avoided the Council's meeting where Estonian membership was confirmed as a diplomatic snub.(82)

In the case of Latvia, the withdrawal negotiations were concluded when a compromise solution was eventually reached. The agreements stipulating a withdrawal timetable and the rental of the Skrunda radar facility were arrived at only a few months before the completion date of the pullout.(83) The completion date was set as it had been in Estonia, with Latvia agreeing to rent the radar base at Skrunda to Russia until August 1998 with an additional 18 months time to dismantle the installation. This annulled one of the major irritants in the relations between the two countries. With respect to the ethnic issue, the rhetoric on the Russian side was increasing in tone and strength. The Latvian election law on local government was adopted in January 1994 that excluded non-citizens from the suffrage. The debates over the draft citizenship law continued and when it was finally passed in June, the law raised international objections. Russia accused Latvia of intentionally pursuing policies that sought to expel Russian-speakers and of harbouring an ideology of racism.

Overall, this period in Russian-Baltic relations was characterised by harsh accusations and enmity. This was reflected by Russia's continuing policy of addressing the international community with its grievances concerning the status of the minorities, and by the enemy image it thus attempted to propagate of the Baltic States both internationally and among Russians in the Baltic. Negotiations between the countries were constantly halted by Russian demands to include agreements on civil and political rights of the Russian speakers in the overall accords of the withdrawal treaties. Russia made constant threats to halt the withdrawal process throughout the period, but in the end, the last troops departed on schedule at the end of August 1994. Nonetheless, the final withdrawal signified that the Russian government upheld the recognition of Baltic independence. With the removal of the last Russian troops from Estonia and Latvia, the time was ripe for a new alteration in policy.

2.3 Opposing NATO: mid-1994 - early 1997

The third stage of Russian policy towards the Baltic States, beginning from the completion of the troop withdrawal, was marked by the continuation of security concerns as the crux of Russian-Baltic relations. The question of NATO expansion and the underlying context of European security overshadowed other aspects of these relations in this period. Conflict concerning citizenship issues did not disappear, however, by any means, and statements on the plight of the Russian minorities were hardly moderated. Although Russian interests included both the security aspect and the protection of its nationals in the Baltic States, the security questions can be seen to have dominated in the actual policy-making.

The policy arsenal in the hands of the Russian leadership changed considerably after the completion of the withdrawal process, which justifies the division of the second and third stage into separate phases. Once its military presence had ended, Russia had more freedom to use pressure tactics in the sphere of diplomacy and to use its economic leverage, because it was no longer considered an occupying power. Kozyrev immediately made a promise of "speaking much more loudly" in the defence of his compatriots.(84) The ethnic issue did not cause direct threats of intervention Latvia or Estonia at this stage either. In this sense as well, it was the NATO issue that commanded most concern and caused the harshest reaction. In general, the minority question was exploited to a greater extent, but in terms of economics, threats of sanctions as a means of coercion were replaced by delaying negotiations over the granting of most favoured nation -status (MFN). Minority and economic issues combined to make the Russian stance towards Baltic EU-membership mostly favourable, as increased wealth and co-operation with Western Europe was considered to be conducive to both more relaxed citizenship legislation and a lessened desire on the part of the Baltic Russians to immigrate back to the homeland. The prospect of the Baltic States joining the EU was considered by Russia to be a positive development for its own economic development, as it would bring more EU members to its borders, but in particular, through being an alternative to NATO.

In Russia's foreign policy in general, this stage was marked by a clearer definition of national interests and greater assertiveness in pursuing them. The overall strategy was discernible, whereas the tactics chosen could vary and continue to cause disagreement among different actors. The recognition that the neighbouring states constituted a vital area for Russia led to the policy of maximising Russian influence in the region in the tradition of "great powers". Parallel to this, the recognition of global interdependency in economic terms and of the importance of Western financial co-operation precluded any major deviations from the general path of co-operation in the world community. The change of foreign minister reflected the permanent shift in tactics that had already taken place. Kozyrev, who had long been blamed for endangering Russia by means of increasing dependency on the West, and whose policy has been characterised by "hard-edged but impotent declarations"(85) was replaced by Yevgenii Primakov in January 1996. The transformations in Russia's Baltic policy brought about by these personnel changes were not substantial, but concerned more the increased coherence of policy as a result of the receding differences between the Foreign and Defence Ministries' tactics. Primakov personally emphasised the use of Russia's economic leverage in policy in order to bind the neighbouring regions closer to the centre(86), in the light of which it was not surprising that Russia's Baltic transit trade continued to expand.

