WASHINGTON: Foreign ministers from the Baltic states, three exposed allies on NATO’s eastern flank, visited Washington on Monday to urge Western leaders not to respond naively to Russian threats, reports AFP.
The envoys from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania brought a stark message to meetings with top officials a city already gripped by political infighting and fears of Kremlin intrigue.
Sven Mikser of Estonia, Edgars Rinkevics of Latvia and Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania were careful to thank President Donald Trump’s administration for its support for NATO.
But, in an interview with AFP after their joint meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the ministers shared their concerns about Russia’a “hybrid” threat to the West.
“I think what we have seen in the past four or three years is the community of democratic nations is under the attack,” Rinkevics said of Russian interference and interventions.
“The very basis of our democratic institutions are under attack through social media by fake news, and also through the influence of money, and it is very important that we stick together.”
The Baltic republics will be able to reinforce this message once more on April 3, when their presidents come to Washington for a White House summit with Trump they hope will send a message to Moscow.
Rinkevics dubbed the threat “unprecedented since the 1930s and 40s”—the period during which the young Baltic republics fell under the control first of Nazi Germany then the Soviet Union.
Since the fall of the Soviets, the three have thrown their lot in with the West, turning away from Moscow’s orbit by joining NATO’s mutual defense pact and the European Union.
Russia’s current president, Vladimir Putin, has never made any secret that he resents this and regards former Soviet republics as belonging in Moscow’s zone of influence.
As recently as last week, when asked which single historical event he would most like to reverse, Putin replied: “The collapse of the Soviet Union.”
To many, such a statement might seem like electoral bravado designed to play on Russian nationalism three weeks before an election that is expected to confirm Putin in office until 2024.
But the Baltic states cannot afford to be complacent.
Already in 2018, Russia seized de facto control of a large chunk of Georgia. In 2014, Moscow annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and it still supports pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country..