Aiming to increase the impact of the Baltic voice abroad – Latvia’s CGSR

  • 2023-07-14
  • Linas Jegelevicius

The Centre for Geopolitical Studies Riga (CGSR) was established last year and is set to expand and deepen its expertise and its international impact, especially on the Baltic States, Russia, Belarus, and Central Asia. The Baltic Times Magazine spoke with Maris Andzans, the co-founder of the CGSR about the new Baltic think-tank.

Who were behind the decision to establish it and who are the key stakeholders in it now?

We were two cofounders, Evija Djatkovica and I. We had gained experience in the think-tank and academic world, as well as in the public sector and diplomatic corps. So we decided to take on a new challenge and to launch a new think tank. The team has grown over the year, but Evija and I remain the core of the centre. 

Importantly, why did you see the need for such a centre? Did you feel that, unlike Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia did not have a sufficient number of independent research think-tanks?

Our primary goal is to increase the impact of the Baltic voice abroad. Second, we wanted to offer research outputs with a smaller frequency but with a higher quality and with more lasting impact. And third, we wished to remain neutral and objective in our judgements.  

So far, so good. We have been quoted or have appeared in notable global media. We have published articles with influential American think tanks and spoken at various events on geopolitical and other issues. Soon we will publish our first broader report. The topic is the EU’s Global Gateway strategy and Central Asia. 

We also try to do our best to expand our views with first-hand experience. I am currently on a fellowship at the Academy of International Affairs NRW in Bonn, Germany. Evija Djatkovica is currently based at the Uppsala University Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies in Sweden.

CGSR says on its website it focuses on security dilemmas and geopolitical rivalries in the Baltic Sea region and beyond. Is there more rivalry than cooperation between the three Baltic States, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia?

There has been both rivalry and cooperation among the Baltic States. As the sayings go – both “the three sisters” or “the beloved enemies”. 

Since there is now a clear external challenge, Russia’s war on Ukraine, there is definitely more cooperation than competition among the three. All three have stood firmly in the support of Ukraine, in countering Russia and strengthening their defences with their own means and the assistance of allies. 

Where is the rivalry beneficial and where it is deleterious?

Sport is probably the best sphere for rivalry, but competition will hardly be limited to that sphere. Rivalry among the Baltic States is inevitable since they are so close geographically and, looking from afar, also so similar. 

Where rivalry should be avoided is foreign policy and defence policy, as well as national security. And with national security, I mean it the broadest understanding, to also include such issues as energy security and transport security. 

Notwithstanding the rivalries, none of the Baltic States will have more natural and more like-minded partners. Therefore, the trilateral Baltic cooperation should be further strengthened. Why not create a Baltic cooperation support fund that could generously support trilateral media, science, culture, and sports programmes? There is a deficit in the media space on social and political processes in the other Baltic States. We often know more about such issues in other parts of Europe and the world than here in the Baltics. Also, trilateral cooperation in science usually rests on domestic or external funding. 

We are neighbours and good ones. Will Russia and Belarus ever be good neighbours? 

Not likely in the short term. Belarus is currently a client state of Russia. Russia has the means and instruments to hold Belarus in its orbit. Russia is unlikely to let Belarus out of its sphere of influence unless Russia itself changes significantly.

I am also sceptical about change in Russia in the short term. The grip of state institutions over the Russian society and economy is tight. There is no opposition, there are no independent media. There is near total control over almost every sphere. Many liberal-minded people have fled. Some of those remaining live in fear of repercussions, while others need no persuasion of the narratives fed by the Russian state. And Russia has managed to keep its economy floating despite the unprecedented sanctions imposed on it. 

One of your programmes, Belarus Observatory Riga, is a research platform tracking Belarus’s domestic and foreign policy developments. Has Belarus’ self-imposed leader Alexander Lukashenko become stronger now than before the presidential election in late 2020? Should the Baltics, and Riga, have any relations with Minsk now?

Lukashenko now seems to be more confident and stronger than at any point since the 2020 Belarussian presidential election. He has largely crushed the opposition at home. The economy remains above water. Russia stands by Lukashenko's guard should his regime face challenges, though that doesn’t mean that Russia could not depose him for another pro-Russian leader. And despite him saying the opposite, there is no appetite in the West to overthrow him. 

In the current circumstances, the Baltic States should continue to advocate for the isolation and sanctioning of both Russia and Belarus. It is unlikely that Lukashenko will steer clear of Russia. He has been much too involved with the war on Ukraine to make a U-turn now. 

Your Baltic Program tracks and assesses the security dilemmas of the Baltic States. Besides Russia and Belarus, what are the other main risks the region faces?

We must not forget other well-known but often forgotten types of existential crises, including floods, storms, pandemics, geomagnetic storms, or nuclear accidents. The consequences of such disasters can be devastating. In order not to be caught unawares by a new crisis, the Baltic States must maintain a broad view of security and constantly identify and mitigate the most diverse possible risks.

Your Central Asia program focuses on links between Central Asian countries and the Baltic States and the European Union at large. Please talk about it.

Central Asia, comprising Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, is a complex region with significant potential both for growth and for new risks. It also is a rather rare region with a comprehensive positive recognition of the Baltic States and Latvia in particular. 

There is much that the Baltic States, the European Union, and Central Asian countries could gain from each other. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, also Central Asian countries are wearier of Russia and its impact. The European Union should use this momentum and increase its role there. 

What major partners do you work with?

Our main partners include the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. We also work with Brasa Defence Systems, a military industry company based in Latvia. 

We are also looking for new partnerships that would allow us to expand our expertise and impact. 

Where do you see the Centre next?

We would like to expand and deepen our expertise and our international impact, especially on the Baltic States, Russia, Belarus, and Central Asia. But that all depends on the resources that we will be able to attract.