Photo : REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
15 February 2022, Tuesday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #125
By Joeana Cera Matthews
Besides Ukraine, the Baltic is also apprehensive of Russia. Four reasons why
Besides Ukraine, the Baltic states also are apprehensive about the Russian threat. Why are the Baltic states apprehensive of Russia?
The Baltic states and Russia
One of the primary security concerns regarding the Baltic states is the possibility of the long-term presence of Russian troops stationed in Belarus for the United Resolve 2022 military drills. The Guardian had earlier cited Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė expressing concern over the “security landscape if Russian forces were to indefinitely remain in Belarus.” The increased troops stationed along the Belarusian borders also indicates the balance of power tilting toward Russia, making for a successful invasion of the east by the Kremlin. This adds to the growing apprehension of the Baltics regarding the status quo in eastern Europe.
Second, the demography of the Baltic states.The Baltic states have a substantial Russian-speaking or ethnic Russian population. A quarter of Estonia’s population is ethnic Russian; despite integration, most ethnic Russians’ children attend Russian language schools and consume Russian media. Analysts consider Narva, Estonia’s third-largest city, consisting of 80 per cent ethnic Russians as the most likely target for Moscow if the Kremlin intends to invade. Meanwhile, 15 per cent of Lithuania’s population is also ethnic Russian.
Third, the geography, especially the Suwalki Gap, a 40-mile stretch along the Polish-Lithuanian border. This land connects Europe and the Baltic states. On the one hand, it links the NATO allies via land, and on the other, it separates Belarus from Russia’s Kaliningrad. If the Suwalki Gap is captured and Kaliningrad linked with Belarus, the Baltics will be cut off from NATO with no land route to receive reinforcements. As the Permanent Secretary of the Estonian Ministry of Defense Kusti Salm stated, the seizure of the Gap would transform the Baltics from a peninsula to an island. This Gap is also expected to cause an economic and military conflict between Russia and NATO if further escalation occurs in the Ukraine standoff.
Fourth, the role of history. The Baltics face a greater threat than the other European countries due to their history. Nonetheless, the former USSR republics are at the forefront of those calling for a vehement response against Russian aggression. Their past experience of Russian occupation has led Baltic citizens to fear a similar future. As the Estonian Foreign Affairs Minister Eva Maria Liimets said: “Our understanding is more realistic. We really sense the threat here because of our history and our experience.” They had made a conscious choice when they left the USSR and are sticking to the same. A commentary by historian Karolina Wigura and political analyst Jarosław Kuisz expressed: “The Russian military menace to Ukraine reawakens old traumas and, paradoxically, not only those generated from the east. Another angst is, to put it bluntly, that the West will again abandon us… Many citizens of central and eastern Europe have clear memories of living under Moscow’s rule. For them, 30 years of independence is not long enough to banish the worry that we are trapped in a cycle of ever-repeating history.”
Aleksander Olech, “How France-Russia Relations Could Affect the Security of the Baltic Sea Region,” ICDS, 14 February 2022.
Andrius Sytas, “German troops arrive to reinforce Baltics amid tensions over Ukraine,” Reuters, 14 February 2022.
Liz Sly, “How France-Russia Relations Could Affect the Security of the Baltic Sea Region,” The Washington Post, 12 February 2022.
Jamie Dettmer, “Baltic States, Poland Increasingly Alarmed by Revanchist Russia,” VOA News, 08 February 2022.
“Baltic States To Send Weapons To Ukraine In Face Of Possible Russian Invasion,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 21 January 2022.
By Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Dhanabalan
Freedom convoy protests in Brussels
On 14 February, the “freedom convoy” protests happening in Paris against the vaccine mandate reached to Brussels. The police in Belgian capital ahead of the protests gathering, blocked the main routes that led to the city and asked the vehicles to park in the outskirts. Despite such preventive measures, more than 150 protestors were found around the Arc de Triomphe at the city center and blocked the roads resulting in traffic jams. According to one of the protestors: “Freedom is swept aside, there's more and more poverty. Even when you work,when the 15th of the month comes round, you haven't got enough to live on.” (“Belgium: 'Freedom Convoy' protest reaches Brussels,” Deutsche Welle, 14 February 2022)
Switzerland to hold polls for public voting on four issues
On 11 February, Switzerland held a referendum for voting for four main issues from animal testing, tobacco advertising, media subsidies and equity stamp taxes. On animal testing voters will decide if Switzerland can impose a ban on animal and human experiments or not. As far as tobacco advertising is concerned, the vote was passed to ban any tobacco or electronic cigarette related adds in way that provokes young children and adolescent. The ban included, press, posters, internet, cinemas and other events. On media subsidies, the opponents of law have argued that the financial aid of EUR 143 million sent to public funds only benefits wealthy publishers and will vote to whether keep or scrap the funding. In case of the equity stamp taxes, the measure is decided on the taxes on businesses, where one per cent of equity stamp tax to be repealed. The tax will be applicable only when the company equity raises more than EUR 950,000. (Joshua Berlinger, “Swiss referendums: What are the four issues being put to the public this Sunday?,” Euronews, 11 February 2022)
Volodymyr Zelenskiy announces unity day on 16 February
On 14 February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced a day of unity on 16 February. Western media has been speculating of a Russian invasion, which spared him to call on Ukraine’s citizens to fly flags and sing the national anthem at 10 am on that day. Zelenskiy said: "They tell us 16 February will be the day of the attack. We will make it a day of unity." US’ Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby commented: "I won't get into a specific date, I don't think that would be smart. I would just tell you that it is entirely possible that he could move with little to no warning." Meanwhile, Ukrainian airspace steered clear as tensions had made airliner companies topull back their insurance coverage. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, in response to the pullback, said Ukraine would assure a USD 592 million fund "to ensure flight safety in Ukraine for insurance and leasing companies." (Darya Korsunskaya and Natalia Zinets, "Ukraine president calls for 'day of unity' for 16 February, day some believe Russia could invade," Reuters, 15 February 2022; Mari Eccles, "War worries cloud Ukraine's skies," POLITICO, 14 February 2022)
Munich Security Report released
On 14 February, the Munich Security Report was released in its annual Conference. The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is an annual event held since 1963 on international security policy. Although it is not part of government, the informal discussion involves high level participants from across the globe. The report brings out the advent of "collective helplessness" amidst the global challenges and brings out debate to overcome them. Longest serving diplomat of MSC Wolfgang Ischinger response to the Ukraine-Russia crisis was most-awaited. When question on the same, he said: "more needs to be done to make people aware of the importance of deterrence as a method of conflict prevention.” (“Munich Security Report: A grim analysis of a wave of global crises,” Deutsche Welle, 14 February 2022)
Cybersecurity threats amidst geopolitical tensions in Europe
On 14 February, EU's cybersecurity agency ENISA and its cyber response team CERT-EU released a joint warning of a possible rise in cyber security threats. The statements mentioned ".. a substantial increase of cybersecurity threats for both private and public organizations across the EU." The authorities "strongly encouraged all public and private sector organizations in the EU to adopt a minimum set of cybersecurity best practices" to avoid getting hacked." The EU's warning came after NATO and the US had sent out similar alerts on 12 February. The US warning stated: "The Russian government has used cyber as a key component of their force projection over the last decade, including previously in Ukraine." (Laurens Cerulus and Mark Scott, "Cyber tensions rise as West fears invasion of Ukraine," POLITICO, 15 February 2022)
Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits Kyiv
On 14 February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv. As reported by POLITICO, "…Scholz and Zelenskiy played down the likelihood of Ukraine joining the military alliance in the foreseeable future." Zelenskiy said: "the future of the European security architecture will be decided in Ukraine." He also mentioned how Ukraine was ready to discuss "guarantees" that could de-escalate and ensure its territorial integrity. Even though Scholz had repeated what US President Joe Biden had said concerning "very far-reaching and effective sanctions," he still hoped for a peaceful resolution. (Hans Von Der Burchard, "Scholz, Zelenskiy play down talk of NATO membership for Ukraine," POLITICO, 14 February 2022)
International organizations relocating their staff out of Ukraine
On 15 February, The World Bank and International Monetary Fund announced temporarily relocating some of their staff in Ukraine. A memo released by the World Bank mentioned: "The World Bank Group's foremost priority is to keep our staff and their families safe. In line with our evacuation policy, temporary relocation of staff is under way and enhanced security measures are in place." Nonetheless, business seems usual in Kyiv amid calls for evacuation. US President Joe Biden had advised its nationals to leave. However, the American Chamber of Commerce said: "We are constantly in touch with our members, Ukraine's government, and the US Embassy. This continuous dialogue and communication have been a strategic pillar of AmCham for the past 30 years in Ukraine." (David Lawder, "World Bank, IMF relocate some staff from Ukraine, operations continue," Reuters, 15 February 2022; "'Business as usual': Western firms in Ukraine resist calls for expats to leave," Euronews, 14 February 2022)
Biden and Johnson discuss on call over possibility of a democratic solution
On 15 February, the US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed on the Ukraine crisis over a 40-minute phone call. After the call, the UK government released a statement saying, that there was still a “crucial window,” for a diplomatic solution for Ukraine, a situation where Russia can draw back its military. The leaders stressed that in case of an incursion, Russia will be fall into a prolonged crisis which will have effect on rest of the world. In the coming days, Johnson will conduct a Cobra meeting to take the issue of the Ukraine with his cabinet members and discuss how UK’s response can be situation. (“Ukraine crisis: Biden and Johnson say still hope for diplomatic agreement,” BBC, 15 January 2022)