CHRISTOPHER WAY: So we have two guests who can enlighten us on perhaps two of the most volatile, interesting areas, or two of the most volatile and interesting neighbors of Russia. So we'll start with Kateryna Pishchikova. Oh, and I want to say, we're going to ask each guest to speak for around 20 minutes, then we have an ample period for discussion and questions. And then we'll have 15 or 20 minutes for further discussion over drinks and snacks. So Kateryna.
KATERYNA PISHCHIKOVA: Thank you, Chris. It's wonderful to be back. [INAUDIBLE] is beautiful in any weather. I'm going to focus on the conflict in Ukraine. Lost in translation is probably not the most original title, but I think it very much goes to the gist of what I will try to argue today when framing my discussion of the conflict. And I'm going to focus specifically on the conflicting and ambiguous narratives surrounding this conflict. The narratives about the subjects and objects of the conflict, their agency, and also the narratives about the actual territoriality of the conflict.
And I will do so because I believe that these ambiguities have direct political implications for the conflict resolution and a potential peace plan. And I will also briefly address the broader geopolitical implications of these ambiguities. I will briefly start by maybe recapping a very short background on the conflict, and then go into more specific details about what, and who, and how [INAUDIBLE] the conflict, and where we are now at the moment.
Going back a few years from now, Ukraine as many other former Soviet republics, had been pursuing what it termed sort of a multivector foreign policy since the early 1990s. So the idea was that it was participant to multiple regional integration schemes, multiple cooperation agreements, without necessarily choosing for one specific integration scheme or project.
And so Ukraine was part of a number of intraregional arrangements with the former Soviet republics. It had quite intense cooperation with the European Union, lots of bilateral programs. It was actually one of the major beneficiaries of the US foreign assistance. It was the third biggest recipient of US foreign assistance in the 1990s, after Egypt and Israel. So it was huge involvement of all the key Western actors.
And this went on up till 2009, when the European Union decided to actually deepen its offer to some of its eastern neighbors. So there was this change of direction in the eastern neighborhood for the European Union that decided to propose the possibility of signing comprehensive association agreements.
It mostly ended up being offered to four countries, so Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Armenia. And the association agreements also involved a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. These had to be negotiated. It was sort of a long, highly bureaucratic process, which not surprisingly is often the case with the European Union. That's pretty much how it does things.
So what happened shortly before the actual crisis erupted in Ukraine was that the Ukrainian government at the time successfully finished all the negotiations with the European Union, and was expected to sign the association agreement at the summit in Vilnius in November 2013.
The problem was, though, that Russia was increasingly seeing these integration schemes as in competition and incompatible with its own plans for regional integration that were supposed to take shape into now operational Eurasian economic union. And so it started putting pressure on its neighboring countries to actually withdraw from the association agreements.
It was very successful with Armenia. It took about three days to convince their Armenians to drop that as early as September 2013 for obvious reasons, because Russia is the major provider of security for Armenia. It took longer with Ukraine, but there were threats of trade sanctions, there were threats of cutting the gas supply that Ukraine was dependent on. And so eventually, one week before the summit, the Ukrainian government announced that it was also suspending its involvement with the agreement. It was not going to sign it.
Now, going back to the domestic response to this, you all must have been following this back been in the news that actually provoked quite a big backlash on the side of Ukrainians. Which initially wasn't that huge. It was concerning a certain number of students and young people who were upset about this choice. It was, indeed, more about what they saw could have been a better foreign policy choice for Ukraine, a better trajectory.
But then very quickly it devolved into a much bigger domestic issue. And this is something that sometimes gets overlooked maybe in the discussion of the Ukrainian crisis. But what ended up being three months of very intense protests that involved also violence against peaceful protesters ended up being not so much about the foreign policy choices of Ukraine as about the domestic problems, about the functionality of the Ukrainian governance system, the need for deep and comprehensive reform, and transparent and accountable governance, all these things that Ukrainians perceived the cooperation with the European Union could have helped with.
And they felt that reproach with Russia was probably not going to help this at all, because Russia itself is run pretty much by a similar corrupt and authoritarian regime. The issue has increasingly become domestic, and increasingly grew into backlash against the government and the president, who was not cooperative, adopted very violent responses to the protesters, was not willing to negotiate or to open a broader dialogue with the protesters, and ended up having to flee on February 21st in 2014.
Now what happened after he fled was that very quickly, an interim government was formed. And an acting president was nominated, obviously coming from the opposition parties. Because the president's party was discredited by their support of the president that had to flee.
But the problem with that interim government politically was, of course, that it wasn't very representative of the protest movement. Because it was still composed of the good and old opposition party that were in opposition to the president Yanukovych and his party, but they were not necessarily representing the change, and the new faces, and the new leadership that people thought they were actually fighting for. And they were expecting this new revolutionary scenario to bring about.
So there was this moment when people were expecting more change, and leadership change in Kiev, and there were lot of expectations, and a lot of political volatility, as well. And this is the climate in which less than a month later, Russia actually annexed the Crimean Peninsula for obvious strategic reasons. Because the Crimean Peninsula was home to the Russian Black Sea fleet. It's the biggest Russian fleet that doesn't have other access to sea where it could host as big a fleet.
So it was leasing this area from Ukraine since Ukraine's independence, and that was always a very thorny issue. Because the leadership in Kremlin in general, but especially Putin, who wanted to be a big, strong, self-sustainable leader, obviously wasn't happy about having to negotiate and sort of being a bit at the whim of whoever comes to power to Kiev. So they ended up just quickly annexing that in March 2018.
And this is where things got complicated, because obviously that exposed huge military presence of Russia, the proximity of Russia, and the willingness of Russia to use military means against its neighbors. So what I wanted to do now is to show you this just to sort of us where we are. This little map, not particularly nuanced, but helpful for our discussion.
