Analyst Eugene Chausovsky, currently visiting Riga, Latvia, explores the different approaches taken by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania toward relations with Russia and the European Union.
Editor’s Note:Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
The Baltic states, which consist of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, serve as an interesting test case to examine several geopolitical trends that are currently shaping the wider region. These trends include a growing Russian resurgence at the same time that key European institutions like the European Union and the eurozone are facing growing pressures. However, the Baltic states, though they are similar in their broader pro-Western orientation, are far more different from each other than they appear at first glance. First let’s begin with Estonia. Estonia is the only Baltic country that is a member of the eurozone, which it joined in the beginning of 2011 as the latest member. Estonia is committed to its EU and NATO membership, though the country’s leadership has been more hesitant on the country’s role in the eurozone crisis specifically its role in the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). In terms of its relationship with Russia, Estonia has been less cooperative than Latvia, but more aggressive than Lithuania. This is also reflected in Estonia’s domestic political system, where support for the Estonian Center Party, which is the party that represents the sizable Russian minority in the country, has recently been decreasing in popularity — though it does remain an important political force in the country. Next is Latvia. Latvia has had the most cooperative relationship with Russia of the three Baltics, as can be seen by numerous economic deals that have been signed over the past year. However, Latvia is also had the most turbulent domestic political situation with recent snap elections in the country resulting in Harmony Center, which is the pro-Russian party, gaining the most votes but being left out of the ruling coalition. This is something that is likely to create friction for the new government, which has a narrow majority moving forward. Latvia is still a committed European Union and NATO member, though it has proven to be a kink in the chain of Baltic unity on key issues such as the EU-oriented Rail Baltica project. Finally, there is Lithuania. Lithuania has proven to have the most aggressive policy towards Russia in the region, despite the fact that Lithuania actually has the smallest Russian minority of the countries, as Russian minorities have proven to be a controversial issue in both Estonia and Latvia. Lithuania has spearheaded energy diversification efforts away from Russia, and has even taken Gazprom to court in an effort to weaken Russia’s energy grip over Lithuania. This has left Lithuania at odds with Russia, though the country’s attempts to bring in the European Union on the issue will not necessarily lead to the desired results as Russia does not have to follow EU legislation. Therefore, the three Baltic states have their own nuances when assessing their relationships with both the European Union and Russia. And these differences will be important to keep in mind, especially as the region is set to become more dynamic in the future.