If they are not careful, the Baltics might make one of their worst mistakes in the past 13 years. It appears they are preparing to visit Moscow to take part in the Victory Day events in May for the wrong reason.
The Kremlin is attaching enormous importance to the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. It is inviting heads of states from dozens of countries across the world, and considering the extraordinary sacrifice made by the Soviet Union from 1941 - 1945 in vanquishing one of the greatest evils in the annals of mankind. Most will attend. Yes, despite President Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule, the heads of Western governments are going to Moscow (as they did grudgingly in 1995 despite the war in Chechnya) this May. Even Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is planning to show up.
Putin wants to see his Baltic counterparts there as well. But anyone with the slightest grasp of history knows that in May 1945 the war didn't end in the Baltics. It continued in the forests - and on the cattle carts to Siberia - for many years. The Kremlin, however, doesn't seem to care about any of that and still wants the Baltic presidents to attend, as a way of acknowledging the human loss suffered by all European peoples during the six-year conflict.
Instinctually, the Baltic presidents do not want to go. But in recent weeks there has been much talk of linking the much-delayed signing of border agreements with Estonia and Latvia to the presence of Presidents Arnold Ruutel and Vaira Vike-Freiberga in Moscow. (Lithuania already has such an agreement.) Even Putin is dangling this carrot over the two presidents' heads.
Nevertheless, the border agreement is the single worst reason to go to Moscow.
By attending the commemorative events in Red Square, the Baltic presidents will essentially acknowledge Russia's victory. No spin control, be it from the Kremlin or the presidential palaces here, can refute this. If the Baltic presidents decide to do that, fine, we won't second guess them, but they should get something commensurate in return - and that is not a border agreement. The only thing worthwhile is recognition of a different kind - namely, that the Baltics suffered as a result of Soviet occupation.
Stated plainly, the only linking there should be with Putin is history-history, not history-border. If Russia wants the Baltic states to recognize the Russian victory over Nazism, then the Baltics have every right to demand that Russia recognize the occupation, or at the very least the extreme victimization of the Baltic peoples as a result of 45 years of communist rule.
Signing a border agreement in Moscow will do no honor to the hundreds of thousands of Balts who suffered as a result of communist rule and occupation. Rather, it will only dishonor them. The presidents' choice, then, is unenviable, but it is also quite clear.