This August the London based think-tank „Chatham House” publicized the outcome of its research „Legacies, Coercion and Soft Power: Russian Influence in the Baltic States”. The research includes the finding that, considering Russia’s „zones of privileged interests”, it ignores the wishes and interests of the target countries.
Before going into detail of Agnia Grigas’s conclusions, let us have a brief look at the publisher of the report – one of the best think-tanks in the world. “Chatham House” has been ranked first among West European research centres in the annual rating of think-tanks, and it took second place in the world leaving the very top to the US based “Brookings Institution”. “Chatham House” employs 150 researchers and about 70 administration and technical specialists. This think-tank was set up in 1920, and it is known also under the name of “Royal Institute of International Affairs”. The Institute obtained the name “Chatham House” from the building in London where the leading European researchers are still racking their brains for the world political processes.
“Chatham House” has initiated a series of research works on the issues of Russian foreign policy where the „Legacies, Coercion and Soft Power: Russian Influence in the Baltic States” is only one among a number of latest research summaries. One of the basic findings of the research is that Russia makes attempts to restrict the independence of the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and prevent or at least impede these countries from making their choice of political, economic and civilization development directions. There is nothing new in it for us, however this and the other findings of this work may add to the courage of Latvian politicians and experts who are still too shy to call things their real names.
Both to fascinate and force
On one part, Russia’s wish to increase its influence in the neighbouring countries can be regarded as a legitimate policy. On the other part, according to the research author Agnia Grigas, the objectives and tools of Russian policy cause worries. The ideas of the soft power theoretician Joseph Nye include the notion that information revolution has created virtual communities in locations where state borders have lost their initial importance. The research author indicates that Russia, through the media, has created a virtual community including not only Russian minority, but also a part of Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians.
One of the expressions of specific character of Russian policy is that both state and private enterprises mix up the “hard” and “soft” approaches, often disallowing distinguishing between Russian soft and hard powers, as well as diplomacy and intelligence service’s activities. According to the researcher, the conclusion of the Balts that Russia wishes to decrease their independence is well grounded, and that makes it impossible for governments and citizens to draw a clear line between the legitimate and non-legitimate interests of Russia.
Especially valuable is the chapter about internal weakness of the Baltic countries. It says that the Baltic states’ susceptibility towards corruption and external influence has been determined by both Russia’s efforts and internal conditions. Despite the Baltic countries’ successful transformation in democratic system with market economy, their political system still has the characteristic features of institutional weakness: fragmentation and commercialization. That opens the policy for corruption and thereby for the risk of influence on Russia’s part.
Furthermore, the large Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia are a significant factor allowing Russia a successful formation of cooperation networks based on the joint language, values and interests. The policy of these Baltic countries lacks high responsibility and accounting standards, as well as professional ethics in private and public sectors and the media. According to the research author, sensitive issues can lead to resignation of governments and split in political parties disallowing implementation of independent and joint foreign policy towards Russia.
The author indicates that Russia is the user of this weakness, not its creator. Besides, Russia does its best to prevent disappearance of these weaknesses, and it even makes attempts to put obstacles to those who wish to overcome them! The “Chatham House’s” research findings include the statement that the abovementioned fact creates a considerable difference between Russia’s policy towards the Baltics and the influence of European Union, Scandinavia and the US. Besides, according to one of the conclusions, Moscow’s approach differs to a high degree from the previous Western countries’ understanding of soft power. Russia’s practice is directed rather to causing split, no unity, and it rather causes worries, not bringing consolation.
Not only business, but also something personal
Economic diplomacy: Russian business and state are working together to achieve Moscow’s objectives. However, this finding of the researcher should not be applied to the whole Russian business operating in the Baltic countries. The author speaks also about the hard power and energy aspect in the cross-border relations. She reminds of both the “Russian Railway” head Vladimir Yakunin’s sponsorship of 1.5 million Euros for Estonian “Centre Party” lead by Edgar Savisaar, and the Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas’s ties with Russia.
The research mentions also the “Continental Hockey League” and the natural gas company “Itera” with the former KGB officer Savitsky at its top in Latvia. Since a part of business elite are either directly or indirectly connected with policy, Russian entrepreneurship culture influences gradually also the political culture of the Baltic countries.
Two broader questions are asked in the conclusion of the research summary. From geopolitical point of view, the Baltic countries are now a part of the West, but does it mean that they are integrated in the West? Considering the military – hard security – there is no doubt about that. As regards several economic spheres and easy of doing business category, the answer is also positive. But, when energy sector, political and business culture are considered, the author concludes that the traditions and values of the former empire still exist. It means that the integration in the “West” is not protected against influence and it is not irreversible.
The second, yet more problematic question, put in the conclusion of the research, is the following: what does Russia’s policy in the Baltics tell us about its position on the issue of the post-cold war order in Europe? Not exceed the limits of the research, Agnia Grigas refrains from a broader conclusion, answering to the question in a narrow sense, i.e., disregarding the participation of the Baltic countries in EU and NATO, Moscow does not wish to forget its former privileges in the Baltics.
Where do these “historically privileged” relations end? If NATO and EU do not draw such inviolable line in information sphere, have the former USSR and Warsaw Pact states been surrendered intentionally to the influence on Russia’s part? “Chatham House” asks these questions, but, for the time being, blank spaces have been left for the answers.