Moscow Brings Its Traditional Divide-and-Rule Approach Back to the Three Baltic Countries

July 7, 2015
Dock at Palanga in Lithuania. Photo via

Staunton, July 1A call by some Duma members for the Russian government to review and declare illegal the Soviet government’s recognition of Baltic independence in September 1991 has attracted widespread attention and concern as an indication of Moscow’s intentions but ultimately ridiculed as otherwise meaningless grandstanding.

But there are other straws in the wind which suggest some in the Russian government are laying the groundwork for a more aggressive stance against the Baltic states, and two of them which have appeared this week, while they have received little notice internationally, may ultimately be a more important signal of the Kremlin’s plans.

That is because they reflect the longstanding Russian tactic of “divide-and-rule,” which in this case means the playing up of differences or even the creation of differences where they do not exist among the three Baltic countries in order to make it more difficult for these three NATO members to cooperate with each other and with the Western alliance as well.

The first involves a Latvian activist of the Association Against Nazism, a group that has often followed Moscow’s line. Janis Kruzinis has launched a petition campaign on the portal to seek “’the return of the territory of Palanga” from Lithuania.

Kruzinis says that such a return would resolve “a historical dispute about the sea border between Latvia and Lithuania and return Palanga Territory which historically was the territory of Latvia.” Latvia would benefit, he continues, because there are supposedly oil deposits in the region and because of new jobs for Latvians in the restored Latvian region.

He wants the Latvian parliament seek the help of the EU to review the agreement about the borders between Latvia and Lithuania. According to him, Latvia handed over Palanga Territory to Lithuania in 1921 because “Lithuania did not have an outlet to the Baltic Sea.” But in 1923, Lithuania obtained Klaipeda Territory which gave it one but did not return Palanga to Riga’s control.

In a little over two weeks, slightly more than 10,000 people have signed Kruzinis’ petition, although it is unclear what this will lead to except for the possibility of sparking tensions between Latvians and Lithuanians, something Moscow would be certain to exploit in the event of a crisis.

The second case is more curious but equally disturbing. It comes from the pen of Dimitry Klensky, notorious for his pro-Russian and anti-Estonian writings and activism. In “an appeal to compatriots,” the activist notes that five pro-Russian activists were arrested in Riga at the end of June but that Russians in Estonia have failed to react.

“The Union of Organizations of Russian Compatriots of Estonia and the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots of Estonia have remained silent. Social and cultural organizations and rights activists have as well, including the Russian School in Estonia, the Pushkin Institute, the Russian Academic Society of Estonia, the Assembly of National Minorities of Estonia, the local Russian press and intelligentsia,” Klensky says.

Moreover, he continues, “Russian-speaking and Russian social-political activists, representatives of political parties which consider themselves to be on the left, the Social Democrats and the Centrists have said nothing as well.” And the major Russian websites in Estonia have ignored what is going on in Riga.

“This creates the impression,” he continues, “that in Estonia, the local Security Police has already successfully dealt with the suppression of any dissent” much as their predecessors did in pre-war Estonia, albeit with more modern methods, including “easily falsified electronic elections” and buying off ethnic Russians with grants and high pay.

“Silence in such conditions,” Klensky says, “means approval of the existing situation when democratic institutions have become decorations in the form of democracy. The silence of the Russian and Russian-language population, almost a third of the population of the country, speaks to its moral-ethnic repression” by “an ethnocratic state.”

Klensky, of course, is not open to the possibility that the Baltic countries have treated the ethnic Russians sufficiently well that the overwhelming majority of them are loyal citizens even if they identify with Russian culture. But unfortunately, he is not the only one of whom that is true, and Moscow seems set to launch a new effort on the basis of its own misconception.