From Russia with love?

  • 2001-04-05
Lithuania, despite leading the assault on the Soviet empire 10 years ago and being the first Baltic state to announce its wish to join NATO, continues to surprise observers by its good relations with Russia. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus' meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week was notably cordial.

During Adamkus' visit, the Moscow-based daily Komersant wrote that Lithuania is the only Baltic country with which Russia has good relations. Russian journalists joked that Adamkus and Putin's friendly summit resembled the brotherly meetings of Putin and the pro-Russian president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko - meaning not the content, we hope, but the atmosphere.

Several factors contribute to the Vilnius-Moscow love story. Firstly, Russia needs to be polite if it is to secure reasonable living conditions for the residents of the Kaliningrad enclave. Tensions with Lithuania would be against their interests.

Secondly, Lithuania granted citizenship to those who immigrated from Soviet countries to the East, following its occupation in 1940. Lithuania took this decision voluntarily. It was under no legal obligation to do so, because the civilized world never recognized the Baltics' occupation.

This policy contrasted with those of Estonia and Latvia to the north and it was a policy which worked. Russia lost a crucial anti-Baltic propaganda tool. Russian-speakers are now fully integrated into Lithuanian society and do not demonstrate with portraits of Stalin and anti-NATO slogans in the streets of Vilnius, as sometimes happens in Riga and Tallinn. The absence of a pro-Moscow fifth column in Lithuania has helped relations with Moscow.

But beyond all this the main reason for the mysterious love affair is this: Russian's elite understands that it can not stop Lithuania from joining NATO. In private, Russian MPs refer to Lithuania's membership as if it was already achieved.

Rhetoric against NATO expansion can still be heard from the Kremlin. It has two goals: First, Moscow wants the West to give more money to ailing Russia. Second, the leadership wants to please the most backward segment of Russia's electorate, some of whom think they are living in the 1930s.

But there was virtually no sign of anti-NATO rhetoric during Adamkus' visit. Is it then time to celebrate? Who knows? Russia still remains an unpredictable and undemocratic country. Lithuania had better hurry into NATO; Latvia and Estonia too, just in case.