The most significant issue in Russian-Baltic relations was the question of NATO expansion and Russia's rejection of the idea of Baltic membership in the alliance. Russia remained unequivocally and adamantly opposed to it:

"There can be no question of even the hypothetical possibility of extending NATO's sphere of operation to the Baltic countries. Such a prospect is categorically unacceptable to Russia, and we would regard steps in that direction as posing a direct challenge to our national security interests and destroying the fundamental structures of European stability."(87)

Russian opposition to the alliance's eastward move was modified to accept the membership of the three Central European states in combination with its own charter with NATO. Vis-à-vis the Baltics, Russia never changed its view of their membership being utterly unacceptable, and expected its pressure to act as a veto on the geographic range of the expansion of the alliance. A significant development on the domestic political scene was that opposition to NATO united all factions of the political arena, thus generating a significant consensus on Russian strategy and national interests. Russia's position on NATO also reflected its growing geo-political concerns in foreign policy. Its interests were to retain hegemony in the post-Soviet space, and avoid the threat of for forces on its borders. The main point was that although Russia was seen to stop short of trying to assert military control over the whole area of the FSU (Baltics included), its policy was to prevent any other country from exerting influence in the region at its expense. The Russian view was that this was a pragmatic policy, whereas the Baltic States interpreted it as a return to traditional spheres of influence -thinking. The policy of dictating or influencing the security decisions of neighbouring states was not perceived by Russians as anything but their legitimate right.


Russian-Estonian relations deteriorated increasingly through this stage and became evidently the most strained of the three Baltic States. Despite the fact that the primary objective of both sides in using harsh rhetoric was to appease their own domestic constituencies, the tensions constituted a big problem and Russia clearly put more pressure on Estonia that the other Baltic States. Russia accused Estonia of trying to present Russia on the international and especially on the European scene as a threatening force hoping that this would give it better position towards integration into European institutions and structures.(88) The mutual accusations centred on earlier themes. Russia's primary objections were the Estonian territorial claims and the exclusion of non-citizens from political life in all but local elections.

The question of annexation was again brought up during the Russian-Estonian border talks. Russia's stance was not to acknowledge the Soviet occupation, because it would - in Russia's view - have set the stage for possible compensation claims for illegal annexation.(89) From the Russian view, a border settlement could not be worked on with the other side presenting territorial claims. Progress was made after the Estonians concentrated on a new dimension of the issue: instead of pressing for the acceptance of the 1920 Tartu treaty and the territorial claims resulting from it, the emphasis was turned to the validity of the treaty, renouncing the claims themselves in November 1995.(90) The historical significance of the treaty as the prime symbol of Estonian nationhood continued to be denied by Russia, which claimed the treaty had no more significance than other historical treaties and could not be thought as relevant to the contemporary situation. The question was more broadly of the different interpretations of Estonia and Russia of the status of the new Estonian republic - whether it was a continuation of the old republic, the development of which was only disrupted by a period of occupation. In Russia's view the 1920 treaty had become null and void at the time of Estonia's incorporation into the Soviet Union. A crucial shift in Estonian policy came at the end of 1996, when it announced its readiness to sign border treaty with Russia, relinquishing its previous demands in connection with the Tartu Treaty.(91) Immediately afterwards, Latvia agreed to act accordingly and sign a treaty on the basis of present de facto border.(92) This readiness can easily be interpreted as having resulted from their desire to join NATO and the EU - neither of which would under any circumstances accept member states that have unresolved border disputes. The issue was not, however, brought to a conclusion.

Russia's application for membership of the Council of Europe was debated in the Council's Parliamentary Assembly on January 26, 1996 amid fierce controversy on the subjects of human rights and the war in Chechnya. The vote was clearly in favour of admission, but Russians focused on the fact that the Estonian delegation did not endorse Russia's bid for membership. This led Kozyrev to ignore Estonia while sending out letters of thanks to Latvia and Lithuania. The interesting point besides the rather restrained response is the fact that two Latvians also voted against Russia and the Lithuanians abstained.(93) The minority issue had receded to some extent after Estonia's elections in 1995, after which the Russian community had six representatives in parliament, unlike in Latvia, where the percentage of non-citizens (without voting rights) was still 28%. This supports the contention that Russia had singled out Estonia for harsher policy.

