TEPSA Guest Lecture N°1:

The Baltic and Russia Relations

Guest Lecture by Dr. Andris Spruds (Latvian Institute of International Affairs; Faculty of European Studies, Riga Stradins University) hosted on 17 June 2008 by the Institute for World Economic of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (IWE)

One of the pioneers grasping the opportunity for the recently launched TEPSA Guest Lecture Series was the Institute for World Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences which, on the 17th of June organised a round table discussion on the above indicated topic and invited Mr. Sprūds from the Latvian Institute of International Affairs.

The lecturer started with a short historical overview, underlining the earlier historical importance and influence of the Baltic states. After regaining freedom and independence in the beginning of the 1990s the three countries had common interests, nevertheless, they did not always pursue a common strategy. This is also due to their natural geographic, cultural and historical links to the direct neighbours: for Estonia the most influential partner being Finland (and also Sweden), while for Lithuania Poland. There is also a difference as regards the number of the Russian minority in these states – Latvia having the largest group. Actually, Latvia seems to have the most pragmatic approach to Russia from among the three countries: an obvious symbolic example being the participation of the Latvian president in the celebration of the end of WW II in Moscow on the 9th of May 2005. Latvia has also settled the border issue with Russia while this is still an open question with Estonia. On the other hand, the “non-citizen” status of a large share of the Russian minority continues to be an unresolved problem in both Latvia and Estonia. For this reason Moscow actually threatened to impose economic embargo on them, but retreated, because Russia needed the access to the sea ports of the Baltic states, especially for its oil-exports. All this shows the ambiguity of the relations between the small Baltic countries and their big neighbour.

Since the early 1990s the most important common feature of the three Baltic states has been nation-building and identity-building. To this exercise closely belongs their foreign policy strategy: all of them have applied to both EU and NATO. After having gained membership in both organisations one could have expected a “relief” and a faster improvement of the mutual relations with Russia – but unfortunately this did not happen. On the contrary: in the Russian public opinion the three Baltic states are among the “most unfriendly” nations. Nonetheless, there are very close economic ties with Russia and the three countries: on the one hand the Baltic states are significantly dependent on Russian energy supply (the Latvian case is so severe that there is even a notion: “gazpromisation” of the country), while a decisive number of accountholders in the banks of the Baltics are of Russian origin. According to the speaker, while remaining fully embedded in the EU economy (with around 75% of trade interdependence) in the future Russian markets should be “conquered” too. On the other hand the Baltic states would very much favor a common European energy policy, based on increased diversification of resources, thereby decreasing dependence on Russian supplies.