When neme­sis wants to split

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Sara Mor­rin

Ten­sions con­tinue in the Baltic coun­tries with more meet­ings and re­ports ad­dress­ing the topic of its re­la­tion­ship with its neigh­bour Rus­sia. On Monday the 3rd of April, the Lithua­nian Min­istry of Defence pub­lished a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Threat As­sess­ment by Lithua­nian in­tel­li­gence in­sti­tu­tions. The first ma­jor threat men­tioned in the re­port high­lights Rus­sia’s ‘ag­gres­sive’ for­eign pol­icy and at­tempts to cre­ate di­vides and ex­ploit weak­nesses. The re­ports speaks about Rus­sia’s at­tempt to “strengthen” its dom­i­nance in the re­gion and change the global bal­ance of forces.

Ed­ward Lu­cas dis­cusses lo­cal ten­sions and threats

Ed­ward Lu­cas, Se­nior Vice-pres­i­dent at the Cen­ter for Euro­pean Pol­icy Anal­y­sis and Se­nior Edi­tor of cur­rent af­fairs mag­a­zine The Econ­o­mist, ad­dressed the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce and its guests in­clud­ing am­bas­sadors, aca­demics and busi­ness peo­ple at a lun­cheon held at the Grand Palace Ho­tel in Riga late last month. Lu­cas shared his ex­per­tise on po­lit­i­cal ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and its neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. He also high­lighted other dif­fi­cul­ties to keep an eye on within Europe in­clud­ing Brexit, which he called “one of the sad­dest days of my life”.

Lu­cas men­tioned the grow­ing dis­cus­sion of the Baltic’s and es­pe­cially Es­to­nia among Bri­tish pol­icy mak­ers, stat­ing “Baltic se­cu­rity has be­come a thing in Bri­tish pol­i­tics… our com­mit­ment to the Baltic’s is go­ing to get big­ger rather than bet­ter.”

Lu­cas shared his views sur­round­ing the cur­rent chal­lenges in Europe from a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic per­spec­tive and Putin’s strat­egy to ex­ploit these di­vi­sions and these weak­nesses for po­lit­i­cal gain us­ing three weapons: money, in­for­ma­tion and force. Lu­cas said, “the force ranges from mil­i­tary and armed con­flict in the case of Ukraine and Ge­or­gia… cy­ber attacks and also tar­geted as­sas­si­na­tions, which we have seen par­tic­u­larly in my coun­try Bri­tain…. the money ranges from cre­at­ing eco­nomic bridge­heads and bas­tions, peo­ple who say my jobs, my prof­its, and my share­hold­ers hap­pi­ness de­pend on hav­ing good trade in­vest­ment links with Rus­sia, so please politi­cians, don’t get in the way, and that eco­nomic pres­sure is a strong coun­ter­weight to the kind of eco­nomic sanc­tions that we have been try­ing to im­pose on Rus­sia re­cently…”

In­for­ma­tion is the third weapon Lu­cas men­tioned, which has its roots from the old Cold War prac­tice. Lu­cas be­lieves the In­ter­net has given huge ad­van­tages to the at­tack­ing side in terms of us­ing in­for­ma­tion as a weapon. Lu­cas also high­lighted the is­sues of anonymity and the dif­fi­culty in find­ing the true agenda of dif­fer­ent news sources. Lu­cas be­lieves Rus­sia’s main goal is not to con­quer the West, but to di­vide it, as Rus­sia finds the idea of these big, west­ern mul­ti­lat­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions like the EU and NATO won’t work and finds them pro­foundly un­fair. De­spite the ten­sions and on­go­ing chal­lenges, Lu­cas is op­ti­mistic, as he be­lieves Rus­sia is a coun­try full of weak­nesses, bad de­mo­graphic out­look, weak po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions and is lack­ing strong al­lies.