Latvia's stand on the border issue was similar to that of Estonia's and the concepts of annexation and occupation caused more tensions in Russian-Latvian relations in 1996. In the disputed territory only 0.1% of the population of the area are ethnic Latvians - the assumption that Latvia needed an increase in the numbers of its nationality minorities seems rather absurd. The emphasis was elsewhere: the Latvian parliament adopted a resolution demanding recognition of annexation and compensation for damages caused during the occupation period, but not only from Russia but from the international community.(94) The resolution also condemned the transfer of territory in 1944 and bluntly stated that the Soviet Union "purposefully carried out genocide against the people of Latvia", but no longer explicitly demanded the return of the area. The Russian reaction was severe and the next round of talks with Russia suffered from the bringing up of this issue.(95)

The change in Russian tactics after its military presence was over was evidenced by the imposition of tariffs on Latvian and Estonian imports as well as the disputes and delays over the implementation of most-favoured-nation-status (MFN). Likewise, Russia used economic pressure on Lithuania to solve the Kaliningrad transit question. Lithuania had followed the most conciliatory path towards Russia. However, Russia refused to ratify the trade agreement or to implement the MFN-accords until Lithuania relented on the transit issue. Lithuania extended the earlier transit regulations to cover the year 1995, although it had passed legislation changing and tightening the rules that was to have come into force at the beginning of 1995.(96) These were to apply to all foreign countries equally. They stipulated the need for individual permits for the transport of personnel and goods, as well as prohibited the simultaneous transport of troops and equipment or weapons and ammunition. In the end, in exchange for an immediate implementation of agreements concerning economic relations, Lithuania left the earlier regulations in force for one year, with the implication that the process would annually be repeated.(97) In general, by this stage relations between these two states had developed to the level of cordiality.

Overall, Russia's policy was two-fold: on the one hand, it applied sanctions against the Baltic States collectively, and on the other, it reacted more harshly to Estonian policy than corresponding actions of Latvia. Russian-Estonian relations seemed to have been the most strained in the region through this period. Both states reacted to what they termed as provocation in an extremely harsh manner, which only served to reinforce the problematic situation; a kind of vicious circle of recriminations based on more emotion than facts. Relationships between Russia on the one hand and the three Baltic States on the other were differentiated on two dimensions: the size of the Russian minority in the country and the citizenship laws it implemented, and the existence of territorial claims. The relations have changed in substance and tone. Lithuania started out by attempting to put the most pressure on Russia to pull out its troops, but has since established friendlier relations. It had no difficulties on border demarcation (insisting on the borders of 1920 would have meant the loss of a considerable territory, including Vilnius itself) and as its minorities were small, Lithuania had granted citizenship to all residents at the time of re-independence. Latvia's situation at the beginning of the independence period was most constrained by the existence of the largest Russian minority, but it established better relations with Russia than neighbouring Estonia. The demand for Russia to recognise the illegality of the Soviet occupation remained a trouble-spot in the relations between both countries and Russia.

February 1997 marked a watershed in Russia's Baltic strategy, when the Russian leadership publicised a conceptual outline of its Baltic policy. (98) This was the first policy-paper that had been made on the issues, and it set the guidelines for the entirety of Russian-Baltic relations. Thus it attempted to scrutinise security, minority, economic and international issues in a consistent way. It stressed the "exceptional importance" of these relations, and even emphasised the mutual economic benefits resulting from trade instead of its earlier insistence that the Baltic States were insignificant to its overall trade. The question of NATO expansion was prominently discussed in the text, and the possibility of further deterioration in Russian-Baltic relations was highlighted: expansion would create "a serious barrier" between the countries. In terms of the minorities, the policy paper set a different tone and stressed their integration as its long-term goal, and advocated further the mediation of international organisations in the issue. An explicit conclusion in the new blueprint was that Russia's Baltic policy had up until that time been poorly planned.

