The Baltic Region 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union - Expectations, realities and prospects

Auditorium of the Annex Building of the Parliament · 04.02.2011 09:30 - 16:00

The conference will offer a good opportunity to understand the developments in the region in general and in today’s Russia and the Baltic States in particular. The invited speakers will give an insightful view on the results of political and economic transformation in the Baltic States as well as various aspects of Russia’s foreign policy in the region.

The conference will bring together scholars and practitioners from ten countries: Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Estonia.


Welcoming remarks: Dr Teija Tiilikainen, Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Opening remarks:
Mr Yuri Sizov
, President, Amber Bridge Foundation

Panel session 1: The regional security situation

General Klaus Wittman
, former Director, Academic Planning and Policy at NATO Defense College, Germany
Mrs Elisabeth Rehn,
former Minister of Defence of Finland
Dr Slawomir Debski,
former Director, The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Dr Valery Solovei,
Professor, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University)

Chair: Dr Arkady Moshes, Programme Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Panel session 2: The results of the economic and political transformation in the Baltic countries

Professor Česlovas Laurinavičius, Senior Fellow, Lithuanian Institute of History
Dr Viktor Ishchenko,
Deputy Director of the World History Institute, The Russian Academy of Sciences
Professor Rein Müllerson,
Professor of International Law, King’s College of London University and Tallinn University

Mr Andrey Yakolev, chairman of Amber Bridge Fund in Riga, Latvia


Chair: Dr Torbjörn Becker, Director, Stockholm School of Economics

14:30 – 16:00 Panel session 3: Russian foreign policy: the main trends and prospects

Mr Per Carlsen,
Ambassador of Denmark to Latvia, former Ambassador to Russia
Dr Ola Tunander
, Research Professor, International Peace Research Institute Oslo
Mr Valery P. Parfenov
, Member of the Federation Council, Member of the Russian Delegation to PACE, Head of the Board of Trustees of the Amber Bridge

Chair: Mr Antti Helanterä, Deputy Director of Policy Planning and Research, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland


Summary of the Seminar

Dr Teija Tiilikainen, director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, welcomed everyone to the conference on the Baltic Sea region. She kicked off the conference by reminding the audience of the fundamental importance the Baltic Sea region plays in the wider European context.

Mr Yuri Sizov, President of Amber Bridge Foundation, started by reading out the address of President Mihail Gorbachev. In the address President Gorbachev regretted that he could not be present at the event that he considered both important and welcome. The tone of the address was positive: there is a lot of potential for cooperation in the region, and President Gorbachev believes that Russia is now ready for constructive cooperation with the Baltic States. Russia needs to respect the sovereignty of the Baltic States, and the Baltic States should acknowledge Russia as being part of Europe. The region has historically been a meeting point of east and west and this forms the core of the common regional identity. There are important regional ties in areas like the environment, culture, education, security, economy and politics alike.

After reading the address, Mr Sizov described the primary task of the Amber Bridge foundation, that is to promote communication and information exchange between Russia and the Baltic States.


Panel session 1: The Regional Security Situation

Dr Arkady Moshes, Programme Director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, chaired the first session on regional security of the Baltic Sea region.

The first speaker, General Klaus Wittman, former Director of the Academic Planning and Policy at NATO Defence College, recalled that he believed already in 1992 that security in the Baltic States has to stand on many feet: there is a need for Nordic, NATO and Baltic security initiatives. Also Russia has to be accepted as a neighbor and a potential partner. There are still plenty of security concerns in the region, and traditional hard security concerns are mainly dealt with in the NATO context, while in different soft security issues also the EU is an actor. Different levels of security are all important aspects of the whole, being complimentary to each other.

NATO’s main challenges are delivering reassurance to all its members and a reset with Russia. NATO has to convincingly assure the protection of all its members in all circumstances, it being a precondition for all NATO activities. The Lisbon summit held in November 2010 was a great achievement in the long road of improving NATO-Russia relations. However, more has to be done in order to improve the relationship and enhance cooperation in areas of mutual concern. Both sides need to acknowledge their past mistakes and get rid of the zero-sum mentality and the Cold War clichés, General Wittman concluded.

Mrs Elisabeth Rehn, former Minister of Defence of Finland, spoke in her presentation about her years as the Minister of Defence in the early 1990s, looking back at her contacts with the then Soviet Minister of Defence Mr Dmitry Yasov who later became known as one of the hard-line members of the attempted coup of August 1991. She also recalled the year 1994 as a historical turning point for Finland: that year Finland joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme. Traditionally, Finland has had a very strong identity of a neutral state and this was Finland’s first step towards a more western orientation. According to Mrs Rehn, a practical west-oriented policy is running rather smoothly but the question of the formal status of Finland is still a very sensitive issue in the country.

