By: PAUL HANNON
Published: Oct. 18, 2013
Latvia is preparing to join the euro zone in January, and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovksis is concerned about Russian President Putin putting pressure on the Baltic States that are leaning toward the West. Dombrovksis, however is optimistic about the economic benefits, and geopolitical significance available to Latvia as it aligns itself to the West. The Latvian Prime Minister describes its relations with neighboring Russia as “quite bumpy” as the larger nation has not welcomed Latvian’s movement toward the West. According to Dombrovksis, Russia has also been applying pressure on trade with other neighboring states such as Lithuania which is a European Union member, and Moldova and Ukraine as they seek to align themselves with the EU. Putin denies that Russia is bullying its neighbors. Dombrovskis maintains that joining the euro zone will be beneficial to Latvia’s economy because of lower interest rates, and by reassuring foreign investors that Latvia is a safe place for their money. Polls show that despite a slight increase in recent months, a majority of Latvians are opposed to adopting the euro. The polls are irrelevant, however, because Latvia committed to adopting the euro when it joined the EU in 2004. Dombrovskis said that his government is supportive of strict controls on budgetary policies which should prevent future bailouts, and also supports Germany in a role of “enforcer of discipline” in making sure that future Latvian governments are “following the rules.”
A little background…just because (Courtesy of newworldencyclopedia.org). Latvia is bordered on the West by the Baltic Sea, on the North by Estonia, on the South by Lithuania, (the three together make up the Baltic States) and Russia and Belarus to the East. On October 5, 1939, a “mutual assistance” pact with the Soviet Union was forced on Latvia which granted the Soviets the right to station 25,000 troops on Latvian territory. Latvia’s annexation into the USSR was formalized in August 1940. On May 4, 1990, the Declaration of the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia was adopted by the Soviets (subject to a transition period), and Latvian independence was finally achieved on August 21, 1991. The withdrawal of the Russian military was completed in 1994. Latvia joined NATO and the EU in 2004, and at the time of the New World Encyclopedia article (last updated in December 2011) had one of the lowest standards of living in the EU, while its economy enjoys one of the highest growth rates.
The Wall Street Journal online article is a brief one, and other than “applying pressure on trade,” doesn’t give detail on how Russia is pressuring Latvia. Since Latvia gained its independence, Russia has been opposed to the expansion of NATO and the EU to the Baltic States that were formerly part of the USSR. In a speech to Russian diplomats in January of 2001, Putin said “We consider the policy of NATO enlargement to be a mistake and we say that it is unacceptable to us.” From a BBC online article from 26 January 2001, you can find it here.
I was also able to find a very interesting essay by Dr. Janusz Bugajski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, published in 2006 which sheds some light on what tactics Putin may be using to pressure Latvia and the other two Baltic States.
According to Dr. Bugajski, Putin’s goal is to create a legacy by restoring Russia as a super power. In the years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Putin has taken several approaches to assert control and apply pressure on its neighbors. He has applied this pressure using diplomacy, energy, economic leverage, and other means in an effort to keep the Baltic States dependent on Russia and prevent them from Westernizing, as well as to keep other former Soviet states from leaning West.
You can find that essay here.
My opinion? I may well be too old, having grown up in Cold War days, to be very trusting of Russia (Specifically, Russia as a government, not as a people). I’m more inclined to believe Dombrovskis and Bugajski that Putin seeks to maintain some control of the states that were formerly within the borders, willingly or not, of the USSR than I am to believe that he is unconcerned about the expansion of NATO.