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Illarionov: Russia will continue attempts to undermine Baltic countries

Vladimir Putini endine majandusnõunik Andrei Illarionov. PHOTO: BNS

Attempts by Russia to affect the internal situation in the Baltic countries will continue and will apparently become more frequent in the future, Andrei Illarionov, former economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told BNS in an interview.

Asked how sensitive is the position of the Baltics in the midst of the confrontation between Russia and the West, Illarionov said he thinks the position of these countries is pretty sensitive, especially for Latvia and Estonia. "Lithuania is in a relatively safer position due to its geopolitics," the senior fellow with the U.S. think tank Cato Institute told BNS in an interview ahead of his appearance at the Lennart Meri Conference to be held in Tallinn from April 24-26.

«One of the reasons is the concept of the so-called Russkii Mir (Russian World), of which Estonia and Latvia, to some extent also Lithuania, are considered to be part of. The Kremlin is planning to use the ethnic Russian population as an instrument for undermining activities within these republics,» he said.

The other factor is the desire of the Kremlin to undermine NATO as a military alliance. «For the Kremlin there are no countries better suited for that than Estonia and Latvia. Unfortunately we have seen in the past and we are seeing now signs of activities against the Baltic states. We will almost certainly see more of that in the future,» Illarionov said.

Illarionov said Russia is capable of staying its present course indefinitely despite the Western sanctions.

«I have said already that those sanctions are too little, too late, too selective, too ineffective. They are unable to produce any serious impact on the Russian economy, even less on Russian politics. Meanwhile, they are used pretty effectively by the Kremlin in its PR campaign claiming that it is the West who is trying to destroy Russian economy and create hardships for the Russian people,» he said.

Illarionov dismissed the Western sanctions essentially as a PR campaign on the part of the U.S. administration and the EU to demonstrate to their public that they are doing something.

The former Putin adviser said a power struggle is going on in the Kremlin and for the first time clashes within the core groups of the Kremlin regime, the representatives of the security structures (siloviki), have become very visible. «They became visible since the murder of Boris Nemtsov and especially in March when Putin was absent from public view for 11 days,» he said. «But even after his return we continue to see signs of those clashes.»

It looks like on the one side there are the FSB, the Drug Control Service, the Investigative Committee and the authorities of Ingushetia and Dagestan. And on the other side is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, authorities of Chechnya, the Russian Security Council, the Federal Guard Service and Putin himself. The outcome of this battle is unclear. For the first time siloviki have started to use the mass media in their campaign against each other. So far they have usually preferred to use other instruments, Illarionov said.

He said the assassination of Boris Nemtsov caused a serious shock in the Russian society. But it also seems that it reinforced the conviction of the general public that Russia has no future with such a regime.

According to Illarionov, the most important element in the Kremlin's policy towards the West right now is an offer of a so called Grand Bargain, acceptance or non-acceptance of which will be crucial to the further course of events in Ukraine.

«Military operations on the ground depend somewhat on the response of the U.S. to that offer. If Obama agrees with the Grand Bargain and comes to terms with Putin on a possible division of Europe into 'spheres of interest,' I would not rule out a pause in the military offensive. But if that doesn't happen, Putin could raise the stakes further trying to force Obama to the negotiating table on his new terms. For that purpose he would need to continue the military offensive on the ground in Ukraine and in some other places,» Illarionov said.

Illarionov served as chief economics adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin from 2000-2005 and as chief economics adviser to then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin from 1993-1994. In addition Illarionov was the president's representative with the G8 group of industrialized nations.

In 1994, Illarionov established the Institute for Economic Analysis and served as its director from 1994 to 2000. He has written more than 300 articles on Russia's economic and domestic policy.

The eighth annual Lennart Meri Conference titled «The Limits of Order», to be held from April 24-26, will focus on today's international situation as we mark the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act.

The lineup includes Deputy Secretary General of NATO Alexander Vershbow, Secretary General of OSCE Lamberto Zannier, Marshal of the Polish Sejm Radoslaw Sikorski, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Anne Brasseur, chairman of the German Bundestag's Committee on Foreign Affairs Norbert Rottgen, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, commander of NATO Allied Land Command and chief of U.S. land forces in Europe, Lt. Gen. Frederick Ben Hodges, former foreign minister of Spain Ana de Palacio, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, member of the Russian State Duma Ilya Ponomarev, Russian president's former advisor Andrey Illarionov, Russian opposition activist Masha Gessen, Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid and Edward Lucas.

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