Mrs Rehn reiterated that Russia is and always will be of crucial importance to Finland. Russia poses both threats and possibilities for Finland and therefore good relations with Russia are essential. Mrs Rehn finished her presentation by highlighting the importance of time in peace- and confidence-building exercises: it often takes generations for painful memories and mental wounds to heal.

Dr Slawomir Debski, former Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, then spoke about how the security environment has changed in the Baltic Sea region over the past 20 years. According to him there are four key changes that particularly deserve attention.

The first important change and a historical turning point was naturally the decline of the Soviet empire. This is true in particular for Poland that had belonged to the Russian sphere of interest for some 300 years and had not been able to orientate towards the west. Adding to the historical significance of the development is the fact that all this was achieved peacefully. Second, NATO’s post-Cold War efforts to build a new European security system has been very significant; NATO that had consisted of wealthy and stable states was now willing to integrate the weak transitioning states of Central and Eastern Europe. A third important development was the Polish-German rapprochement. During the early post-Cold War years the fact that Poland supported Germany’s unification and Germany supported the Polish aspiration to join NATO restored confidence between the two states. Finally, the enlargement of both NATO and the EU to Central and Eastern Europe has had a huge impact on the Baltic Sea region: effectively the CEE states moved from the European periphery towards the centre.

Dr Valery Solovei, professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), offered his view on how the Russian political elite think about security issues in the Baltic Sea region. According to Dr Solovei imperialist ambitions and hegemonic thinking does not play any part in Russian foreign policy thinking any more. The traditional desire to be regarded as a regional great power is still an important goal for Russia – but not militarily any longer. According to the ruling elite, power is aspired first and foremost in connection to business and economic success. Effectively, ideologies are absent and materialistic pragmatism rules in Russian foreign policy thinking, Dr Solovei said.

The Russian elite are oriented towards the West – they send their children to western universities, the western culture is what matters and they also put their money on western companies. All in all, Russia is not a threat to the West or to the Baltic States. There are multilevel links between the Baltic States and Russia, and economic links are seen as most important. The Russian political elite indeed considers the Baltic States as important markets. Environmental considerations are not a priority to Russia, and what comes to security issues, the political elite is accustomed to speaking bilaterally to other great states such as the US, France and Germany rather than to small states in a multilateral setting. The security thinking of the elite is rational, logical and realist, Dr Solovei concluded.

In the Q&A part of this panel session the panelists were in particular asked about the role of the NATO-Russia Council, tactical nuclear weapons in the region and prospects for disarmament, and common history commissions as a confidence-building instrument. Also Finland’s potential NATO membership came up but the panelists did not have much to say about it other than the decision was entirely for Finland to make, and that, as General Wittman said, NATO would happily welcome Finland, as well as Sweden and Austria if they decided to apply for membership.

General Klaus Wittman commented that the NATO-Russia Council is one of the most important security institutions in Europe and that it should be used more. He said that it should not be set aside every time there is a major disagreement between the parties: that is when it is actually most needed (cf. Russo-Georgian war). After the successful Lisbon summit there is a possibility for a fresh and more constructive cooperation within the NATO-Russia Council. Dr Debski, unlike Dr Solovei who does not view NATO positively or see great value in it, claimed that NATO, despite of its shortcomings, is a valuable organization for cooperation and might emerge the organizational reform process as a more efficient organisation.

To answer the question on tactical nuclear weapons and disarmament, Dr Solovei said that the future of tactical weapons depends on Russia’s western partners. If Russia is excluded from the missile defence system, there will be no positive developments in arms control of tactical nuclear weapons. General Wittman on the other hand claimed that the disarmament in the field of nuclear weapons must be carried out in a larger context and that removal at a wrong time would be a mistake. The CFE treaty is effectively dead and a new treaty not based on military blocs should be negotiated and agreed upon. General Wittman also reminded Solovei that security is not just military balance: Russia should actively contribute to the reassurance of its Baltic neighbors instead of making them nervous every now and again.

Finally on the question of history commissions, Dr Solovei did see some value in joint history commissions and enhancing educational and cultural links as a means of building confidence and trust. Economic ties are nevertheless most important instruments; it is good to remember that even when the relations between Russia and Latvia were really bad, economic relations were always functioning, Dr Solovei concluded. Dr Debski told the audience that Poland has been engaging Russia with history commission type activities since 2008, and its experience has been a positive one.