So a few footnotes through this map. The orange color that is about percentage of population which speaks Russian natively. This is based on the 2001 census. That is the only census we have, old Ukraine census. And so what we know, although there is no old Ukraine data available, is that the percentage of Ukrainian speakers has in the meantime increased, partly for obvious demographic dynamics, but also because the conflict with Russia has politicized the issue of language use.
There was a strong rally around the flag effect, including in the eastern and southern part of Ukraine. And so people started consciously choosing to speaking Ukrainian more and more in their daily lives as a response to this situation in their country.
Let me highlight once more that this is the graph about self-declared first language. This is not about ethnicity. And this is perfectly in line with the longer Soviet history of russification in Ukraine and in other Soviet republics, where you actually had to be speaking Russian to access higher education, to access white collar jobs, to be in leadership positions.
So you can't see this from the map, but actually, if you break this down a little bit more, you can see that maybe even in darker orange regions, you would have a higher concentration of Russian speakers in the urban areas, and then a lower concentration in the rural areas. And actually, the south and east of Ukraine is the more urbanized and more industrial part of Ukraine as a whole, so it is about proximity to Russia, but not only. It's sort of a more longer story behind that.
Another thing that I wanted to highlight is it looks as if Crimea and the Donetsk region sort of have a similar situation, but actually they are not. Because Crimea actually did have more than 50% of the population of ethnic Russians. And that had to do, again, with the very peculiar history of Crimea. Ukraine isn't a unitary state, but it was the only autonomous region with a special status and its own parliament.
So there was a whole different story around Crimea, and there has always been a relatively big support for reunification with Russia. A lot of Russian cultural organizations and things like that. And so there are obviously problems with the way the peninsula got annexed by Russia, but it's also true that under different circumstances they might have had their own Crexit, so to say. I mean, this is where actually there was genuine constituency for either gaining additional autonomy from Ukraine, or actually wanting to join Russia. And this is very different for the provinces in the east that are now affected by the conflict. And this is something I wanted to highlight.
The orange line here is sort of a very approximate divided about how people voted in 2010 election when president Yanukovych got elected. And why it's useful for us here is that, of course, all the regions that you see to the east and south are the ones that voted against the opposition parties they found in the interim government after Yanukovych left. So they probably were not terribly fond of Yanukovych, because they were aware of the fact that his government got increasingly authoritarian and corrupt. And there were anti-Yanukovych protests in all of these regions before the president fled the country.
But at the same time, there was just a bit suspicious about the people who got in to the interim government. And they were sort of there waiting and trying to see what the real political change was about. So this kind of created a certain sense of vulnerability in those areas. And obviously there's a long border with Russia. And what happened right after the annexation of Crimea is that Russia started building up militarily along the whole of that border. And so on the border with Kharkiv region, Luhansk, and Donetsk, there was all of a sudden this massive military buildup.
And so if you think of the people who live there, you can see from the map that Crimea doesn't have a land connection with Russia. It has only this tiny land connection with Ukraine. And so when people started looking around, they realized, Russia may want a land corridor to Crimea. So if you lived in the south in Donetsk and Zaporizhia, you would think, well, that's Putin's next move. And who knows even how the government would be able to react to any further military aggression. Probably not, because they obviously were no match if Putin wanted to conduct a proper military campaign.
Another example of if you were in Kharkiv, which is only 60 kilometers from the Russian border, you knew that you were actually on the direct railway line between Moscow and Crimea. And so again, you would think that's it, you know? Our fate is sealed. And with all the tanks there, and the border was basically non-existent, right? There was an open border between Ukraine and Russia.
If you were in Odessa, you can't see this from the map, but you're not only bordering on Moldova, you have a huge stretch of the border which borders on Transnistria, which is another breakaway region, and a sort of pseudo state that declared its independence from Moldova in the early 1990s. And since then it has actually had Russian military presence as sort of a kind of Russian peacekeeping forces, so to say.
And so again, you would think, well, maybe the land corridor could be with Transnistria. And the reason why I'm saying this, I mean, none of this obviously came true. And I personally don't think there is much basis for further military action into the Ukrainian territory by Russian forces. But what I wanted to highlight is this huge sense of vulnerability that was always due to the actual territorial position of some of these provinces, and the uncertainty that was obviously inherent in the post-revolutionary political tenor in the country.
And so that's where you saw all kinds of anti-Kiev protests, and it was a really sort of murky situation. Some of it was genuine local response to the new government, a lot of it was fomented by the Russian operatives. In Kharkiv, there was evidence of people just being bused from across the border, Russians being bused from across the border into the main square to wave Russian flags, and proclaim, come and save us, we are under threat, because there was a change of government in Russia.
So before I move into the specificity of the current conflict, what I wanted to highlight is this broader vulnerability that is still being perceived in this huge part of Ukraine. And it obviously feeds into certain politics in the rest of Ukraine. Now, this map, on the other hand, is about the actual conflict zone. And I'm not sure how well you can see, but I think this is a very interesting bit here. This tiny gray line, this is the original border of this so-called self-proclaimed People's Republic.
There were uprisings, and then people occupied regional administration buildings, and they sort of had a kind of a referendum of their own, as well. And they said, we are going to be independent from Ukraine. We are the People's Republic of Donetsk, and the People's Republic of Luhansk. And that was the original territory where supposedly these ideas and these movement had traction.
Now, what happened was then that the Kiev government reacted quite forcefully to that, and started a military offensive against those separatist groups that they immediately designated as terrorists. And they were very successful in this military campaign. So the orange area on the first map shows how much the territories shrink by September 2014. And this is when the first peace deal was being brokered in Minsk.
So the infamous Minsk Accords were about that orange territory. But that didn't suit Putin, and didn't suit the People's Republics, because they no longer had control of the key infrastructure. They had much less territory. And so that's mostly the reason why that was a stillborn peace accord. Because the reality of it on the ground was not convincing to the separatist groups, and they continued with the offensive, at that point with the very obvious help of the Russian military.
