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Ioannis Chatzopoulos
(Political Scientist, MA University of Warwick, Editor -in -Chief of Nea Politiki monthly review)

Copyright: www.rieas.gr

‘‘Perhaps no part of Europe has suffered more from the old pattern of geopolitics then the Baltic states...and no part of Europe will benefit more if we are successful in overcoming these old patterns and replace them with new habits of cooperation’’ (Madeleine Allbright, Former U.S. Secretary of State, 1997)

The geopolitical importance of the Baltic States

The geopolitical interpretation of the Baltic states position in the international system shows that their position is rather complicated. The Baltic states are located in the region which is circumvented by the main geopolitical collisions. At the same time East-Baltic sub-region is a place where a fundamental confrontation of global powers is feasible. Therefore, the East-Baltic subregion is a ‘theatre’ both for maritime and continental powers.

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century the indigenous ethnic and cultural communities began to dominate in the socio-political life of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These developments created sufficient circumstances for founding respective nation-states and highlighted the main geopolitical problems of the East-Baltic sub-region as well.

The Baltic states are highlighted by two abnormal traits. Firstly, very unfavourable proportions in demographical and territorial terms of size between the Baltic states and their neighbors should be highlighted. The neighbouring countries are much larger and stronger. The weakness or inexistence of civic institutions in the Baltic states was obvious so politics was based on ethnic and linguistic ties. Moreover, the Baltic states have permanent insecurity. A specific geographical and geopolitical situation of the Baltic countries prevented a secure environment for themselves. Besides, they received no security guarantees from the other countries.

The conditions of the Baltic states (from the early stages) was a consequence of the geopolitical codes of the great powers, which predisposed them to the traditional balancing of power. According to the French view, the new Baltic states, created in 1918, together with some Central European countries should have made up a belt of states from the North to the South of Europe that would separate Germany from Soviet Russia. Eitvydas states that ‘such a cordon would not have been applicable to non-Soviet Russia. For that reason, according to the French model, the future of the newly established states was very uncertain’.

The maritime states – the United Kingdom and partially the United States projected the Baltic states both as a barrier and as a bridge to Russia. They sought not only to stop German and Russian power, but also to transmit  liberal and democratic values of the maritime states to the Baltic Republics. According to Eitvydas ‘In this respect, the British model countered the French one and that circumstance undermined the potential of the Baltic states to perform the function of a geopolitical gateway’.

Being defeated in World War I, the aim of Germany was to secure its spheres of influence across Central and Eastern Europe through the foundation of German protectorates. The geopolitical plan of Germany was to use the Baltic states as satellites. Soviet Russia viewed the Baltic countries as a tool for the expansion of the world socialist revolution to the West. From their side, Poland and France sought to include the Baltic states into the barrier against Soviet Russia and Germany. However, Poland thought of a closer integration with Lithuania in order to revive the Polish-Lithuanian federation.

The Baltic States acted as a unified force leading up to their independence, exploiting the apparently weakened Soviet state. In 1990, Lithuania declared their independence, and then Latvia and Estonia followed, though it was not recognized until the Soviet Union was officially dissolved in December 1991. Estonia was the first Baltic country invited to discussions for accession to the EU, followed by Latvia and Lithuania in 1998. At the end of the twentieth century the bipolar international system moved towards unipolarity.

The elements of the global governance through international institutions and the support for the world wide expansion of democracy have led to the re-establishment of the Baltic states and to their accession to the Western security and economic organizations.The geostrategic situation of the Baltic states suggests Russia is the main threat. According to Eitvydas, ‘assessing the situation realistically, Russia could probably project only limited military operations in the Baltic region in an opportune international situation.

The Baltic states would counter a threat by a defensive posture similar to that of Finland. This demands close Baltic defence collaboration and a Baltic interoperability’.

Baltic States and the Geopolitics of Energy

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are the first and only former Soviet Republics to join western institutions, becoming members both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004. This move was a reflection of clashing cultural and political values that had been present before their integration into the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

Moreover, in the post Soviet period, the Baltic States developed a distinctly anti-Russian stance, as Russia succeeded Soviet Union after 1991. In the two decades since the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Baltic States, Russia has been asserting both soft and hard power in neighboring countries. Additionally, Russia’s energy policy towards their neighbors has significantly affected their relationship with European Union member states through their role as the main supplier of natural gas.

The three Baltic states are heavily dependent on imports for their energy sectors (Latvia 60%, Estonia 22%, Lithuania 50% in 2009), and almost entirely dependent on gas and oil imports, most of which is supplied by Russia. Due to the weakness of the infrastructure, the Baltic states are isolated and largely connected only to the Russian system whose roots can be found in the USSR period.Additionally, these states confront domestic problems also, which negatively affect the situation. Heavy corruption was an obstacle to the privatization process, leading to the Gazprom indirect control, of the primary part of the supply and distribution systems in all three countries.

Beside, the EU demands and the need to follow its new regulations was a disastrous combination.Lithuania was a characteristic example. Prior to 2010, Lithuania’s energy mix consisted of 51% imports (from Russia), and 32$ nuclear energy, with the rest being attributed to renewables. Ignalina power plant closed at the end of 2009, as a condition of its accession to EU, leading to dramatic effects.