Panel session 2: The Results of the Economic and Political Transformation in the Baltic Countries

Dr Tornbjörn Becker, Director of the Stockholm School of Economics, chaired the second panel session. He particularly emphasized the remarkable progress in the economic situation of the Baltic States since their independence.

In his presentation Professor Česlovas Laurinavičius, Senior Fellow at the Lithuanian Institute of History, spoke about the Lithuanian experience and noted that while it is not a very important state, it can nevertheless become a serious problem for the region. The country needs desperately to overcome its difficulties and especially Lithuania’s relations with Russia could be better. Prof. Laurinavičius was of the opinion that Russia saw the recognition of the Baltic States as a mistake and that the great powers from abroad influenced Lithuania in this regard. In the end of the1980’s Baltic States were a serious problem for Russia when they wanted to restore their sovereignty; the confrontation with the Soviet Union helped Lithuanians to achieve that goal. Russia’s strategy was to isolate Lithuania both economically and politically, prof. Laurinavičius said, adding that Russia still thinks that Lithuania is not a fully developed country. There are, however, attempts on the both sides to overcome the difficulties.

Dr Viktor Ishchenko, Deputy Director of the World History Institute at The Russian Academy of Sciences, started by saying that he hoped this conference would be a start for a series of conferences on the Baltic issues. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in several divisions; territory, as well as property and common history were divided in the process. Though parts of the process of transforming the Soviet nation has been necessary and positive, nationalization has led to political fighting in the governmental level as well. Dr Ishchenko stressed that the confrontation, related to the history of the Baltic region, is also in the form of how history is imagined: historical memory of a nation or a group can be in conflict with the historical memory of other nations, and overall it is a delicate subject.

In his presentation Professor Rein Müllerson, Professor of International Law at King’s College in London and Tallinn University, stressed that Estonia has done many things right, meaning joining NATO and the EU. Prof. Müllerson emphasized that in his view foreign policy should be more pragmatic than ideological – foreign policy based on ideology is difficult to follow through. Big powerful states have such ideological views more often than small countries. Prof. Müllerson also brought up the Nord Stream pipeline issue and stated that in Estonia the concerns for marine environment have not been fully understood, but political concerns have been raised. Estonian foreign policy tends to be guided by obsessions, even if its obsession with Russia only stems from historical memories, prof Müllerson said. Prof. Müllerson welcomed Finland to the NATO because Finland would be a reasonably moderate NATO member to whom it could rely on. Finally, he reminded that it is inevitable that national interests of states are not identical.

Mr Andrey Yakolev, chairman of Amber Bridge Fund in Riga, focused on the economy of the Baltic countries. These states have always been economically well developed and have attracted investments. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union they have seen economic success. For example Latvia decided not to manufacture but to trade, but there has been a significant drop in trade during the latest economic crisis, as well as problems in the banking sector which has stirred the situation. Mr Yakolev also noted that Latvia, being a small country, is easily influenced by political ideology. Nevertheless, Latvia is a EU and NATO member and wants to maintain good relations with Russia and its eastern neighbors – the visit by the Latvian president to Russia was an important sign of that. Mr Yakolev claimed that economic interests often show the actual essence of relations and that Baltic countries have always been open to new ideas from the West and Russia.

In the Q&A session an opposite view from the audience was raised with regard to the claim made by Prof. Laurinavičius that Lithuania was thought of as a temporary phenomenon and that it was a mistake by Russia to recognize its independence. It was also commented that while Estonia has, by joining the EU, lost some of its independent decision-making, the country has acquired a great deal of security and economic prosperity.

Also the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 was discussed, and the role and failure of the international actors involved, in particular the EU and OSCE. It was stated that the situation was very complicated and no party acted properly. Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is indeed not in accordance with international law and most of the states disagree with the recognition.

Baltic cooperation was also discussed; the EU and investors traditionally consider Baltic States as a common market, but at the level of ordinary people they do not appear as identiacal countries, each state is an individual case.


Panel session 3: Russian foreign policy: the main trends and prospects

Per Carlsen, Ambassor of Denmark to Latvia and former Ambassador to Russia, reflected on Russia’s relations with Europe saying that the year 1999 saw deteriorating relations because of the Kosovo bombings, whereas 9/11 was followed by increased cooperation. Putin’s two terms in power was a time of no particular drama in Russian and European relations, until the 2008 war in Georgia, when the relations really deteriorated. Ambassador Carlsen was told by Sergey Karaganov, head of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, in Moscow that a possible war between Russia and Georgia would not really be about Georgia but about Ukraine. In general, the color revolutions, as seen from Russia, led to a new wave of “turning away from Russia”.

