Staunton, February 23 – After the events in the Donbass, not all that many Russians or Russian speakers in Latgale would welcome any intervention by Moscow, Aleks Grigoryevs says, but a small fraction of 10 to 20 percent might be prepared to and, “if they were armed,” could create major problems for Latvia because the media can blow that out of proportion.
Moscow might adopt the same strategy in Latvia and its Baltic neighbors more generally, the Riga political analyst told Vitaly Portnikov while on a visit to Kyiv, because “for video pictures, one doesn’t need a real referendum. One needs only five to ten percent and then major disorders can begin”.
Worries about these possibilities are “completely justified,” Grigoryevs says, given that Vladimir Putin’s “conception of ‘the Russian world’” is based on the notion of “a divided nation” and the belief that Russia must “unite this nation again regardless of the borders,” which it considers something “artificial, unjust and having been imposed” on Russia.
Because of such convictions and the related idea that Moscow “can change them without paying attention to international agreements, conventions and so on,” the Riga analyst continues, clearly represents “a direct threat to the independence of the Baltic countries, Latvia among them.”
Grigoryevs says that there are no reliable current assessments of the attitudes of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Latvia, but he suggests that they divide roughly in thirds, one follows Moscow TV and accepts Moscow’s line, one third also watches Moscow television and accepts some of what Russia says, and one third rejects the Moscow position.
In part, he says, Latvia has itself to blame. When it recovered its independence, it chose “the incorrect strategy of isolating ‘the non-Latvians’ and of establishing a ghetto, not geographic but mental and social,” so that the latter were not taken into account in the making of decisions about the future of the country.
“To a certain degree, Grigoryevs says, “this helped to quickly carry out economic reforms, and various other reforms which allowed for rapid Europeanization and becoming a member of NATO and the EU” because it meant Riga could act without taking into consideration those in its population who didn’t agree with this.
But if that helped Latvia move Westward earlier, it also had the effect of burying “a delayed action bomb” under the country just as was the case in Ukraine, he argues. Now, Latvia has to make up for lost time and reach out to these people, but the task is harder because of what Riga did and what Moscow has done in the intervening period.
And today, Latvia can see that its failure to do so earlier is creating a potential disaster because instead of creating conditions under which such people would gradually become part of a Latvian civic nation, it froze them in their “Sovietism,” and that set of views and values remains: “The Soviet Union doesn’t exist, but there are a great number of Soviet people.”
As anyone can see, Moscow currently feels free to take great risks to exploit the negative feelings of some of the Russian speakers in Latvia and elsewhere, and that has raised the question as to whether, as Portnikov puts it, “the West, NATO and the European Union will defend Latvia if something tragic happens.”
Grigoryevs’ answer is telling: He says that he “has the feeling that NATO will do everything possible and perhaps even impossible to show that it will in order to raise the risks” of Moscow in fact doing so. But whether “this will be really so,” he says, “is difficult [for him] to say.”