Through this last stage, Russian policy had been more confrontational than co-operational, although again mostly on the rhetorical side. The refusal to negotiate and enact economic treaties did cause some harm on the practical level. Russia's firm stance on NATO was a reflection of its new policy of asserting its own interests even in the face of Western disapproval. The increased sharpness in official statements and the policy paper of February 1997 can be construed as different tactics to counter the threat of NATO expansion and a possible attempt to bargain with the West on the issue. The lengths to which Russia was willing to go in defence of its strategic interests were never tested, as the Baltic States were not included in the first round of membership negotiations with NATO. Russia's policy in refusing to accommodate small states can be interpreted as great power mentality or tactics, not necessarily as a categorical denial of their independent statehood, but insistence that its small neighbouring states keep the interests of their larger neighbour in mind.


46. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report (RFE/RL) Vol 2, No 25, 18 June 1993, p.50 "Progress on Withdrawal from the Baltic States" (Dzintra Bungs), p. 50.

47. Ibid., p. 51.

48. RFE/RL, Vol 1, No 37, 18 September 1992, p. 66 "Military and Security Notes" (Stephen Foye and Alfred Reisch).

49. Izvestia, 3 February 1992, p.2 "Troop Withdrawal from the Baltic States to Begin in February" (Nikolai Laskevich and Irina Litvinova). (Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press (CDPSP), Vol XLIV, No 5.)

50. RFE/RL, Vol 1, No 49, 11 December 1992, p.23 "Conference in Salzburg on Baltic Security" (Jan Arved Trapans).

51. The Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.

52. RFE/RL, Vol 1, No 43, 30 October 1992, p.72 "Weekly Review" (Dzintra Bungs, Suzanne Crow, Hal Kosiba).

53. RFE/RL, Vol 2, No 1, 1 January 1993, p. 98 "Latvia: Towards Full Independence" (Dzintra Bungs).

54. RFE/RL, Vol 1, No 50, 18 December 1991, p. 38 "Citizenship legislation in the Baltic States" (Dzintra Bungs, Saulius Girnius and Riina Kionka).

55. Ibid., p. 40.

56. Nikolai Rudensky: Russian minorities in the Newly Independent States: An International Problem in the Domestic Context of Russia Today, in the volume National Identity and Ethnicity in Russia and the New States of Eurasia (Armonk, N.Y 1994), p. 74.

57. RFE/RL Vol. 1, No 40, 9 October 1992, p. 54 "Military and Security Notes" (Stephen Foye and Alfred Reisch); RFE/RL Vol. 1, No 46, 20 November 1992, p. 49 "Military and Security Notes" (Foye and Reisch).

58. RFE/RL Vol. 1, No 27, 17 July 1992, p. 59 "Military and Security Notes" (Foye).

59. Paul Kolstoe: Russians in the Former Soviet Republics (London 1995), p. 283.

60. RFE/RL Vol. 1, No 23, 5 June 1992, p. 59 "Military and Security Notes" (Stephen Foye and Douglas Clarke). See also RFE/RL Vol 2, No 1, 1 January 1993, p. 91 "Estonia: A Difficult Transition" (Riina Kionka).

61. Alex Pravda: The Politics of Foreign Policy, in the volume Developments in Russian Politics 4 (Basingstoke 1997), p. 210.

62. Roger Kanet and Alexander Kozhemiakin: The Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation (Basingstoke 1997), p. 31.

63. Lena Jonson: Russia and the "Near Abroad", Concepts and Trends, in the volume The Baltic States in World Politics (Surrey 1998), p. 112.

64. 64 Nezavisimaya gazeta, 19 January 1994, p. 1 "Foreign Minister Holds Conference on Russian Foreign Policy." (CDPSP Vol. XLVI, No 3.)

65. RFE/RL, Vol 2, No 44, 6 November 1993, p. 72 "Weekly Review" (Hal Kosiba and Louisa Vinton).

66. ITAR-TASS, 14 January 1993. (Summary of World Broadcasts, Soviet Union (SWB SU)/1589, 18 January 1993, p. A2/1.)

67. The Boston Globe, 18 January 1994, p. 7.

68. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 3 March 1993, p. 3 "Idea of 'Cordon Sanitaire' Is Alive and Well" (Ilya Nikiforov). (CDPSP Vol XLV, No 9.)

69. RFE/RL, Vol 1, No 46, 20 November 1992, p. 30 "Russian Politics Complicates Baltic Troop Withdrawal" (Stephen Foye).

70. Ibid., p. 31.

71. Izvestia, 30 October 1992, p. 1 "Troop Withdrawal from the Baltic States Suspended" (Boris Vinogradov). (CDPSP, Vol XLIV, No 44.)