And they did manage to expand the territory. So by the time the update to the Minsk Accords was signed in February 2015, you can see the territory is much bigger. And you can also see that they didn't try to recapture those original supposedly more pro peoples republics territories, but they clearly followed the Russian border and sort of the rationale of eventually moving towards Crimea and this sort of land corridor to Crimea. So that sort of tells you something about the way the territory got reconfigured.
But more broadly speaking, I think, what I would argue on the basis of all of this is that the territory of the conflict remains kind of a moving target in itself. It is a conflict that is not confined to clear boundaries whether geographic, historical, ethnic, political. It is, rather, an entity that is in the making through the conflict itself. And this is where the major sense of vulnerability comes from. And that means that at the moment its boundaries are perceived as arbitrary and movable by both those within and those without. And there's a very important feature of this conflict, that I think has far reaching implications.
Now, let me say a few more words about the subjects, and objects of this conflict and their agency very quickly. So as I mentioned, the way Ukrainian government reacted to the uprisings in these two provinces was by announcing an anti-terrorist operation against those separatists, as they are called. And designating the two peoples republics as terrorist organizations.
And that obviously confirmed the inability of the government to reestablish control over those territories by political means. It justified the use of military force, as opposed to regular police forces. It also implied that the separatist leaders could not be legitimate interlocutors in any sort of peace negotiation. But then, ironically they are actually the signatories under both peace deals that were signed in Minsk.
At the same time, the Ukrainian government refuses to talk about occupation or war, as that would mean the policies of isolation, right? You would need to seal off the border. You would need to first, again, agree on the border. Which, as I mentioned, is a movable border. Both Minsk Accords, they do not specifically spell out where the conflict border is. They say, as will be determined. That's already, again very significant.
And this is not what is happening. So these territories that you can see now in orange there designated as territories temporarily outside of government control, which again reinforces the idea of a very transitory and fluid nature of the border between these entities and Ukraine. The border remained very porous.
So there's about something like eight crossing points between these republics and Ukraine, and there is something between 20,000 and 40,000 people crossing daily. Because Ukraine continues to provide social welfare to these people, but there is no longer the Ukrainian bank network operating. So they just cross to pick up their pensions. Half of the family's on the one side, half of the family's on the other side. It's a very sort of fluid kind of border.
All the trade was in place until very recently there's a new development with the trade blockade. We can talk about it later. But there was full scale trade between the factories and enterprises on the separatist controlled areas and the rest of Ukraine. The factories in the separatist controlled area were paying taxes to Kiev. So it was sort of a really hybrid, and fluid, and messy kind of arrangement. So it's not even clear what kind of division the conflict represents.
But this refusal to talk about war has also a huge impact on the populations that are affected by war. So there is a law about the IDPs, the internally displaced persons, that tries to regulate them, and put in place the procedures of registering them, and distributing benefits. But since there is no war, there is no war affected population. So if your house was bombed, there is no way to claim damage. If you live not within the government uncontrolled territories, but on the border, and you're just the victim of occasional shelling, or any other sort of harm, there is no way to claim, you don't exist legally or conceptually as someone whose life is directly affected.
And so very briefly, just to show what that means for example, so this is a recent poll that doesn't include the people who live in these self-proclaimed People's Republics. But the question is, how do you perceive the people who live on those territories?
And it's amazing if you look at it, that basically a huge majority think of those as being hostages to something. They don't see that there is no discourse of separation between us and them. So we are different, and them on the other side of the conflict represents some other kind of different group. It's like, we are the same, but they are hostages to a specific situation. They are hostages because they didn't have the economic means to leave, they're hostages because they're too old, and so on and so forth. So this is extremely telling, because it's only 5% that think these are the traitors, and that support kind of an enemy discourse. Someone that's against us and we are at war with. So this is, I think, very significant.
And just to sort of finish up with the discussion of the conflict, so these are some ideas about, again, from the same polling, what kind of solution, what kind of policy would you accept to be able to resolve the conflict? And what I wanted to highlight is this special status thing.
So if you look at the Minsk agreements, it's all about how the newly proclaimed people's republics have to have a special status in Ukraine's constitution. Because there is already a temporary law on the special status of those republics. And it's deemed as insufficient by both Russia and the leaders of the People's Republics. Because they say, we want a change in the Constitution proper of Ukraine that gives us a special status.
And the interesting thing, you can't see the breakdown here. But the interesting thing about number one is that if you break it up by regions in Ukraine-- so west, center, east, south-- the people that live in the part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are controlled by the government of Ukraine, they are the ones that are most against the idea of a special status. Because for them, this is like, well, my aunt lives there. What's the special status is about? They are the ones most in favor of going back to the status quo before the war.
They want a unitary state, they want these territories reintegrated into Ukraine on the basis of the existing legal framework. They don't see the grounds, or they don't expect any reasons why these have to be all of a sudden sort of a special status territories. And this, of course, has a huge impact on whether and how this conflict can be taken forward in terms of a peaceful resolution.
So the implications of all these ambiguities about who's involved in the conflict, who has what kind of agency in this conflict, what are the stakes in this conflict, what is the sort of necessary and sufficient conditions for resolving this conflict, obviously have huge implications for the possible resolution of the conflict. And so I would conclude by highlighting two more geopolitical issues here.
One is, I would argue this ambiguity is obviously in the interest of Russia. Because if Russia cannot get the kind of resolution that it's been brokering all along, so the federalized Ukraine with a special status to these entities, that is fine as well. That works well for Russia, too. It figured it can wait and see. The conflict is a huge drain on the Ukrainian resources, economic, but also political. The conflict is draining the popularity and the status of the current government and the president. And obviously, because of the hardship, there is a concern that if there is election, the more radical forces are going to come into power, because that's what happens when the socioeconomic situation deteriorates, and hot conflict on your territory.
So even sort of a protracted conflict of this nature is perfectly fine for Russia, because the idea is to just destabilize Ukraine and make sure that it stays as is. And I would argue since we're here, and we are sort of supposed to talk about the role of the US as well, I think regardless of what is going to be this administration's concrete policy for Russia, and Ukraine, and the whole region, the ambiguity is already doing a lot of harm.
