Staunton, August 10 – In an article that is both worrying and reassuring, a pro-Moscow commentator says that ethnic Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are loyal to these countries and would fight for them if the Russian Federation were to invade them at some point in the future.
Such a statement is worrisome because it suggests that some in the Russian government are now focusing on the Baltic countries as possible targets for Vladimir Putin’s next round of aggressive action and considering who might be Moscow’s allies and who would be its opponents.
But it is reassuring because it suggests that at least some in Russia recognize a reality that nationalist commentary in the Baltic countries and Russia often obscures: the ethnic Russians in the three are overwhelmingly integrated in and loyal to those countries in much the same way that ethnic Russians in Ukraine were and are overwhelmingly loyal to Kyiv.
Writing on the pro-Moscow portal directed at the Baltic countries, Rubaltic.ru, today, Laima Katse says that many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians remain uncertain about the loyalty of ethnic Russians in their midst and continue to ask whether the latter would shoot at or welcome a Russian invasion (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/100816-loyalnost/).
“When Putin’s MIGs land in Riga and [Russian] tanks enter Narva, whom will the Russian speakers shoot at? Will they stand in defense of their Baltic Motherlands? Or perhaps they will be supporters of Russian aggression as in Crimea?” are questions, Katse says, that some Baltic politicians and commentators regularly pose.
Because political leaders are posing such questions, Katse says, scholars in the three questions routinely conduct research on their attitudes; and their studies show that ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the three Baltic countries are far more loyal than some Baltic politicians and Russian officials expect.
Last month, the Lithuanian polling company Baltijos tyrimai asked 500 Poles, ethnic Russians and representatives of other national minorities if they would defend Lithuania were it attacked. The survey found that the percentage saying they would was just as high as the percentage of Lithuanians making that declaration (ru.delfi.lt/news/live/issledovanie-chto-delali-by-russkie-i-polyaki-litvy-esli-by-na-strany-baltii-napala-rossiya.d?id=71992604).
Last year, Katse continues, a similar study was conducted in Latvia. There, the share of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers who said they would defend Latvia in the event of a Russian attack was slightly lower but only slightly than the share of ethnic Latvians who made that declaration (mod.gov.lv/~/media/AM/Ministrija/Sab_doma/2015/Aptauja_2015.ashx).
And the year before that, in the wake of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, another study asked the same kinds of questions in Latvia and reached the same conclusions: Russians and Russian speakers were just as prepared to defend Latvia against Russians as Latvians were (mirros.hse.ru/data/2014/03/26/1318829585/ mir rossii №1_ 2014 [Pages 87 - 114].pdf ).
What was especially striking in that study, Katse says, is that only just over one ethnic Russian in four in Latvia declared that he or she felt an attachment to Russia, “and only six percent had a positive attitude toward organizations which promote the Kremlin’s policy on compatriots” in the Baltic countries and elsewhere.
This month, she continues, a Latvian sociologist reported that ethnic Russians who live and work elsewhere in Europe now identify with Latvia. They say that they are “Russians from Latvia,” an identity that calls into question the notion of some universal “Russian world” (baltnews.lv/news/20160808/1017202549.html).
Even Western observers are struck by how pro-Baltic the ethnic Russians of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania now are. Writing in “Die Welt” this week, Alan Pozener said that the loyalty of the Russian minorities was quite striking given the problems that some of them have in the Baltic countries (welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article157516050/Am-Baltikum-koennte-sich-Putin-die-Zaehne-ausbeissen.html).
Katse says she too is surprised by this reality and repeats Pozener’s conclusion that Moscow won’t be able to play the ethnic card in the Baltic states successfully at least at the mass level, something she suggests both Baltic governments and the Russian one should take into consideration.