NATO forces in the Baltics

Lu­cas also spoke about NATO’S trans­for­ma­tion over the past 10 years, say­ing he does not agree with those who claim that NATO is ‘use­less’… it’s good we have NATO forces here and we should have more forces, air defence and ar­mour, but fun­da­men­tally we are not go­ing to build an imag­i­nary line down the Lat­vian, Es­to­nian and Lithua­nian bor­ders, there is no point in do­ing that be­cause the real defence of the Baltic States lies with de­ter­rents and that’s the sec­ond bit of good news, I be­lieve we are start­ing to get our de­ter­rents work­ing.” De­spite the fear over Rus­sia’s nu­clear weapons, Lu­cas spoke about the strength of Europe’s mis­siles, which he be­lieves the Rus­sians would not be able to shoot down, which the Fin­nish and the Bri­tish al­ready have and the Pol­ish are plan­ning to get them. Lu­cas em­pha­sised his con­fi­dence over these de­ter­rents and Europe’s abil­ity to de­fend it­self. He be­lieves Europe is stronger than many think. “The EU has de­fied predictions that it would fall apart, I think both Shen­zen zone, Eu­ro­zone and the Sin­gle Mar­ket are all go­ing to sur­vive and be­lieves the EU is in bet­ter shape than peo­ple say and has done a re­ally good job on en­ergy.” Lu­cas also spoke about Rus­sia’s largest gas pro­ducer Gazprom say­ing that they “treated the EU the way Mi­crosoft and Google did. They did not un­der­stand how the com­pe­ti­tion worked and thought they could do what­ever they wanted and it turned out to be a big mis­take. Gazprom has gone through the same painful learn­ing curve. The job is still not done yet…. but the EU has trans­formed the en­ergy mar­ket over the course of the last five or ten years, which would have been ab­so­lutely in­con­ceiv­able.”

Latvia of­fi­cially opens its gas mar­kets

Chair­man of Latvi­jas Gaze man­age­ment board Ai­gars Kalvi­tis told Rus­sia’s largest news agency TASS that Gazprom will con­tinue to dom­i­nate the gas mar­ket in Latvia, de­spite the move to open the gas mar­ket and al­low new com­pe­ti­tion. Latvia was the only coun­try in the the Euro­pean Union that was 100 per cent de­pen­dent on Rus­sia for gas sup­ply. How­ever, on April 3rd Latvia de­cided to make a big change and lib­er­alise the mar­kets with 15 com­pa­nies regis­ter­ing with the reg­u­la­tor as gas sup­pli­ers. These in­clude Lat­vian com­pa­nies: Latvi­jas Gaze, Latven­ergo, En­e­fit, AJ Power Gas, ESK Sis­temas, Euro En­ergo Com­pany, Frenzo, GEG, Latvi­jas Propana Gaze, Ri­gas Gaze, Scener, Dau­gavpils Sil­tumtikli and WIN Bal­itc. Lithua­nian com­pa­nies Li­etu­vos Duju Tieki­mas and Lit­gas are also part of the new pack.

Mar­tiņš Kaprans an ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Latvia told The Baltic Times, “I see it as a di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of risks and it is the right way to go. There are many still unan­swered ques­tions, also with re­spect to who will be re­spon­si­ble for the trans­mis­sion/ trans­porta­tion/pipe­lines of gas. That is dif­fer­ent and is still an open ques­tion. And that will re­main a hot topic for the fore­see­able fu­ture.” Kaprans be­lieves, the in­flu­ence of Rus­sian gas lob­bies in Latvia will re­main an is­sue here in terms of se­cu­rity.” In terms of Rus­sia’s strat­egy, he thinks Rus­sia con­tin­ues to try its best to main­tain its po­si­tion and pres­ence here. Kaprans also high­lighted the on­go­ing quar­rel be­tween Be­larus and Rus­sia over gas prices. He said “for Rus­sia it is not just busi­ness, there­fore, I don’t think there will be a cru­cial change in the way of see­ing the Baltic States as just as an eco­nomic fac­tor from a Rus­sian per­spec­tive, but on the other hand, they can’t think in the same cat­e­gory as they were used to as the sit­u­a­tion is dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing for them as they are in an open mar­ket.” Look­ing ahead, Kaprans will be closely watch­ing Latvia’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in two months as he be­lieves these elec­tions could de­ter­mine and will most likely change the po­lit­i­cal land­scape in Latvia, also there might be some reshuf­fling in terms of coali­tion. In some large cities and ar­eas, he thinks they might change the po­lit­i­cal land­scape and re­la­tions be­tween the rul­ing party and Har­mony, the pro-krem­lin party, which has been the rul­ing party in Riga since 2009.