Ambassador Carlsen noted that Russia’s new military strategy is very interesting: the main military danger is no longer NATO. What is considered as a threat is NATO’s desire to get greater global status and its decision to move infrastructure closer to Russian borders.

In the end of his presentation, Carlsen took up the issue of Russian economic policies and their meaning for its foreign policy. In 2008 everything was about modernization. There are also many precedents in Russian history for ambitious modernization programmes, from Peter the Great to Stalin and to Gorbatchev. There are essentially two ways to look at it. One is to concentrate solely on economic modernization and ask what Russia could learn from China. Another approach is to take both economic and political modernization into consideration – which is something that the West should support.

Dr Ola Tunander, Research professor at the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, spoke from the viewpoint of Baltic States saying that in the beginning it was not in the interest of the Baltic States to develop ways of cooperating with Russia. He himself took part in the birth of the Barents Area cooperation where Norway and Russia were the initiators. This was a necessity, the idea being that an interface could be set up between the former enemies. The cooperation has been novel and important for Norway, though less so for Finland. He argued that the new border treaty, signed recently between Norway and Russia, was possible partly because of good relations and trust, directly and indirectly influenced by the Barents region cooperation. In conclusion Dr Tunander noted that it seemed to be important for the Baltic States to become NATO and EU members in order to be able to have closer cooperation with Russia. In Finland there was not such doubt about being able to defend itself.

Third speaker of the panel was Mr Valery P. Parfenov, Member of the Federation Council and member of the Russian Delegation to PACE. He started by saying that this discussion is not only about history, but it also says a lot about our present situation. The Baltic Area is a region where long, often conflict ridden historical ties are matched with the contemporary technological developments. In Mr Parfenov’s view Prime Minister Putin has had a pragmatic line both in domestic and foreign policy. He also stressed that Russia has changed considerably and that there is a new generation now that does not have first-hand experience of what the Soviet Union was like. But where as Russia has put to one side what happened in the past, Baltic States continue to run after historical myths and reactions. He also noted that currently there is a positive drive in the relations between Poland and Russia, and substantial improvements are also visible in Russo-German relations.

Mr Parfenov replied to Carlsen’s suggestion to talk about modernization in more detail by saying that there are two special considerations linked with this process. First, neo-Nazism in Europe and in the Baltic States cannot be ignored; what happened in Moscow in December 2010 is part of a general trend. He hoped that Russia and the Baltic Countries, and the EU in general is united in addressing this problem. Secondly, a strategy of humanitarian development has been passed in Russia, giving more depth to calls for modernization. The business community, however, is lacking great interest in the modernisation drive at the moment, and this interest should be stimulated, Parfenov said. In conclusion he stressed that Russia is pragmatic and wants to work with other European countries in modernizing the Russian economy.

In the Q&A part of this panel discussion NATO enlargement and military security in the Baltic Sea Region was first touched upon. Dr Ola Tunander noted that establishing a neutral zone with military presence can be met with fear, or it can be seen as a positive thing for the border regions of two countries to have, as it could lessen the risk of confrontation.

The situation of Russian speaking population in the Baltic States was also discussed. Mr Parfenov was asked to explain his claim that the situation with the Russian speaking population in Latvia is a human rights issue, and not one of citizenship rights. He was also told that his concern about anti-Russian rhetoric is misplaced. Mr Parfenov answered by defending his position and saying that legislation about citizenship rights is a question of human rights; this is true for example when people are denied the right to vote in municipal elections. Dr Ola Tunander contributed to the discussion on anti-Russian feelings in Latvia. He noted that perhaps there was a reason for that: the gulag deportations for example are associated with the Russians in the country; this is historical burden that still exists in the current dialogue. A history commission could be in order, but it might also lead to more harm being done

Finally, the North Stream project was touched upon by several speakers. A comment from the audience asked to pay attention to that what is often not discussed in this connection: that the fact is that in 1994 Russia signed a European energy treaty and until recently the EU has been under the impression that this would be ratified. This does not seem to be the case, and now the North Stream has become a source of untrust, all the while there being a lack of common rules for managing the energy markets.

Teija Tiilikainen, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, concluded the seminar by saying that what has clearly been demonstrated is that there is a need for a dialogue, not just on current affairs but on history and norms that guide us in the daily work. The president of Amber Bridge Foundation, Yuri Sizov, joined in calling for better and wider dialogue.