And this is why I can see-- Chris mentioned this in his introduction-- well, how come there's renewed fighting? How come Russia actually announced it will recognize the passports issued by the People's Republics? And so that people can travel to Russia on those passports, and enroll in universities, and whatnot.
All of this has coincided with a situation where there's no security about which way the US policy is going to go. And so it pushes both sides-- not just the Russians, but also the Ukrainians-- to up their stakes, to fight for leverage, to push and try and create maybe new realities on the ground, to escalate so that the interest and the attention to the region and the conflict is high, to circulate all sorts of alternative peace plans which are not necessarily maybe really shared by a broader set of stakeholders.
So these are, I would argue, the pitfalls and the risks of the ambiguity in this policy. And this is why the US has the responsibility to actually come up quickly with a very clear indication of where it wants to go in its Russia and Ukraine policy and I will stop here.
CHRISTOPHER WAY: OK, [INAUDIBLE]
UNA BERGMANE: Thank you very much. I'm really happy to be here, and to talk about the Baltic states. So every time I have to talk about the Baltic states, and sure for an audience, I like to start with a little insight into the history of the Baltic states in the 20th century.
So the Baltic states became independent in 1918. Before they were part of czarist Russia. And they were independent between the two world wars. So that's the big difference between the Baltic states and other countries that we know as post-soviet states. The Baltic states were independent between the First World War and the Second World War.
In 1940, they were illegally annexed to the Soviet Union. And then there was a Nazi occupation. And then after the Second World War, they were again occupied and illegally annexed by the Soviet Union. The Baltic states became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And unlike Ukraine or other former Soviet republics, the Baltic states chose a clear pro-western policy. So very quickly, their main foreign policy goal became joining EU and NATO. And they became members of EU and NATO in 2004.
The Baltic states-- so in Estonia, Estonians speak Estonian, which is Finno- [INAUDIBLE] language Latvians and Lithuanians, Latvians speak Latvian, Lithuanians speak Lithuanian. And those are Indo-European languages. And of course, then there is an important Russian speaking minority, especially in Estonia and Latvia, and I will speak about that question later.
So after this brief insight into the history of the Baltic states, so in 2014, a British journalist, Michael [? Goliere, ?] who is also an editor in chief of English language section of Lavian Public Broadcasting, wrote about how in the life of Ukrainian crisis, his colleagues from the Western media called him very often to ask whether he sees the signs of the Baltic states being the next target of Russian aggression.
And so I'm quoting Mike. So, "on a weekly basis, I'm asked, what's going on in Latvian Eastern District? If [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]--" so, eastern part of Latvia-- "is in ferment, if there are Crimea style militias drilling in secret training camps. The answer is no, there are not. Which always illicits a sign of disappointment and mild disbelief from the other side of the line." End of the quote.
So the Ukranian crisis put the Baltic states in a curious and strange situation. For years, they have complained to their EU and NATO allies about Russian meddling in their internal affairs, about cyberattacks against their institutions, about fake news and misinformation campaigns. And very often, they have had the feeling that their complaints have not been taken very seriously.
And then after the illegal annexation of Crimea, they suddenly found themselves at the spotlight of attention. And so there were different discussions in the west about how Baltic states are going to become the next target of Russian aggression. For example, the former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that the Russian Federation could prepare a hybrid attack in the Baltics in order to test NATO resolve.
In late February 2015, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon stated that Russian president Vladimir Putin is a real and present danger to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And actually, the same month, Lithuania restored a compulsory military service. The European and the US press-- so over 2014, 2015-- discussed if NATO allies would and should be ready to die for Narva, which is a border town in eastern Estonia mainly inhabited by Russian speakers.
So yes indeed, the Baltic and Ukrainian situations are not without similarities. All three Baltic states, as I said, had formerly been part of the Soviet Union, and as well as the czarist empire. And so they could be seen-- I'm not saying that they are, but they could be seen in Moscow as the traditional Russians zone of influence.
27- 28% of Latvian population, and about 26% of Estonian population, are ethnic Russians. And this is a recent immigration. So basically, these Russian speaking minorities, who are not just ethnic Russians, but also Ukrainians, Belarusians, this basically is the result of migration that took place during the Soviet period.
The fate of these communities has been a source of constant tensions between Moscow, Reagan Riga and Tallinn mostly in the '90s and early 2000s, less these days. In both Latvia and Estonian cases, important numbers of Russian speakers lived in the eastern part of the country, which could eventually lead to a possible repetition of Donbass scenario.
And also at the beginning of Ukrainian crisis, all three republics-- not anymore, but at the beginning of the crisis, all three Baltic states, they're still largely depending on Russian gas. So in the light of raising tensions between Russia and the west, many observers did not exclude the possibility or the capacity of Russia to orchestrate some kind of [INAUDIBLE] also in the Baltic states.
At the same time, there are also important differences between Ukrainian situation and the Baltic states. So as I said before, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been EU and NATO member states since 2004. So there are people who are arguing that Russian Federation would not risk attacking NATO member states, while others insist that Moscow might actually be willing to use Latvia or Estonia as a test case to assess either NATO resolve to defend the Baltic states-- actually, to see whether Article V actually works or not-- and secondly, to test its capacity, so NATO's capacity, to successfully face a hybrid warfare.
At the same time, when we are talking about Russian speaking minorities in the Baltic states, I think it's very important to avoid the oversimplification of the situation. So Russian speaking minorities are not all ethnic Russians. There are also people who are Ukrainian, Belarusians. Also, there's a Polish minority who has been russified during the Soviet period. And the political views of these groups often-- and these groups are not homogenous. So there are people who live in the countryside, people who live in the capitals. People with higher education, with less education. So we should assume also the political views of these groups are not entirely defined by their ethnicity.
