The Null Device

Russia and Georgia: are the Baltic states next?

Having invaded Georgia and crushed its military, a newly emboldened Russia has told the West that it can forget about Georgia's territorial integrity, and the Russian-speaking enclaves in the country won't be returned to Georgian sovereignty. And short of provoking a nuclear stand-off, there is little the West is likely to be able to do about it.

If (as is likely), Russia gets away with slicing bits out of Georgia, I wonder who will be next in its sights. Ukraine, which is looking towards joining the EU and NATO, is one candidate, though pro-Western tendencies there may be checked merely by supporting pro-Russian parties and threatening to turn off the gas. And Poland, which recently signed a deal with the US to host missile interceptors (designed, ostensibly, against Iranian rogue nukes, though it's likely that a rising China is the real motivation), drawing threats of military strike from Russian commanders, can't be sitting too comfortably. Though in my (entirely amateur) opinion, the Baltic states—Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—may have the most to worry about.

Consider the following: The Baltic states are a thin panhandle, connected to the EU by a narrow border. They are the only part of the EU to have recently been part of the Soviet Union, and thanks to Stalin's population transfer programmes, have a substantial ethnic Russian minority, many of whom resent being coerced into learning the local language (after decades of Russian being the official language of government); reports of discrimination are common. Furthermore, there is the question of Kaliningrad, a Russian territory which is cut off from mainland Russia by Poland and Lithuania; for a resurgent regional power, this must be a terrible loss of face. An invasion of Lithuania, prompted by the prerogative to defend Russian-speaking minorities and resulting in a land corridor being carved out to Kaliningrad (and the Baltic states being conveniently isolated by land from the EU proper) could look tempting now.

Of course, as the Baltic states are NATO members, such an incident would be likely to trigger a war between Russia and NATO in its entirety (which, of course, includes the US, an even more powerful superpower). Though Russia might calculate that, with the US and other allies being overstretched and worn down in the Middle East, they may be somewhat weakened.

There are 2 comments on "Russia and Georgia: are the Baltic states next?":

Posted by: steve Fri Aug 15 17:36:29 2008

I think it's extremely unlikely the Russians will invade the Baltic States. That is, unless they want to start World War 3.

For one thing, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia don't have a recent history of ethnic tension and violence that is comparable to South Ossetia. So any Russian claim of "protecting local ethnic Russians" is a bit flimsy to say the least. There's also no Russian peace-keeping forces in the area, as seems to have been at the root of the current war in South Ossetia.

There are also a few strategic interests in the region in the way of oil pipelines that may be a factor in the Kremlin's calculations regarding Georgia and South Ossetia. Kaliningrad is strategically useful as an all-year-round port for the Russian Baltic Fleet but the immediate value for Russia of creating a land corridor between Kaliningrad and Russia compared to the risk of igniting a land war with NATO in doing so makes that a pretty unlikely prospect also.

Having recently travelled through the Baltic states, I highly recomm

Posted by: msilsby Mon Aug 18 10:04:50 2008

I would love to see Georgia invite the chinese in for a bit of 'military' and 'social' interaction - I think that at the moment, the chinese are probably the only country that the russians are really afraid of. They share a lot of (sparsely populated) border and the chinese have been spending money on their army, while the russians have been playing pretend superpower.

Can you imagine the thoughts that would go through the russian's heads?