Russia's policy towards the Baltic States is a valid object of research because of the uniqueness of these relations in the post-communist world. Too often this policy is viewed simplistically as either being a "litmus test" of Russia's democratic credentials and of its policy towards Europe, or as a deviation from its policy towards the former Soviet Union, what it terms the "near abroad". Most analysts dismiss the Baltic issue too easily, and pay insufficient attention to Russia's distinct interests in the region and the constraints that shape its policy. The exceptionality of the Baltic States is generally attributed solely to the protection extended to them by the West, and if the analyst takes the view that Russia's imperialist tendencies have not disappeared, the Baltic States are regarded to remain an "eternal captive" as a natural part of the Russian sphere of influence.(1) This thesis aims to contribute to filling the gap by outlining the development of Russian policy in this context, and evaluating the reasons from the Russian point of view for treating the Baltic States as sui generis. I want to argue that Russia's policy in the first five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union has not reflected an imperial drive, and that the reasons for why Russia's policy has shown relative restraint are more nuanced than merely the impact of western involvement.
Due to limitations of space and time, I am restricting my work to cover Estonia and Latvia, with Lithuania serving only as a point of comparison - but often a very enlightening one.
What I have set out to do in this thesis is to examine what has actually happened and why. Given the initial fears at the time of re-independence that Russia's Baltic policy was going to be militant because of the potential explosiveness of ethnic and security issues, what is interesting is the comparative lack of instability in the region. It is precisely the absence of actual conflict - as opposed to verbal accusations and counteraccusations - in a situation ridden with problems that can provide insight into the specific nature of Russia's Baltic policy. Therefore I begin with describing the negative legacy of the past in my first chapter, and go on to make a chronological assessment of the period in chapter two. The time limits I have set in my thesis are somewhat hesitant. Because of the difficulties of including the period of Soviet breakdown in my analysis - although this contained an interesting configuration of elite co-operation - I have begun my research at the time of Russia's "independence", 1992. My research covered the subsequent five years, and the end of the period is determined by the publication in February 1997 of the government's first policy paper on the Baltic States.
My intention in this thesis is to analyse why Russia has shown restraint in its policy. Russian-Baltic relations have certainly commanded considerable space in world news in the period in question due to problems connected with the Russian minorities and security (troop withdrawal and NATO expansion). Nevertheless, I want to argue that this has deflected attention from those aspects of Russian-Baltic relations that have motivated Russia to act in a relatively restrained manner. In order to assess the set of constraints that prevent it from pursuing a hard line, I will analyse each of the main elements of Russian policy separately in chapters 3 - 6. The influence of one theme is not a straightforward question of whether it causes control or conflict: there are subtleties and even contradictions within each element that arise from their in-depth study.
My focus is on the three main elements that make up Russia's Baltic policy: the military, economic and ethnic questions, as these are topics that relate to Russian national interests, and the international dimension, as it cannot be dismissed in Russian-Baltic relations. I will attempt to assess the relative significance of these elements and the interplay among them. Russian foreign policy can be analysed as a game played simultaneously on several "chess boards" - the geo-political, geo-economic and geo-ideological. Each board has its own figures, its own rules, and its own stakes.(2) In the case of Baltic policy, these "chess boards" cannot be entirely separated from each other. By looking at the general developments in relations among these countries and then at each element in turn in more depth, I can arrive at an analysis of Russia's overall policy.
The source material I have used for my thesis consists of a wide range of literature and journals. The topic that has by far been studied most widely is the Russian minorities question, of which the best studies are Jeff Chinn and Michael Kaiser's "Russians as the New Minority", Paul Kolstoe's "Russians in the Former Soviet Republics" and Neil Melvin's "Russians Beyond Russia". They are essentially similar - and not only as regards their titles - in that they look at the questions in post-Soviet politics almost entirely in terms of the "Diaspora" issue, and thus attribute the vast majority of Russian policy decisions to the ethic question - an assumption that I dispute in my chapter on the Russian minorities. I have found no comprehensive study on the Baltic States that would incorporate all the various aspects of Russia's policy. There is a general division between books dealing with post-Soviet politics in the Baltic States or in Russia - no overall assessments of Russia's Baltic policy. Much more has, for instance, been written on Russia's policy towards the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). As an examination of the historical legacy of Russian-Baltic relations, the classics of Vilho Niitemaa and Edward Thaden still stand out. Most writing on the security aspect has been done by Baltic researchers, and the possibility of national bias must be kept in mind when using their work. The international context has received rather little detailed attention so far. Hanne-Marget Birckenbach's study on preventative diplomacy was a good guide to the policies of the OSCE and the Council of Europe in mediating in the ethnic conflict, but surprisingly, the prominent question of NATO expansion and the Baltic States has not produced significant studies. Birthe Hansen and Bertel Heurlin's "The Baltic States in World Politics" is perhaps the only attempt at a study that covers both the Russian and the Western approaches to the Baltic States, but here too the parts pertaining to Russia are only related to security. The omission of the economic element seems to be a common trait, and few researchers have attempted to even look at the security and minority aspects simultaneously. Therefore trying to make an assessment comprising all the aspects or Russian policy is a justified exercise.
I have extensively and systematically used a variety of news sources. These include Russian newspaper material (in English translation), press releases and news reports, a weekly journal on post-communist countries' affairs.(3) In addition, I have used some Baltic, British and American newspapers to expand and diversify my source base.(4) The availability of official documents concerning the issues related to this thesis are restricted to a small number of OSCE and Council of Europe documents that have been published. My source-base is therefore lacking to a degree in comprehensiveness, but I believe that it is possible to arrive at an analysis and to draw valid conclusions with the source material I have had at my disposal.
In an attempt to avoid dullness in my text, I have used the following terms interchangeably: the "Baltic States", "Baltics", "Baltic countries" and the "Baltic region" - it is important to note that in the last case, the word Baltic refers to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and not the Baltic Sea. The Finnish term "Baltia" is not translatable into English ("Baltic"), because this would certainly cause confusion over whether it pertains to the countries or the sea.
Due to limitations in the span of a thesis, I have not analysed Russian policy in terms of the various actors who constitute the overall establishment of foreign policy -making. Therefore the terms "Russia", "Russian leadership", "decision-makers" remain rather ambiguous, but I have attempted to analyse Russia's official policies. Furthermore, I have avoided the term "foreign policy" when talking specifically about the Baltic context, because this would already assume a certain interpretation of Russian policy. I do not want to argue that the Baltic States belong to the Russian concept of the "near abroad", but as they do not constitute part of Western policy either, it is not justified to talk about foreign policy as such. I have also used the terms "the West" and "the international community" interchangeably. In my text, they both denote West European and North American governments, the EU, and various international organisations that have taken interest in the Baltic case.
1. Robert Blackwill: Russia and its periphery, in the volume Engaging Russia (New York 1995), p. 9.
2. Vladimir Lukin: Russia and Its Interests, in the volume Rethinking Russia's National Interests (Washington, D.C 1994), p.113. Lukin is the former Russian ambassador to the US and the chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Russian Parliament ("Duma").
3. The Current Digest of Post-Soviet Press (CDPSP), the BBC World Service: Summary of World Broadcasts (SWB), the U.S. Government's Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty Research Report (later Transition).
4. The Baltic Times (later The Baltic Independent), The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.