Varied response to Russian withdrawal

  • 2007-07-17
  • By TBT staff and wire reports

BANG GOES THE TREATY: the CFE agreement aims to limit the number of conventional weapons on the ground across Europe (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

Power brokers across the Baltic region have reacted to Russia's latest piece of arms-related politicking with varying degrees of concern.

July 14, the Kremlin announced that Russia will withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which aims to limit the number of conventional weapons, such as tanks and artillery, held by armies across the continent. It followed hot on the heels of a Russian threat to station extra missiles in Kaliningrad if the U.S. presses on with plans to site anti-missile radar and interceptor stations in Eastern Europe.

Latvian President Valdis Zatlers was stoical about the prospect, saying: "It does not pose a threat in the short term. We must stay calm."

"Latvia must behave as a relatively peaceful, stable geographic zone, and not as if it were located in some hot spot," the president said.

Zatlers admitted that the decision was not entirely unexpected, as Russia had been warning about the suspension for several months. He added that the Russian withdrawal would be discussed during his July 16 meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

"Russia acts like that as it wishes to increase its influence in international policy," commented Maris Riekstins, chief of the Latvian prime minister's office. He added that this is an absurd approach, and that Russia would be more successful increasing its influence by more democratic means.

A spokesperson for Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was a little more worried by Russia's latest piece of sabre-rattling.

"In the opinion of [Adamkus], we should be concerned and should evaluate the confrontation between Russia and the West which has been increasing for almost a year," presidential spokeswoman Rita Grumadaite told BNS.

Meanwhile in Estonia, reaction was generally more hawkish. Estonia is currently experiencing a particularly difficult relationship with its eastern neighbor, for numerous reasons.

Foreign minister Urmas Paet gave his opinion: "It was a disappointing decision, but unfortunately it is in keeping with Russia's foreign policy course of the last few months and years which is based on confrontation with the European Union, NATO and democratic values."

The most extreme reaction of all came a commentary published in the online edition of Eesti Paevaleht, Estonia's former ambassador to Russia, Mart Helme, further stoked the flames by drawing parallels between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler.

"Whereas Germany left the League of Nations after Hitler's coming to power, Russia has now withdrawn from the framework of the conventional arms treaty, and that is rather symptomatic," Helme wrote.

"In the Kremlin [Putin] doesn't care the slightest bit when the west says: 'We condemn it'," the former ambassador said.