According to data from 2012, the absolute majority of Russian speakers in Latvia-- so, around 66%-- consider themselves as patriots of Latvia. At the same time, many of them, around 32%, also identify themselves with Russia. So there are these double identities that does not necessarily exclude each other.
So the big question is also whether Russian action misinformation campaigns about Ukraine or about Latvia, or Estonia, Lithuania, do they work? And can they be used to instrumentalize these minorities in the Baltic states? So according to a recent 2017 poll in Latvia, ethnic Latvian and the people from the Russian speaking minority, their perceptions about Ukrainian and Russian conflict are rather different.
So 5% of Latvians and 41% of Russian speakers say to support Russia in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, while 52% of Latvians and only 7% of Russian speakers support Ukraine. But the interesting part is that almost 36% of Latvians and 40% of Russian speakers living in Latvia insist that they are neutral, that they don't want to pick sides in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
It's also very interesting, I found, that when it comes to the evaluation of certain ideological statements that Russian mass media have used in their narratives about Ukraine and also about Latvia, and other Baltic states, Latvian society seems to be rather united.
So according to these recent data from 2017, when people were asked to evaluate statements such as the existence of Latvian state is a mistake. So there were only 5% who agreed with this statement. Or statement that we have heard in the Russian news that Latvia is a fascist state, again, only 5% of people-- both Latvians and Russians-- agreed, so 5%.
As it was said by [INAUDIBLE], whose Latvian poll taker, a Latvian analyst, and who has worked on these questions, he has evaluated the attitudes of the Russian speaking minority regarding Russia, Crimea, and the conflict, and also the relations with Latvia, so I'm quoting him. "They, the Russian speakers, like Putin, and they support annexation of Crimea. However, they clearly do not support Russian military invasion in Ukraine, and they do not want anything similar to happen in Latvia."
So the question is not just about the capacity of the Russian Federation to somehow manipulate or instrumentalize the Russian speaking minority. Even if Russian language media are more popular among Latvian Russians, they also can impact ethnic Latvians. More than 90% of people whose native language is Latvian have some knowledge of Russian language. So Russian media are accessible to large numbers also of so-called ethnic Latvians.
And such media sources could be, and can be used to impact Latvian societies used not only on important domestic and foreign policies, but also on questions such as European integration, the refugee crisis, or LGBT rights. So the question is whether the Baltic states or European Union in general should or could somehow restrict the access of its citizens to Russian media. And that's an open question, whether a democratic state should proceed to restriction of information flows.
Latvia and also other Baltic states have done it in the past. There have been temporary bans on broadcasting of Russian media, which was done as a reaction of what was seen as violation of, for example, Latvian media law because of basically what was understood as hate speech that was channeled through the Russian state funded media that were also broadcast in Latvia.
The question about the eventual dangers for the Baltic states from Russia are closely linked to some more global questions concerning Putin's long term aims and geopolitical perceptions. So firstly, was the hybrid war in Ukraine attempt to preserve Russian zone of influence, or the first step in expanding it? And the second question, are the Baltic states still perceived in Moscow as its traditional zone of influence despite their NATO membership? And these are open questions to which I have no answer, but I would be very interested to know what your opinions are on these questions, especially the perception of Ukraine. Was this an attempt to preserve Russian zone of influence, or the first step in trying to expand it?
NATO and the US are the main security [INAUDIBLE] of the Baltic states. In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, President Obama reassured the Baltic states that the NATO allies are standing by them. So in 2014 in September, when traveling to Europe, Obama visited Estonia and emphasized in his speech the continuous US and NATO commitment to the independence and sovereignty of the Baltic states.
So he made a very moving speech I'm quoting. "So if you ever ask again who will come to help, you'll know the answer, the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again."
So of course, the speech was very well received in the Baltic states. And since the beginning of Ukrainian crisis, NATO and the US have actually increased its military presence. So in addition to already existing patrolling of Baltic airspace that has been done by NATO forces in the past, NATO member states have agreed to deploy their troops also on the ground in the Baltic countries.
Currently there are about 600 American soldiers in the Baltic states. But by the beginning of the summer, there are about 3,000 more NATO troops to arrive. And this time I insist on NATO troops, not just American. So these are going to be multinational troops led by United Kingdom in Estonia, led by Canada in Latvia, and led by Germany in Lithuania.
So some argue in the Baltic states that the tragic events in Ukraine, which were followed with big compassion in the Baltic states, that these events that took place in Ukraine actually have somehow contributed to the security of the Baltic states. Because, as one Latvian official recently told me, our allies has never done so much for our security as they are doing now. At the same time, everybody knows that this increase of military presence in the Baltic states is still more symbolic than something that could really actually stop Russian aggression, if that would take place one day.
The mood in the Baltics was rather optimistic until the election of President Trump. That provoked some uneasiness in the Baltic states. So while during his campaign, Trump questioned the strategic rationale of the US commitment to the Baltic security, and he insisted that if Baltic states wanted the US to participate in their defense, they should meet the NATO requirement and devote 2% of their GDP to the military budget, so their military budget. The president, then a candidate, was obviously not informed that Estonia already meets this requirement, and Latvia and Lithuania had set a goal to reach this 2% of their GDP for the military budget by 2018.
The Baltic officials have avoided to criticize Trump. They have met with Mike Pence during his trip to Europe. And Pence, during this trip, so firstly, he reassured NATO allies in general the US is still committed to the security of its European partners. And then, as I said, Pence met explicitly with the leaders of the Baltic states, insisting that the US is still committed to the security also of the Baltic states.
So the Baltic states, I think, in the coming months the Baltic states will stick to this policy of avoiding any criticism regarding the US or the policies of Donald Trump. The Baltic States will definitely continue their pro-western policies. They are currently very much opposed to the European defense plans, Because they see these European defense plans, basically the idea of a European Union building up a military union, as a way how the Europeans want to get US out of Europe. And they consider the US presence in Europe as crucial for their national interest.
