Amid the growing Crimea crisis, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which like Ukraine were all parts of the old Soviet Union and have very significant concentrations of ethnic Russian-speaking citizens – have expressed growing apprehension over Moscow’s intentions. As Reuters reports, Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia’s treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call in Ukraine to prevent the use of Russian. “Language should not be used to segregate and isolate groups,” the envoy noted, referencing the same ‘linguistic tensions’ that supported its annexation of Crimea.
Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia’s treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call in Ukraine to prevent the use of Russian.
“Language should not be used to segregate and isolate groups,” the diplomat was reported as saying. Russia was “concerned by steps taken in this regard in Estonia as well as in Ukraine,” the Moscow envoy was said to have added.
Russia has defended its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by arguing it has the right to protect Russian-speakers outside its borders, so the reference to linguistic tensions in another former Soviet republic comes at a highly sensitive moment.
Russia fully supported the protection of the rights of linguistic minorities, a Moscow diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, according to a summary of the session issued by the U.N.’s information department.
Making all the Russian border nations nervous
Amid the growing Crimea crisis, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which like Ukraine were all parts of the old Soviet Union – have expressed growing apprehension over Moscow’s intentions.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is currently in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius as part of a trip to reassure the three countries, all European Union and NATO members, of Washington’s support.
But, the market knows best and stock took Putin at his word that he was done with taking Crimea… or are markets “wrong” and merely an illusory peak at the marginal flow of carry slooshing around the globe?
It is perhaps not entirely surprising that Estonia would be “next” since the concentration of ethic Russians there is the highest of all the former Soviet Republics…
As NPR adds, it’s not just The Batics that are worried…
In the region roughly southeast of the Baltic states that includes Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, all three have sizable ethnic Russian populations.
Belarus, with about 8 percent of its population Russian, enjoys warm relations with Moscow and has signed on (along with Kazakhstan) to join Russia’s “Eurasian Union” trade bloc that The Guardian says Putin hopes will grow into a ” ‘powerful, supra-national union’ of sovereign states like the European Union.”
Meanwhile, Moldova’s smaller Russian population (about 6 percent) is concentrated in Transnistria, an autonomous region that is trying to separate from the rest of the country. The analogy with Ukraine and Crimea couldn’t be more stark, suggests The International Business Times.
Some 2,000 of the Kremlin’s troops are enforcing a cease-fire in Transnistria between Russian separatists and the Moldovan government. Although the region borders Ukraine and not Russia, given the instability in Kiev and Transnistria’s proximity to Crimea and the Black Sea coast, Moldova eyes it warily.
What’s more, since the Crimean crisis broke out, Transnistria’s local Parliament has asked Moscow to grant the breakaway region Russian citizenship and admission to the Russian Federation.
The Baltic States
Latvia and Estonia have significant ethnic Russian populations. About 27 percent of Latvia’s 2 million people are Russian, as are about a quarter of Estonia’s 1.3 million. According to The Telegraph, the Russians in Latvia migrated there during Soviet rule when they were able to occupy the top rungs of civil and political society.
“But ever since communism’s collapse, the boot has been firmly on the other foot. Latvian, not Russian, is the official language, and the country is now one of NATO’s newest — and keenest — members, along with fellow Baltic states Lithuania and Estonia,” the newspaper writes.
According to Reuters, Latvia and Estonia in particular “are alarmed by [Putin’s] justification for Russian actions in and around Ukraine as protection for Russian speakers there.
“While all three Baltic republics have joined NATO — and Lithuania next year should be the last of the three to adopt the euro — these small countries are largely dependent on energy from Russia and have strong trade ties,” Reuters writes.
“Last weekend, as pro-Russian forces were surrounding Crimea, Moscow’s ambassador to [Latvia] caused further unease by saying that the Kremlin was planning to offer passports and pensions to ethnic Russians in Latvia to ‘save them from poverty,‘ ” The Telegraph says.
Kazakhstan, with just under a third of its population ethnic Russia, is one of the Kremlin’s key allies. The BBC says it’s “Moscow’s strategic partner and the two countries regularly hold joint military exercises. They have close trade links as both are trying to develop a common market.” The relationship, it says, is comparable to the one enjoyed between the U.S. and the U.K.
“But Russia’s military action in Crimea has created unease among Kazakhs. They are worried that a ‘Ukrainian scenario’ could also apply to this Central Asian nation,” the BBC says.
Kazakhstan’s northern Kostanay region is about half ethnic Russian, and in other regions, especially to the east, “there are fewer ethnic Kazakhs than ethnic Russians,” according to The Washington Post.
On Monday, Kazakhstan’s pro-Russian President Nursultan Nazarbayev was said to “understand” Russia’s position vis-a-vis Crimea, according to Reuters, “which struck many as a very carefully worded way of phrasing it,” according to the Post.
Kyrgyzstan, with about a 12 percent ethnic Russian population, also has a Kremlin-leaning president, Almazbek Atambayev. But the country has carefully balanced East and West until now, allowing both a Russian military base and a U.S. air base on its soil. That is set to change, however.
While the Caucasus is home to only small minorities of ethnic Russians, it’s a region that has suffered from the Kremlin’s attentions. Chechnya has been the locus of a brutal separatist conflict with Moscow. Georgia saw its South Ossetia region cleaved by Russia’s 2008 incursion.
In 1992-93, the breakaway Abkhazia region of Georgia also underwent a civil war in which ethnically Georgian militias, supported by the Georgian state, were pitted against “ethnically Abkhazian militias supported both by North Caucasus militants … from Russia and by the Russian state itself, which provided weapons and training to the fighters and carried out airstrikes against ethnic Georgian targets.”
It’s clear too that the Crimea situation has raised concerns in Azerbaijan.