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Eastern Europe

Baltic States are no longer ex-Soviet

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In the early days of the current year, the ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to Germany collectively wrote a petition asking German media to stop referring to the above-mentioned nations as “former Soviet countries”. The issue had been prompted by the Soviet Legacy column on the German news portal Die Zeit.

The Facebook page of Latvia`s embassy in Germany posted an image of the letter co-signed by the Latvian ambassador Elita Kuzma along with her counterparts from Estonia and Lithuania.

In the letter to the German portal, the ambassadors noted that their countries were independent from 1918 until 1940 and did not join the Soviet Union voluntarily but were occupied and annexed, while the majority of Western democracies, including Germany, never recognized the Soviet occupation of the Baltics.

The letter also claims that the Baltic states did not create themselves from nowhere in the early 1990s after the downfall of the USSR but restored their independence that had been severed by the Soviet rule, thus declaring continuity of their statehood. The Baltic states are not successors to the Soviet Union`s statehood and rights and therefore cannot be politically defined as former Soviet republics.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry also touched upon the issue by stating that the portal responded to the remark, pledging to stop using the concept inaccurate in terms of international law.

Interestingly, the article from “The Legacy of the Soviet Union”series, to which the ambassadors draw the attention was actually written by Sergejs Potapkins, an opposition member of the Latvian parliament.

According to an Estonian news site, the misnomer, frequent in the German-speaking countries, is regularly used to describe any territory that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

In order to demonstrate the absurdity of referring to the Baltic states as “former Soviet”, a Latvian media agency made fun of different countries by, too, recalling their past: “…The letter [of the ambassadors] was sent in the former Prussian capital, Berlin…News outlets in the former Roman and Norman colony of Great Britain, the former Carolingian territories of the Holy Roman Empire and former Grand Monarchy of France, and the former British and French colonies in North America have also been known to do the same thing.Curiously the tendency is less prevalent in the former Warsaw Pact countries and even in the former Tsarist Empire and former dominions of the Golden Horde to the east of Latvia…”

That was not the first attempt of the Baltic trio to get rid of their Soviet history and legacy that might somehow be extending up to now.

Immediately upon restoring their independence, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania decided to abandon the Russian sphere of influence and drift towards the West. As a logical result of the relevant processes, all the three countries took part in the 2004 enlargement of NATO and the European Union by becoming full member of both organizations. The EU accession process ran in parallel with that to the NATO. Although the two were not officially linked, one apparently gave additional impetus to the other. For the Baltic states, NATO membership might be even more attractive and vital. Security was justifiably their priority since their entire recent history had been marked by an absence of security. The EU was perceived to be primarily a Single Market and lacking in a security dimension. This was partly because joining the EU appeared to be an eventuality, whereas the Baltics’ NATO membership was not a foregone conclusion since there was strong opposition to it mainly by the Kremlin.

In 2011, Estonia switched to euro. So did Latvia in 2014 and Lithuania in 2015, having completed the Baltics` entering into Eurozone.

Today the three countries are liberal democracies, a fact which indeed pushes them further away from their Soviet heritage and other ex-Soviet countries.

In a parallel process, the three countries strive to build a Nordic identity. This tendency is especially strong in Estonia, which refers to its cultural and historical ties with Sweden, Denmark and Finland; with the titular people of the latter, the Estonians belong to the same language group. In December 1999, then Estonian foreign minister, who would later ascend into presidency, Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivered a speech entitled “Estonia as a Nordic Country” to the Swedish Institute for International Affairs. According to another Estonian politician, Marko Mihkelson, head of Riigikogu`s foreign affairs committee, his country`s belonging to Northern Europe “make(s) perfect sense in geographic and geopolitical terms.”

It is therefore no surprise that the Estonian society has even debated over a change of the flag: from the post-Soviet tricolor to a Scandinavian-style cross design with the same colors. According to the supporters of the proposed version, it would symbolize the country`s links with Nordic countries.

Estoniaflag

In order to further develop a Nordic brand, Estonian diplomat Eerik-Niiles Kross even suggested modifying the country`s official name in English and several other foreign languages from Estonia to Estland (which is the country`s name in Danish, Dutch, German, Swedish, Norwegian and many other Germanic languages).

Indeed, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been receiving the strongest support from their northern neighbors even prior to their independence. The Nordic countries were the first to open their borders, introducing visa-free regimes with the Baltic countries, facilitated their smooth integration into European and transatlantic institutions. A regional cooperation platform called Nordic Baltic Eight plays an important role in deepening the relationship between the two regions.

While Euroskepticism may today prevail in some EU member-states and the European Union itself has been recently shattered by a wide of range of issues from the Greek crisis to the flood of refugees to the Brexit, leading some pundits to forecast ultimate disintegration of the Union, the Baltic three seem to be ardent supporters of the concept of a united continent. In the light of Donald Trump`s statements on diminishing the American influence in the eastern part of Europe, the Baltic nations that constantly feel the breath of the Russian bear on their necks are haunted by the ghost of the Soviet Union. Especially in this complicated period, when both Russian officials and experts call on reviving the borders of the USSR and, sometimes going even further, of the Russian Empire. Fears were especially intensified after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine just like it incorporated the Baltic countries during the WWII and backs the ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking population in the eastern Ukraine nowadays. Accommodating a big portion of Russian minorities, which are accepted as an anachronistic relic of the Soviet past, the Baltic nations, especially Latvia and Estonia have serious reasons to worry.