But that can change. So if we really see that the US wants to limit their commitment to NATO, then the Baltic states, regarding this question, might eventually change. But that would be a huge policy change. What will not change is the commitment of the Baltic states to European Union and NATO. So there is no way that the Baltic states would voluntarily abandon their pro-western policy. There are no serious political forces, neither on the left side, nor on the right side, asking for this change.
And even in the Baltic states, of course, there is a tradition of European Union as everywhere in Europe. There are no really serious political forces that would argue for Baltic states leaving the European Union. So the Baltic states will stay in European Union as long as it exists.
So it is very hard to predict what's going to be Russian policy in the Baltics. The relations between the Baltic states and Russia since the beginning of Ukrainian crisis have been normal. As normal as they can be. Baltic states strongly supported Ukraine during-- maybe they made strong statements in case of Latvia and Estonia. Lithuania actually was one of the only countries that provided some military help to Ukraine. But they are strong advocates, and they will remain strong advocates of maintaining the sanctions.
Also, Latvia in 2015 assumed the presidency of the EU, the rotating presidency. So it was kind of restricted in its capacity to make strong statements against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Surprisingly, as I said before, Russia has kept a low profile in the Baltic states since the beginning of Ukrainian crisis, except the misinformation campaigns through the state funded media that [INAUDIBLE] saw in the Baltic states.
But otherwise, was relations between Russia and the Baltic states have been much calmer than they were in the '90s or even early 2000s. For example, today it's March 16, a day that for historical reasons that I will not explain now, but a day that for historical reasons is very sensitive for Latvian society. In the past, Russia has used this day for provocations. And today it was not the case. So there were internal tensions, but we didn't feel any external presence in what happened in Riga today.
So what does this calm mean? The apparent calm in the relations between the Baltic states and Russia. So it's, of course, something that is open for interpretations. Again, I think everything depends on the answer to those two questions that I outlined before. Was the hybrid war in Ukraine an attempt to preserve Russian zone of influence, or was it a first step in expanding it? And also, how does President Putin perceive the Baltic states? Does he perceive them still as a traditional zone of influence, despite their NATO membership?
And also, many things depend of the capacity of the US, but international community in general, to maintain sanctions in place until the Minsk agreements have been fully implemented and stick to the non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea. Because this is not just a question about Ukrainian sovereignty or territorial integrity, this is also a question about the world order. The post Cold War world order is based on certain principles and certain norms. And it has to be clear, and it has to be underlined-- by Europeans and by the US-- that the violation of these norms and these rules have consequences. Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: I found your two questions very [INAUDIBLE] and very to the point. I wonder if there isn't a third question given the events in this country over the past few months. And that question is, is it most useful to see these true areas of the near abroad as part of a regional Russian strategy, or would it be more important and more frightening to see them as part of a global strategy?
You use the term hybrid conflict. And when we think about hybrid conflict, we think of all kinds of aggression ranging from fake news on one extreme to actual invasion on the other extreme with many variations, many permutations in between. If we think of these areas in the near abroad in terms of a local strategy, and we include Russia's strategy towards the United States in that global strategy, that raises a third question.
Does the world still look the same as it did in 1989, that is, divided between regional and global issues, or would it make the most sense to see the Russian strategy in global terms, in which case the moves against the United States over the past few years need to be seen in the same framework as Russian attitudes towards the Baltic states, and towards Ukraine, and towards other areas of what we used to call the near abroad?
And if that's the case, the prospects are rather frightening for us, although they may be less frightening for the Baltic states in the short run. In other words, what's the interpretation we should give to the softening of Russian attitudes towards the Baltics? Is it because of short term considerations, or is it because the Russians are now thinking in global strategic terms in which their attacks on the United States-- and I don't use the word loosely-- are being seen in the same framework as their attitudes towards the near abroad?
UNA BERGMANE: [INAUDIBLE] That is an excellent question to which we might not have an answer yet. But I think that's something that the Batlics have insisted on a lot recently, especially that we can see, for example, the cyberattacks against the DNC in the US, that's something that has been done in the past against Estonia, or against Georgia, doing the the war in Russia. So we can see how practices that have been tested in the near abroad now are used on a global scale.
And yes, I would agree that maybe now Russian [INAUDIBLE] will take a shift toward actually trying to gain potentially in the near abroad, so basically getting back to the territory that the Soviet Union had in the past now that it's more global and much more sophisticated.
What makes me doubt about this is the fact that they still annexed Crimea. So at a time when everybody [INAUDIBLE] in Europe nowadays, nobody's fighting a war for territorial gain, it still happened. So that's why I'm very cautious about interpreting the information we might have about the grand spectrum Russian foreign policy. But as I said before, it's true that we can see the regional practices now being used in a more global scale.
KATERYNA PISHCHIKOVA: Just a quick answer, excellent questions, as always. I would agree, I mean, you had part of the answer in your question, of course. I would agree that Russia is a regional player. And what it did in Ukraine and what it is also doing in Muldova and Georgia now, with actually being much more [INAUDIBLE] for example. So [INAUDIBLE] incorporating itself a [INAUDIBLE] military under Russian control and things like that. It has proven that it has a very intrusive and aggressive regional strategy, and it's not stopping. The stakes for Russia is high, and I think everyone is increasingly aware of the fact that Russia really has to go quite far to be [INAUDIBLE] in the region, whereas other players are not.
But you're right. I mean, the language with the global strategy, I think the way we should rephrase this question is, because the world has changed. I mean, probably this distinction between the global and regional is not really working anymore. So this distinction is obsolete. And if we look at it from that perspective, I think the whole discussion of whether Russia's a global power or not has to be more understood as about Russia having a power to disrupt, and to spoil. I think that's the way that Russia imprints globally. And that's where it's acting more opportunistically, and it's more tactics than strategy.