Dr. Maris Andžans, Re­search Fel­low at the Lat­vian In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs also shared his views with The Baltic Times on the topic of gas. He be­lieves this will not be “the be­gin­ning, nei­ther the end of de­creas­ing the de­pen­dence on Rus­sia. He told The Baltic Times that “sig­nif­i­cant steps have al­ready been taken to es­tab­lish phys­i­cal elec­tric­ity and nat­u­ral gas in­ter­con­nec­tions be­tween the Baltic States and Fin­land, Swe­den and Poland. Now, the nat­u­ral gas mar­ket will have to be lib­er­al­ized also in prac­tice. The in­cum­bent will prob­a­bly try to re­tain its share and im­pact in the mar­ket and thus pre­vent the lib­er­al­iza­tion in prac­tice.” Dr. Andžans also be­lieves that “we can ex­pect fur­ther dis­tanc­ing from Rus­sia as we have seen around many spheres, es­pe­cially trade. To be fair, how­ever, usu­ally dis­tanc­ing has been un­der­pinned by ex­ter­nal fac­tors – such as eco­nomic cri­sis in Rus­sia, Rus­sian coun­ter­sanc­tions, EU led nat­u­ral gas mar­ket lib­er­al­iza­tion, Eubacked and uni­lat­eral en­ergy in­ter­con­nec­tion projects, etc. “

Rus­sian Pro­pa­ganda con­tin­ues

The Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda war con­tin­ues. Ac­cord­ing to Lithua­nia’s na­tional se­cu­rity re­port, through so­cial me­dia and pro­pa­ganda events Rus­sia tried to in­flu­ence au­di­ences in Lithua­nia and abroad by high­light­ing so­ci­ety-sen­si­tive top­ics, such as NATO in the Baltic’s or “the 13th of Jan­uary events, and ac­cus­ing Lithua­nia of fal­si­fy­ing the his­tory in the pub­lic sphere.” Latvia’s For­eign Min­is­ter has also warned Cana­dian troops that they need to be pre­pared to im­me­di­ately counter any Rus­sian backed smear cam­paigns. Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Andžans, “Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda has been there long be­fore the Ukrainian cri­sis and not much has been done to con­strain it. Lat­vian in­sti­tu­tions would need to im­pose stricter lim­i­ta­tions on Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda me­dia pres­ence in the pub­lic sphere, con­sid­er­ably in­crease fund­ing to the na­tional broad­cast­ers to al­low them to fill the in­for­ma­tion sphere in­stead of Rus­sia.” Look­ing ahead, Dr. Andžans will be keep­ing a close eye on mil­i­tary ex­er­cise “Za­pad 2017” in the au­tumn and its pos­si­ble con­se­quences in Be­larus. He will also be watch­ing Rus­sia’s ef­forts to pre­vent the longevity of NATO’S en­hanced for­ward pres­ence as well as elec­tions in France and Ger­many and their pos­si­ble im­pact on West­ern at­ti­tudes to­wards Rus­sia.

Ed­ward Lu­cas is Se­nior Vice-pres­i­dent at the Cen­ter for Euro­pean Pol­icy Anal­y­sis

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Latvia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.