Editorial: when foreign policy turns domestic

PHOTO: Urmas Nemvalts

Russia’s neighbours are getting the feeling of living at the foot of a volcano. Firstly, one is forced to learn all about volcanoes. Also, preparedness is needed for earthquakes shaking the occasional fence.

In the wake of NATO’s summit – meaning, in a very short while – such shakings have occurred in nearly all lands close to Russia. Security police officer Eston Kohver is kidnapped from Estonia; Lithuanian fishing vessel gets arrested in international waters near Murmansk; Konstantin Dolgov holds a speech in Latvia, calling on international public to resist restrictions on Russian population in the Baltics; Latvian, Finnish and Swedish air boundaries are violated. Naturally, the reaction to such acts is reflected in domestic policies of the nations. Just like in Latvia, at threshold of elections.

The conversion of foreign policy into domestic was actually seen in the springtime EU elections already. As also in Estonia, where security became top priority, in Latvia the Russian danger mobilised the voters favouring not the Harmony Centre but the so-called Latvian party Unity. Latvia lost a seat in European Parliament, and it was expected to come at the expense of Unity. Instead, Unity gained an extra seat. And the Harmony Centre – mainly representing the Russian-speaking population – lost out.

The same reaction is forecast for the October elections in Latvia. It is assumed that events in Ukraine serve to stir more votes for the so-called Latvian parties.

Meanwhile, the other languages speaking population appears to be split: according to a recent poll, 38 percent of national minorities are for Russia in the Ukrainian conflict, 15 percent sympathise with Ukraine, and 40 percent cannot make up their minds. For Harmony Centre, cooperating with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, this may mean part of their voters staying home; even so, there will definitely be those voting for even more Russia-minded forces.

What we must remember in all the Baltics is the intimidation strategy and thus the stirring up of conflict between the Estonian, Latvian or Lithuanian speaking majority and the Russian minority is part of Kremlin’s plans. Clearly, it is far from beneficial to the situation of the Russian minority in the Baltics, but improving that has never ever been a goal of Mr Putin’s.

Instead of letting the gap grow wider, we should now try to narrow it up. The understanding that Baltic Russian-speaking minority stands with Putin’s policy as one man, or has taken the Russian side in the information war, is not true. Same goes for the inhabitants of Russia. The best proof being yesterday’s demonstrations against war in Ukraine, both in Moscow and St Petersburg, attended by thousands.

And when it comes to Russia’s intimidation strategy, it seems to be backfiring. Finland, earlier rather lukewarm towards NATO membership, had its first go at participating in NATO exercises yesterday. Without the intimidation, this would not have been likely anytime soon.