And so to get back to the question of [INAUDIBLE], I think it follows the rational for us is just to show that it's an order that doesn't exist. It's an order that the west felt existed, and cleared it up in the immediate post Cold War era. And Russia got comfortable, but it wants to go back to this great power balance. [INAUDIBLE] It wants to expose the [INAUDIBLE] of the EU, basically. The whole pretense of the EU is very self celebratory, and it doesn't have a hardcore, real politic basis. I think this is the rational when we look more [INAUDIBLE] from a global perspective.
AUDIENCE: Is that me?
CHRISTOPHER WAY: Yeah, that's you.
AUDIENCE: So publications like the New York Times and Washington Post have alleged recently that there is this rogue group of [INAUDIBLE] diplomats, semi-formal, and people like Paul Manafort, and Andre [INAUDIBLE], and people at that work might be channeling some sort of a deal going into the Trump white house, and Russia about the Ukraine. My question is, is that a real thing? Is that really happening, and what would a deal like that look like?
KATERYNA PISHCHIKOVA: Well, I don't know more about the-- I mean, I'm reading the same publications. But let me just link this back to my last comment. I think this is the risk of the politics of ambiguity. I mean, these kinds of factional diplomacy, and conspiracy theories, and this kind of behind the scenes [INAUDIBLE] by various state [INAUDIBLE] is going to go on inevitably until there is clarity about the direction of the US policy in that region.
I mean, I'm pretty sure there is basis to some of this leaked information. I mean, we know that different stakeholders try to promote different kinds of solution to the current conflict. So I wouldn't question the plausibility of these facts that were made public. And we don't know, that's the problem. We don't know how high is the risk that some of this may catch the attention of the current administration at some point, and may ring some bells. And who knows what it's going to be translated in. I mean, this is where the fragility and the uncertainty of the domestic politics, and the way this government is now being set up, and all of that, this is how it has these huge geopolitical repercussions.
AUDIENCE: Do you think that the current Russian support of [INAUDIBLE] news or responses is more a part of a display of Russian dominance to distract away from the issues of the economy, or do you think it's hinting at more a essence of vulnerability to NATO encouragement that's happened in the previous years? And that's actually what happened to Georgia in 2008. So comparing both those perspectives, what kind of philosophy would you side with?
KATERYNA PISHCHIKOVA: Well, I think these are both important factors. But yours is a great point, because what people often overlook in this kind of big geopolitical chess game kind of narrative is the domestic drivers of foreign policy, which is a very basic argument, very well known. And it's huge for Russia. Because it is the fact that Russia has been militarizing its society, and has been making huge investment into modernizing its military at a time when actually it should have beeen modernizing the rest of its society.
It has been a huge economic balancer which probably has to do with the sanctions, but with many more structural factors. So Russians are very well aware of the fact that even if the sanctions are lifted, it's not going to really resolve the issue for them. So absolutely, very important. The way this kind of warmaking and generally aggressive foreign policy works for authoritarian regimes is very different from the way this works for democratic societies. And so obviously the whole question of his [INAUDIBLE] reservation, and strengthening the leadership, and so on and so forth.
One tiny footnote, which has been credited as keep it on the margins of this discussion, which leads to the comments about the Baltics, it's amazing how much the Crimean annexation is being accepted by the population of the former Soviet Union territory. Even in the Baltics, I was surprised they didn't know it's [INAUDIBLE].
Overall it seemed like, you know, it kind of sort of made sense. Crimea, it's a peculiar part of the Soviet Union, it sort of makes sense that it's Russian. But the military conflict in the east of Ukraine is not popular anywhere in the [INAUDIBLE], and it's not popular in Russia, either.
And I think this is one of the reasons why I think there's not going to be a major military escalation, and a major land grab on that front, because Russia's population is not eager to see Putin to assert himself military in eastern Ukraine. So actually now, we know that 2018 [INAUDIBLE] has to face new re-election, and it's going to be a really complex balancing act for him. Because he is interested in pumping the nationalist feeling, and the patriotism.
But don't forget, Russia's a multi-ethnic country, and Putin is not big friend of real right wing in Russia. He has been trading as much in the last, actually doesn't want to give them too much space in terms of the dominant discourse and too much visibility. So there are limits domestically. I'm glad you brought up those factors, domestically it's a very complex issue as well for Russia.
CHRISTOPHER WAY: [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: I'm assuming that a necessary condition for Russia to be successful in invading or taking over eastern Ukraine or the Baltic states would be a large part of the population supports that, right? Wish is also a distinguishing factor between Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
So therefore, wouldn't it be wise for Europe to invest more on an information campaign to counter the misinformation to show, even if you're ethnic Russian, the benefits of remaining part of Europe rather than Russia. Just because it sounds as if the Russian minorities aren't oppressed in the Baltic states. They have all the freedom, they can join the culture. But economically speaking, it's much more beneficial for them to remain. Wouldn't that narrative be something that Europe should focus on more?
UNA BERGMANE: Yes, that's a great question. That's something that the European Union in general has now starting to consider how to act against, to counter the Russian misinformation campaign. But in the Baltic states also, this is a big, extremely important question. Estonians have now a public Russian language channel. Latvians have decided to have, since the independence, we have some Russian language content in Latvia, and maybe Latvian language channels.
And the problem is that the creation in Latvia of a Russian language TV channel is a bit complicated, because the nationalist party insisted if we do this, then that the Russians will not be motivated to learn Latvian. But the big problem is that the Russian TV channels-- and it's not only in the Baltic states, they're all in Soviet space. They offer not only news, they offer TV stars, TV shows, music, et cetera.
In the Baltic states, for example, they don't have funding, they don't have a possibility to have the same or similar TV shows or TV stars that are actually-- this is a cultural content that nobody else is really able to provide. We could hope that the Russian speaking minorities would somehow shift and become less interested in Russian pop culture, and start being more interested in, let's say, western European or American pop culture.
But that's something that will take place in a longer period of time. It will be a generational shift. So this is the problem, is we are not just competing with the news content, we are also, if we want people to stop watching the Russian TV channels, we also have to provide some kind of really interesting popular culture.
