Baltics react to Kremlin treaty pullout

  • 2007-07-18
  • By TBT staff
VILNIUS - Reaction in the Baltic states to Russia's decision to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty ranged from an appeal for calm to calls for an arms build-up in the region. 
The decision, decreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 14 but originally announced in April, was most likely timed so as to take place after Putin's visit with U.S. President George W. Bush in Maine and the International Olympic Committee's final choice for the venue of the 2014 winter games, which ultimately went to Russia.

Still, the announcement out of Moscow caused a furor, with no small amount of speculation as to whether it would amount to a massive troop build-up near the Baltics.
President Valdas Adamkus, speaking through his spokeswoman, said Russia's decision demonstrated a lack of goodwill and willingness to uphold dialogue.
"In the opinion of [the president], we should become more concerned and evaluate the confrontation between Russia and the West, which has been increasing for almost a year," said Rita Grumadaite.
In his first significant foreign policy commentary, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers called for calm. "It does not pose any threat in the short-term. We must stay calm," he told Latvian public radio on July 16.
"Latvia is a relatively peaceful area. Latvia must behave as a country of a relatively peaceful, stable geographic zone, and not as if it were located in some hot spot," he said.

By contrast, Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks played the bad cop. Commenting the decision, he said, "Latvia's position is that the move is wrong and inadequate. [It] must be treated seriously. It means the reduction of international trust in the long-term."
Pabriks said he saw the Kremlin's decision as a "power move" designed to increase Russia's bargaining position among major world players.
The Kremlin's decision also comes less than a month after Russia floated the possibility of deploying missiles in the Kaliningrad region if the United States were to proceed with plans to build a limited anti-missile shield in Central Europe.

All the saber-rattling has frayed many nerves, particularly in Estonia, which suffered a cyber attack from Russia in April and May.
In an interview with Eesti Paevaleht, Mart Helme, a former Estonian ambassador to Russia, compared Putin's behavior with that of Adolf Hitler. "Just as when Germany left the League of Nations after Hitler came to power, Russia has now withdrawn from the conventional arms treaty, and that is rather symptomatic," Helme said.
"Of course history has no 100 percent exact parallels, but one can make a comparison of Putin and Hitler's behavior," he added.
"I do not mean that tanks will start rolling across the border right away, but the Pskov airborne division could, for example, start conducting maneuvers," Helme said. 
The question is how NATO and the West will respond to Russia's behavior. In Helme's opinion, NATO should deploy more troops in the Baltics as a counter-measure. Only this would drive home the point that the Kremlin has overplayed its cards, the former ambassador said.

By contrast, many independent analysts downplayed the significance of the move.
"We've been hearing from Moscow over and over again in recent years that the conventional arms treaty is not to their liking, and Putin announced the intention to abandon the treaty in a speech in April," said Kaarel Kaas, a researcher at the Estonian Center for Defense Studies, a think-tank.
"For Estonia, the impact of this step is first and foremost political and is expressed through the overall framework of relations between Russia and the West, which have worsened in recent years," said Kaas.
Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Moscow-based defense analyst, said that the impact of the decision was likely to revolve around psychological factors such as trust.
"No one right now is expecting a buildup of any forces anywhere, like it was during the Cold War when two great armies faced each other in mid Europe. Such a thing is impossible," Felgenhauer told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Russia's pulling out of the treaty "will decrease trust and increase tension, creating a confrontation that some call the new Cold War," the analyst said.
The Baltic states are not signatories to the treaty, which was agreed upon at a time when Russian troops were still on Baltic territory and the three nations were predominantly concerned about national defense issues.
Foreign Minister Petras Vaitekunas said recently that Lithuania would like to join the treaty after it is ratified by signatories and Russia withdraws troops from Moldova and Georgia.
Lithuania's Defense Ministry expressed regret over Putin's decree. "This step could entail only negative consequences because the CFE Treaty acts as a cornerstone of security and stability in Europe," a ministry spokeswoman was quoted by Interfax as saying.