According to Leonid Bershidsky, the anti-Soviet arguments by the Baltic countries, however, make little sense. Willingly or not, they were part of the USSR. They were subject to its economic planning and migration policies, a history that is far more recent than the colonial past of the U.S. or almost any former part of the British Empire. The Baltic nations` large, often disenfranchised, Russian minorities are a lasting legacy of the Soviet past, with Concord, the party representing the Russian-speaking population in Latvia, winning a plurality of the vote in the last parliamentary election. “Post-Soviet” is not an insult but a statement of fact.Going back even further, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia spent most of the last two centuries as part of the Russian Empire. Russian military might forced them to gravitate east rather than north, adds L.Bershidsky.

The officials in Russia, the recognized successor-state of the USSR, have, in their turn, repeatedly denied the occupation calling it a voluntary incorporation. According to the Russian viewpoint, no military force was used for the incorporation and it was made by the decrees of the legitimate governments in Baltic states in accordance with international law. Moreover, Russia’s main diplomat, Sergey Lavrov stated in one of his interviews that the USSR had modernized economy and industry in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and made more investment per capita in the Baltic countries than in the other constituent republics of the former Union. It was a response to the claims of Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn to the reimbursement of “the Soviet occupational damage”. Only the compensation to Latvia was first estimated by the Latvians at 185 billion euro, later having been raised to 300 billion euro.

Despite the efforts of the Baltic states, it seems to be tough to get rid of their red past as the Soviet heritage is in the living memory and still continues to exert profound effects on the current situation in the region. However may the Baltic people hate to confess it, both Soviet and post-Soviet thoughts are still influential in their countries. Perhaps when this mindset is finally gone, others may then stop referring to them as former Soviet states.

Rusif Huseynov is the co-founder of the Topchubashov Center. His main interest is peace and conflict studies, while his focus area covers mainly Eastern Europe, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.

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Eastern Europe

Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

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On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine’s Ecocide in Donbass, 1991 to post-Maidan 2019

George Eliason

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On February 26, 2019, Lugansk People’s Republic hosted a roundtable entitled “Ecocide of Ukraine: Consequences.” This provided a forum for environmental experts from Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) and DNR to formally start addressing the environmentally catastrophic situation both republics inherited from the post-Soviet Ukrainian government.

Both fledgling republics have already started addressing the vast environmental problems outlined below. Even in the middle of a war, the situation demands remedies Kiev never considered providing.

We did initial interviews for what will be an ongoing series with the Minister of Natural Resources and Ecological Safety of Lugansk Peoples Republic Uri Degtyaryov and Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka on the effect of the civil war on the ecology of Donbass.

When the facts are looked at, no matter how bleak the picture, the government under Leonid Pasichnik is making strides with clean up from installing pollution scrubbers at factories to cleaning up old garbage dumps. Because of the importance of these issues, we’ll follow up on the progress at regular intervals.

Minister of Natural Resources and Ecological Safety of Lugansk Peoples Republic Uri Degtyaryov

“You have to understand that life goes on and a new republic is being built; Lugansk People’s Republic. With everyday problems and challenges for a government that never existed before there are international laws and rules our government still has to adhere to.

For ecology, this includes international conventions accepted by the civilized world. Our republic is not recognized by the world, but we are trying to live according to international standards. That is why this is the right direction to go in and the policy documents show we voluntarily follow international conventions although we are still not recognized the international community.

Without being recognized, we recognize international rules and standards. So those documents (LNR environmental policy) are prepared being prepared according to international standards.

When we talk about other steps, we have prepared for the next challenges. It is what was discussed at the round table today. For us, the most difficult challenge that we talked about at the round table is that we haven’t given a full assessment of the damage caused by military action by the Ukrainian army.

We have to count every crater, every damaged tree, and every destroyed dam. This all has to be translated into monetary values. Unfortunately, we came from a peaceful era. We are ill-equipped for this type of assessment. We lack the methodology needed.

Right now that work is being done. For instance, one small natural object (Ostria Magila) that was a protected area (conservation area) by law which is 49 hectares (121 acres) was damaged by Grad rockets and Hurricane rockets from the Ukrainian army. Thirty-eight enormous craters destroyed the trees and just in damages to the trees, three and one half (3 ½) million rubles of damage was done.

And this was a small area. Can you imagine the costs for the damage to the rest of the republic? We are assessing the damage.

The second stage to what we are doing is to remediate the damage that has been done so far. We have 3.4 thousand hectares of wooded area that is destroyed by military action; it’s a proud moment to say we are replacing it. It takes years for trees to grow. It’s one thing to plant them. You have to take care of them. They have to be pruned and cared for.

And so now we say with pride, the first seedlings have grown and the crowns have formed. They are replacing wooded areas that were destroyed. We have replanted 270 hectares of wooded area that was destroyed by the military action.

