The initiative of several U.S. lawmakers to draft a resolution requesting that Russia acknowledge both the forcible annexation of the Baltic countries in 1940 and 46 years of Soviet occupation after World War II was obviously timed to win the maximum amount of press coverage and have the strongest possible impact politically. Interestingly, the resolution itself (see text below) seems to have been deliberately penned in a language sharp enough to pop some of the hoopla out of the victory balloons that will rise over Moscow on May 9. For the Baltics, even if the resolution fails to win the support of Congress, this alone should provide some comfort.
Indeed, with all the public relation skirmishes taking place between the Baltic states and Russia, the foray by nine Congressmen comes not a moment too soon. Now that Washington is engaged, the battlelines will even out. (Europe, as we have seen, has failed to be supportive in the Baltics' efforts to nudge the Russians toward recognizing the Soviet occupation.)
And Washington is involved. As soon as she arrived in Moscow this week, State Secretary Condoleezza Rice had strong words for Kremlin leadership. "The centralization of state power in the presidency at the expense of countervailing institutions like the Duma [lower house of Parliament] or an independent judiciary is clearly very worrying," she was quoted as saying. While on the plane to Moscow, she was more succinct: "Trends have not been positive on the democratic side."
We can expect more of the same in the future. Soon President George W. Bush will be in Riga, where he is likely to remind the world that the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany was followed by decades of totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe. This is precisely what Moscow won't want to hear two days before it celebrates the 60th anniversary of a war that took approximately 26 million lives in the Soviet Union alone. Russian politicians are certain to bristle.
At the same time it would be naive to think that the Bush administration's strong words for Moscow might take some of the heat off the Baltics. Kremlin criticism of the Baltics is here to stay. And who knows, it may even intensify. The Putin administration, after all, recognizes that it is in trouble at home and is in need of a rallying cause. Chechnya is lost, so is Ukraine, so what better cause is there than the so-called minority rights in the Baltics?
Be that as it may, it is pleasing to see that, as the Western world gathers to commemorate the end of the deadliest war mankind has ever known, there are more stentorian calls to recognize the fact that the cessation of hostilities in 1945 was the beginning of a half century of repression for Eastern Europe and the Baltics.