72. RFE/RL, Vol 2, no 43, 29 October 1993, p.17 "News Briefs: 18 - 22 October 1993".

73. RFE/RL, Vol 2, no 1, 1 January 1993, p. 97 "Latvia: Toward Full Independence" (Dzintra Bungs).

74. RFE/RL, Vol 1, No 46, 20 November 1992, p. 64 "Weekly Review" (Suzanne Crow and Riina Kionka).

75. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 9 April 1993, p. 3 "Troop Withdrawal from Estonia Continues" (Natalya Pachegina). (CDPSP, Vol XLV, No 14.)

76. RFE/RL, Vol 1, No 47, 27 November 1992, p. 65 "Weekly Review" (Hal Kosiba and Ann Sheehy).

77. Stephen Larrabee and Theodore Karasik: Foreign and Security Policy Decisionmaking Under Yeltsin (Washington, D.C 1997), p. 7.

78. Izvestia, 22 October 1993, p.3 "Pavel Gratchev is Blackmailing Riga and Tallinn on His Own Initiative. So Claim Russian Diplomats" (Gennady Charodeyev and Konstantin Eggert). (CDPSP, Vol.XLV, No 42.)

79. The Washington Post, 23 August 1993, p. A1.

80. Statement by the President of the Russian Federation. Taken from Rossiiskaya gazeta, 25 June 1993, p.2. (CDPSP, Vol XLV, No 25.)

81. Sevodnya, 2 July 1993, p.1 "Russian Parliament Forbids Troop Withdrawal from Estonia" (Aleksei Zubro). (CDPSP, Vol XLV, No 26.)

82. Izvestia, 12 May 1993, p.3 "Russia Tries to Block Estonia's Admission to the Council of Europe" (Yuri Kovalenko). (CDPSP, Vol XLV, No 19, p.18.)

83. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 5 May 1994, p.3 "Yeltsin and Ulmanis Reach Agreement" (Vitaly Portnikov). (CDPSP, Vol XLVI, No 18.)

84. William Maley: Does Russia Speak for Baltic Russians? The World Today, Vol 51, No 1, 1995, p.4.

85. Kolstoe, p. 271.

86. Aivars Stranga: Russia and the Security of Baltic States 1991-1996, p.179.

87. Yeltsin's letter to Clinton on eve of Baltic presidents' visit to the US. Taken from Izvestia, 6 July 1996, p. 2 "Secret Yeltsin-Clinton Correspondence" (Konstantin Eggert and Maksim Yusin). (CDPSP, Vol XLVIII, No 27.)

88. Transition, Vol 2, No 11, 31 May 1996, p.42 "Relations with Russia Turn Bitter" (Saulius Girnius).

89. Izvestia, 20 March 1992, p.3 "Russia Rejects Latvia's Territorial Claims" (Gennady Charodeyev). (CDPSP, Vol XLIV, No 12.) See also Transition, Vol 2, No 23, 15 November 1996, p.18 "Restraint and Resentment from the Baltic States" (Saulius Girnius).

90. The Baltic Independent, Vol 6 No 292, 1 - 7 December 1996, p.2 "Border Talks Snag on Pre-War Treaty" (Burton Frierson).

91. CDPSP No 45. Sevodnya, 6 November 1996, p.1.

92. Ibid., Sevodnya 12 November 1996, p.2.

93. Transition, 31 May 1996, p. 43 "Relations with Russia Turn Bitter" (Saulius Girnius).

94. Transition, Vol 2, No 23, 15 November 1996, p.17 "Restraint and Resentment from the Baltic States" (Saulius Girnius).

95. Sevodnya, 27 August 1996, p. 2 "Latvian Prime Minister's Visit to Moscow Will Evidently Be Cancelled" (Leonid Velekhov). (CDPSP, Vol XLVIII, No 34.).

96. Ingmar Oldberg: Kaliningrad och Östersjöregionens säkerhet (Stockholm 1998), p. 2.

97. Transition, Vol 1, No 4, 29 March 1995, pp 44-46 "Compromise at the Crossroads" (Saulius Girnius).

98. Izvestia, 12 February 1997, p. 1 "Russia Formulates its Baltic Policy". (CDPSP, Vol XLIX, No 7.)

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