KATERYNA PISHCHIKOVA: The EU of this assembly have been looking to-- the EU actually now has been investing a lot into that kind of assistance, too. The so-called eastern partnership countries, and has the EU's [INAUDIBLE], which is where the UN is going to try to distribute the communication. European Union, it's again, very bureaucratic and slowing everything.
But there's a lot of awareness of this in the EU policy circles. Another thing that happens, and I'm going to quote a couple of [INAUDIBLE] now, is that many people will say, OK, Russia got Crimea but it lost Ukraine. The fact that this was a very blunt military invasion, and the fact that there's now lingering conflict going on, it alienated the Ukrainians enormously from Russia. So the polling shows that on the average, Russia has very negative image among Ukrainians. Had this rally around the flag effect.
And so for example, a few months before the crisis erupted in 2013, there was 58% of Ukrainians were pro European integration, 37% were pro Eurasian Economic Union integration. Now the data from December 2016 shows 47% pro-EU, and only 17% pro integration with Russia. So there has been a huge opinion shift already just because, again, of the sense of vulnerability, and having been invaded, and having lost the territorial integrity at the hands of Russian aggressive behavior.
CHRISTOPHER WAY: [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: Yeah. So this goes along some of the previous questions. In both Ukraine and in the Baltics, particularly the Baltics after 1991, there was the new government that distanced themselves from Russians, right? And there were punitive policies regarding citizenship. And now there's, as the question indicates, there's some interest by these governments to try to win over ethnic Russians there. So I wonder, is [INAUDIBLE] doing much about that in the Baltics?
And in Ukraine, of course, there's that story which probably did have a big effect. As soon as Yamukovych flees, was right before or the day after they passed this law banning Russian as a official language. And then they rescinded that, but they seemed not to be very sympathetic, not doing much to woo back any ethnic Russian support.
So I wonder, are they doing that now? Also, what are the discussions among the ethnic Baltic populations, or more pro-independent Ukraines about should we try to get close to these Russians, or let's go further towards alienating them and see what happens?
UNA BERGMANE: Thank you, that's also a very good question. Of course, there have been, in my opinion, important mistakes were made in terms of integration of Russian minority in early '90s. By the end of '90s, the mistakes, they started to realize that they have to deal with the problem of the very important Russian minority. And over the '90s, these forces evaluated. Also as the force gained some experience, because there were people who came to [INAUDIBLE] in the early '90s who were completely inexperienced.
They gained experience. They also, because of pressures of the EU and the [INAUDIBLE] make up most of the EU to become neighbors with the EU. So there were policies that had to be implemented in terms of minority rights.
But until today, I think that it really much is a big debate, as you said, among so-called experts like [INAUDIBLE]. As in every country, there are more conservative forces, there are liberal forces. The liberals insist on more inclusive policies and doing more encouraged to making me Latvian state more attractive so that in the case Russian speakers have to choose, they would choose Latvia instead of Russia, or Estonia instead of Russia.
And I think they would. I think that we can always do more. There can always be more integration, there can always be more openness in political space, and more dialogue and so forth and so on. But at this point, I think if a choice would be proposed that they would choose citizenship of European Union, and they'd stay Estonian and Latvian.
And I think that the accession to the European Union has done a lot. Because being a citizen of Latvia and being a citizen of Estonia might be more attractive than to be a citizen of Russian Federation, but it's even more attractive to be a citizen of European Union. We can see also the soft power of EU.
KATERYNA PISHCHIKOVA: Two questions. More specifically on your language, I think what has been amazing in the post [INAUDIBLE] Ukraine is that there has been a wide ranging [INAUDIBLE] attempt at depoliticizing language. So you're right about the blunder with the banning Russian as a second language. So it's almost like as if the political establishment mishandled it a bit. But the [INAUDIBLE] civic response to this has been to depoliticize the language.
And so they have rallied around the flag to fight with them referring to before, also through this movement to, let's say I'm a Russian speaking Ukrainian. And even if half of my family is actually originally from Russia, never mind. I identify as a Ukrainian, and I speak Russian, and there's no problem with that. And there were all these initiatives about people speaking Russian in western Ukraine, and so on and so forth. So that was a very powerful and interesting civic response to that.
Having said that, I think it's an extremely delicate balance now that goes [INAUDIBLE] what kind of nation building project would actually gain traction in Ukraine. And this is not a resolved matter. It's a very delicate process that is still continuing. And the sense in the months after the [INAUDIBLE] was that the civic nation building was kind of the predominant choice, and the predominant narrative also politically. So the idea was that we come together as a nation because we choose for a certain civic project, and placing certain civic values, accountability, transparency, pluralism, and so on and so forth.
The problem is that that's not something you can resolve once and for all, and put the stone in it, so to say. As the situation is becoming more volatile also politically, that obviously creates more space for more radical nationalist forces. It also opens the discussion towards more intolerant exchanges.
And so the ethic [INAUDIBLE] in Ukraine is still at risk that the more ethnic based nationalist discourses and visions for nation building might colonize or gain dominance in the public debate. And that is a big challenge, to stick to that original [INAUDIBLE] ideal, which was really amazing. Because it had this civic aspiration behind it.
CHRISTOPHER WAY: OK, I'm going to wrap up the formal question period here. I say just formal, because as we move into the other room to have some beverages and snacks, Kateryna and Una would be happy to answer further questions in talks with you. One last thing. As I said at the beginning, you've got a little feedback form on your chair. Please fill it out. There's a box to receive them in the next room where the food and beverages are. And as we head over there, please join me in thanking our guests once more.
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A panel discussion of Russia’s recent interactions with its neighbors Ukraine and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, held March 16, 2017. Kateryna Pishchikova (European Commission and Universita degli Studi eCAMPUS, Italy) and Una Bergmane (Cornell University) elaborate on the state of these fragile relationships, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and speculate on President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for Russia both regionally as well as globally. The event was organized by the Cornell Institute for European Studies (CIES) and co-sponsored by the Einaudi Center.