Mon, Sep 22, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Baltic states are baited by Russian bear

Estonia and its neighbors fear that a battle of wits with Moscow could end badly

By Julian Borger and Luke Harding  /  The Guardian, TALLINN and KIEV

The US general said that in Wales, “we had great acceptance among the NATO allies, though, that if you attribute this ‘little green men’ issue to an aggressor nation, it is an Article 5 action and then all of the assets of NATO come to bear.”

The security services in the three Baltic states predict Russia will try to destabilize them and disrupt the assimilation of their ethnic Russian populations, in ways that stop short of triggering a NATO response.

Estonian security officials say the FSB is conniving with organized crime in the smuggling of cigarettes and other contraband, and point out that Russia used smuggling routes to supply arms to Ukrainian separatists.

“If you smuggle one thing over the border today, tomorrow it may be something else. We know the Russian services use corrupt border officials and organized crime to achieve their goals,” Heldna said.

KAPO also says that there have been Russian intelligence efforts to buy local politicians and longstanding Moscow funding for political clubs in Estonia disseminating the Russian line, exaggerating the influence of the far-right and downplaying the suffering of the Soviet era.

However, Estonia’s Russians, who represent just under one-quarter of the 1.3 million population, are much better off than their counterparts in Ukraine. Estonia is significantly more affluent than its Russian neighbor. Young Russians, born since independence, have automatic Estonian citizenship. Being bilingual, they have an edge in the labor market, and the chance to work elsewhere in the EU.

Elder residents in the predominantly Russian-speaking Tallinn suburb of Lasnamae complained they still felt like second-class citizens, but hardly any expected or welcomed the thought of Russian intervention.

Even Igor Teterin, cofounder of Impressum, one of the Russian political clubs that KAPO accuses of spreading propaganda, said a Ukrainian-style conflict was unthinkable.

“The Estonian government is nothing like the one in Kiev. It acts sensitively and correctly towards the Russians,” he said.

However, the veteran journalist was skeptical about Tallinn’s version of the Kohver affair, suspecting some kind of Estonian provocation.

“What was he doing in the woods anyway? Going for a pee?” Teterin said.

In Latvia, pro-Russian sentiment is a greater force. Pro-Moscow parties could even win a majority in parliamentary elections on Oct. 4.

“The majority of ethnic Russians in Latvia support [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Leonids Jakobsons, owner of an independent news Web site Kompromat.

He was attacked two years ago, having his face slashed with a knife in front of his nine-year-old son, after publishing e-mails suggesting Russian intelligence had bankrolled the campaign of a pro-Russian politician in Riga.

Jakobsons said the Russian influence remained pervasive with one party, the Russian Union of Latvia, distributing leaflets saying that Latgale, in eastern Latvia, where large numbers of ethnic Russians live, should form a union with Russia.

NATO’s stance in the Baltics may have fended off the threat of “little green men” for now, but Moscow’s battle for influence is far from over.

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