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Baltic States: Analysis From Washington--An Experts' Report Defines A Novel Policy

Washington, 7 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - A group of senior Russian politicians, academics and businessmen has urged President Boris Yeltsin to adopt a more active, differentiated and sophisticated policy toward the three Baltic states.

In a policy paper published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta last week, the Moscow Council for Foreign and Defense Policy argued that such an approach would promote Russian interests both by keeping the Baltic governments off balance and by limiting their ability to draw on Western support.

This report is attracting particular attention now because it comes on the heels of Yeltsin's latest proposal that Moscow take responsibility for the security of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, an idea all three governments have rejected.

Moreover, it appears just as the United States and its three Baltic partners are putting the finishing touches on a U.S.-Baltic Charter.

And its authors, who include Duma international affairs committee chairman Vladimir Lukin, deputy director of the Institute of Europe Sergey Karaganov, and industrialist leader Arkadiy Volskiy, have frequently been bellwethers of Russian policy.

The report itself begins with a stinging indictment of Russia's approach to the Baltic countries since 1991. Not only has Russian policy been reactive, the report suggests, it has been clumsy, often alarming the West and preventing Moscow from achieving its goals.

Such an approach, the report continues, is unforgivable in a double sense. On the one hand, Russia has fundamental interests in these countries. And on the other, it has significant leverage there both on its own and because of the attitudes of the West.

But the most intriguing part of the report is its assessments of Russia's opportunities for increasing its influence in the region, opportunities the report suggests have increased in recent times because of the attitude of Western countries.

Not only have the three Baltic countries virtually fallen off the West's "radar screen," the report suggests, but Western governments have made it clear to the Baltic governments that they can join the West only if they have normal relations with Russia.

That situation, the authors maintain, helps define the limits within which Russian policy toward the Baltic countries should proceed: avoiding threats that might raise the profile of the Baltic countries but exploiting Western "conditions" to advance Russian interests.

The report then outlines how Moscow should do just that in three major areas.

First, it suggests that Moscow should demonstrate a genuine interest in the fate of ethnic Russians in all three countries and take a hard line on border accords.

In the past, the report acknowledges, Moscow did less for Russians in these countries than did the West, leaving itself open to the charge of hypocrisy. And it failed to acknowledge that the status of ethnic Russians in the Baltic states is "incomparably better" than in many CIS countries.

The report then urges that the Russian government and Russian businesses spend more money on ethnic Russians there in order to show that these Russians are not a "fifth column," but rather "a weighty instrument of political and economic rapprochement of peoples."

This formulation may not please the Baltic governments, but it is likely to prove more acceptable in both Russia and the West.

And the report argues that Moscow should use the West's concerns about border agreements as another means to press Russia's case.

,li>Second, the report argues that Moscow must use its economic leverage to play one Baltic state against another. Because all three have an interest in gaining transit fees, Moscow can play a role in deciding through which Russian goods will pass.

The results of such a competition among the three are not trivial. The authors of the report claim that Estonia, which they identify as the least friendly to Russia, currently loses something like $500 million a year in transit because of its attitude.

But what makes the report's recommendations on this point so interesting is that it acknowledges some new limitations on Moscow's ability to conduct this policy.

The Russian government, it notes, would indeed like to reward Lithuania, but Lithuania's tariff policies are not as good as those of Latvia. And as a result, Russian businessmen will almost certainly use the Latvian route rather than the Lithuanian one.

And third, the report urges Moscow to adopt a "carrots and sticks" policy both to the Baltic countries as a group and to individual regimes, offering concessions with one hand even as it puts pressure with the other.

The report argues, for example, that Russia should welcome the inclusion of all the Baltic countries into the European Union even as it opposes NATO membership for them.

Such a differentiated approach would likely serve Russian interests. At the very least, it will pose a challenge to both the Baltic countries and the West, neither of which has had to cope with such a sophisticated Russian policy there up to now.