Russian government officials have made statements expressing concern for ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic nation of Estonia, causing concern in that nation. A Moscow envoy recently said at a UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Russia was “concerned by steps taken in this regard in Estonia as well as in Ukraine,” referring to Estonia’s language policy. This and similar comments have caused many to fear Russia has an interest in the Baltic states similar to the interest Russia showed in Crimea.
The concern recently prompted U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to visit the Baltic nations in a show of solidarity. Biden visited Lithuania, where he told the public, “We’re in this with you, together,” referring to the fact that unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states are members of NATO and are therefore bound by NATO’s Article 5, which necessitates the response of other members to any aggression against a NATO ally.
However, concern remains strong enough that the U.S. brought 12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland for war games and maintained the USS George H.W. Bush in the Mediterranean Sea past its schedule (although the aircraft carrier has since sailed to the Middle East, and for several NATO senior officials to make public statements of warning.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general, said, “Our major concern right now is whether [President Vladimir Putin] will go beyond Crimea… If you look at all this, you will see an overall Russian strategy.”
Although U.S. President Barack Obama has clearly stated that America would not “get into a military excursion in Ukraine,” NATO and other players have said that they expect interested parties to increase assistance to Ukraine, and other nations have, like America, restated their commitment to protect the integrity of the Baltic states.
Estonia and the other Baltic states were all formerly part of the Soviet Union, and all have ethnic Russian minorities. Although the Russian population of Lithuania is less than 7 percent, Estonia has a 25 percent ethnic Russian population and its neighbor Latvia has a 27.5 percent Russian minority.
The Russian government’s claims are also concerning because that government has not shown itself willing to heed the voices of those around it. Aside from Crimea, where Russia’s action flew–and continue to fly–in the face of almost every one of their international partners, Russia, who has also expressed concern about abuse of Russians in other parts of Ukraine–although UN experts reported that they found no credible evidence of any mistreatment–public figures in Russia continue to make dramatically inflammatory statements, such as that written in a pro-Putin newspaper last week about there being “bloodshed almost like in Syria” in eastern Ukraine.
The events in Crimea have caused many commenters to reference past wars. Two of the most prevalent such references are the reference to Hitler’s incursion into the Rhineland and the subsequent appeasement of the rest of Europe and the domino theory that described the concern the West had when communist governments attempted to expand their influence into various regions around the globe. The Domino Theory has been revitalized by the threats perceived to affect eastern Ukraine, Transdniester in Moldova and the Baltic states, as well as some nations in the Black Sea basin.
By Day Blakely Donaldson