The new energy mix for 2010 showed significant changes: 80% dependency on energy import from Russia, and only 2% from alternative suppliers.This is not an ideal situation in any case; it’s even less so when that supplier is Russia. And we’re not just talking words. In 2003, the Russian oil pipeline company Transneft and the Federal Energy Commission decided to stop exports of Russian oil through the Ventspils marine terminal (the largest of three marine terminals in Latvia). While the official justification was the high tariffs claimed by Latvia, it’s no coincidence that prior to this incident, Latvia had refused to sell Ventspils Nafta assets to Transneft.

And the scandal of the Mazeiku Nafta transaction in Lithuania is legendary. In 2 years, between 1998 and 2000, the oil supply to Lithuania was cut 9 times, in order to prevent the selling of the Mazeiku Nafta consortium to the American Company William International. At the end of 2006, when the transaction was finalized and PKN Orlen acquired some 85% of Mazeiku Nafta shares, the supply to Mazeiku oil refinery through the Druzhba pipeline was halted, under pretexts of repairs to the pipeline.

One cannot help but observe a certain trend in Russia’s energy politics.Lithuania was planning the construction of a new, modern nuclear power station in the place of Ignalina, a plan that was abandoned after the  by referendum of 2012. The Baltics have also initiated cooperation with Poland and Finland, in order to build new infrastructure and achieve their connection with the rest of Europe, In addition, the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan was signed together with other EU Baltic states such as Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Poland with the aim to increase the integration level into the EU Internal Energy Market by creating a new, fully integrated energy market between the Baltic States.

The other energy road for the Baltic countries is the new LNG terminals planned for construction in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.The politically fragmented, commercially open and ethnically mixed domestic Baltic political environment gives several opportunities for Russian influence. Despite their EU and NATO membership, Moscow continues to keep the Baltic states under its political, economic, and energy dominance. Russia achieves this control over the Baltic states through the blatant use of sanctions, networking, financial inducement and to public diplomacy.


Till today, the only two successful Baltic energy projects have been the completion in 2007 of Estlink, an electricity link connecting Estonia and Finland, and the opening of an oil terminal in Butingen in 1999. Despite the Baltic support for the European Commission’s Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan, projects such as an electricity link to Sweden and one to Poland, a gas link to Poland, an LNG terminal, and a new nuclear power plant in Visaginas, Lithuania are not executed yet, Baltic Co-operation in Security policy The Baltic Sea region today seems to be secure from any tension.

Problems such as the presence of Russia troops in the soil of the Baltic countries, a high degree of militarization in the Baltic neighborhood, conflicts related to minority and human rights issues in Estonia and Latvia, unilateral dependency from the Eastern energy supply do not dominate the security agendas any more.

The type of tension most likely occur in the Baltic is linked to political extremism, drug trafficking, smuggling, illegal immigration. Moreover, there are other practical issues as the economic security and the obligations of the Baltic states as EU and NATO member states taking part in military operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

The NATO membership opens the way for closer co-operation between NATO and Russia and functions as a bridge between them. The cooperation in security and defence takes place under the form of trilateral projects embraced by the Baltic Security Assistance Group-BaltSea for short-which coordinates the bilateral assistance rendered by the allies of  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the field of security and defence. The states that participate in the BaltSea framework are Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Poland Switzerland United States and Canada. Besides, all three Baltic countries send their officers to the Baltic Defence College to receive a military elite education. Finally, Balt Pers, a Swedish sponsored project involves the creation of a modern military registration system in the form of a mobilization database.

Baltic Geopolitics since 2004

The EU enlargement has provided new dynamism to the Baltic Sea region. The European accession in May 2004 was a turning point in the Baltic geopolitics. Besides, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia became members of NATO at the same year. The Baltic countries which were for several centuries being kept under a dictatorial rule became a constituent part of the democratic western world. Today, cooperation between Russia and the EU is expanding and the interdependence between Russia and the rest of Europe is emphasized in the Baltic Sea Region.

Russia is more dependent than ever before on income generated through exports to Europe. Besides, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia strongly support the euro-Atlantic expectations of Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia. Finally, the three Baltic democracies have strong political and economic bonds with the Nordic Countries.

The Baltic States geopolitics is determined by the euro-Atlantic framework. Cooperation under the umbrella of NATO and the EU expressed through BaltSea project and participation in operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan reveal the openness of the Baltic states for multilateral collaboration and their aim to upgrade their regional role.

References:

Dudzinska, K. 2011, The Baltic States: A story of successful transformation.
The Warsaw Business Journal http://www.wbj.pl/
article-55758-the-baltic-states-a-story-of-successful-transformation.html Eitvydas B 2000, Baltic Security Co-operation: A Way Ahead  Baltic Defence Review No 3, Volume 2
Edvardas S, The Peculiarities of the Baltic States’ Geopolitical Situation http://www.iecob.net/main/education/public-lectures/352-ma-mirees-the-peculiarities-of-the-baltic-states-geopolitical-situation-by-edvardas-pokas
Grigas A 2012, Legacies, Coersion and Soft Power: Russian Influence in the Baltic States, The Means and Ends of Russian Influence Abroad, Chatham House Briefing Paper http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/Russia%20and%20Eurasia/0812bp_grigas.pdf
Nortautas S , The  Baltic States in the Twentieth Century: A Geopolitical Sketch  http://www.istorija.lt/html/geopolitikos2005_summary.html
‘The Geopolitics of Energy-The Case of Baltic States’ Geopolitics.ro <http://english.geopolitics.ro/the-geopolitics-of-energy-the-case-of-baltic-states/>
Trapans  JA 1998, The Baltic states: Defence and geopolitics European Security, Volume 3, Issue 3, Taylor and Francis
   

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