Every year we plant seedlings and we still have to purchase more. And of course, we deal with other everyday problems. Before the war, there was no recycling of trash in Lugansk Oblast. Right now, we are recycling 82 types of trash.

Before the war, we didn’t have the replacement fish to replenish supplies. Now we have 12 fish farms that produce replacement fish.

So, in short, we need peace and everything else we’ll do ourselves.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka concludes Ukraine’s use of banned munitions is war crimes and ecocide.

LNR Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka 

“Ecocide according to international law is considered a most dangerous crime against humanity. There are several directions in this law, the first one is;

Ecocide is considered to be one of the most dangerous breaches because it affects a wide group of people over a long period of time.  We know the results of ecocide can last not only decades but the effects can go on for hundreds of years and cause enormous and unfixable effects on the health of people.

We conclude/assert that ecocide is a crime against humanity.

The second direction of the law is that it falls under war crimes. Following the orders of the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian army uses prohibited chemical weapons like white phosphorus and napalm. We see nature is suffering irreparable damage and this is a war crime.

For us, it is very important to collect evidence and material of all the crimes of Ukraine. At this time, in order to fully protect ourselves, we put a plea into different international organizations, for instance at the (ICC) International Criminal Court.

According to the Minsk platform, many times we addressed this problem, not just here in Donbass and the front line territory, but also in Ukraine. As it turns out, in the middle of Europe, there is a hotbed of the ecological catastrophe that can spread and in the future affect the rest of the world.”

Since the heyday of the Soviet Union, the Donbass region provided most of the industrial production in Ukraine and the most environmentally hazardous industries. Of consequence, the Lugansk region also produces the highest agricultural output in Ukraine.

The combined stress of industrial and agricultural production along with transport infrastructure and high population density creates the largest manmade per capita load on the biosphere in Ukraine or even Europe as a whole.

From 1991 onward, the situation presented itself for Western Ukrainian oriented politicians to take revenge on areas that traditionally rejected Ukrainian nationalism and Banderism. Donbass regard the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) as war criminals. The UPA and OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) was a political group allied with Nazi Germany.

They were based in Poland and obsessed with establishing a country of their own. The OUN and UPA tortured and murdered civilians across what would become Soviet Ukraine before, during, and after WWII.

From the 1991 referendum that separated Ukraine and dissolved the Soviet Union, the children, grandchildren, and Diaspora relatives of the OUN and UPA actively sought to punish the regions that did not support a united Ukraine allied with WWII Germany.

Ukraine has a notoriously bad environmental record and most of the environmentally hazardous businesses are located in the Lugansk area. There are roughly 1500 businesses in the coal, metallurgical, machine building, chemical, and oil industries. Annually about 700,000 tons of pollutants have been released into the atmosphere and more than ¾ are not cleaned at all.

All of this activity went unchecked from 1991 onward. Corrupt pro-West Ukraine politicians took over the government when the Soviet Union collapsed and the environmental condition across Ukraine deteriorated.

According to a 2005 abstract, the quality of the water was five times worse than the air quality and the destruction of the environment has gone on unabated for an additional 13 years since it was written. Toxic emissions from the mines and garbage disposal as well as streams and tributaries disappearing because of silting have destroyed much of the water resources.

 According to the abstract Ecological crisis of Donbass as an industrial region of Ukrainethe Lugansk region has the lowest life expectancy in Ukraine because of these factors.

According to the report, 85% of children born in the Lugansk Region are born with various cardiopulmonary pathologies and abnormalities due to the described environmental factors. Decades ago Lugansk should have been recognized as an ecological disaster zone.

It’s been more than 2 decades since the situation in Lugansk and across Donbass was recognized.  If Ukraine was serious about expressing governmental oversight in the region, making sure the children weren’t being poisoned would have been the best place to start.

This was well known even before the presidency of Victor Yushchenko. Yushchenko became famous as the Ukrainian nationalist president who tried to rehabilitate the image of Stepan Bandera, one of Ukraine’s WWII OUN Nazi leaders. Bandera’s OUN is famous in the Lugansk Donbass region for torturing and murdering civilians.

Instead of making even a token effort at environmental policy and remediation, Ukraine’s government even allowed the Soviet built infrastructure to degrade to the point where coal mines closures were done illegally, disregarding safety procedures and flooding adjacent areas with toxins and undermining residential structures.

Before the war started in post-Maidan Ukraine, 150 coal mines needed constant pumping and drainage.

The Ukraine Army (VSU)has targeted power stations and transmission lines to exasperate the situation. As a result, electric service interruptions occurred for mines in the Komsomolets Donbassa, Lidiivka, Vuglegirska, Chervonyi Proflintern, Bulavinskaya, Olkhovatska, Trudovskaya, Chelyuskintsev, the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya, Privolnyanska, Nikanor-Nova, Kyivska, Dovzhanska- Capitalna, Centrospilka, Kharkivska, Chervonyi Partizan, Samsonivska-Zakhidna, Pershotravneva, Proletarska, Bilorechenska, Frunze, Vakhrusheva, Cosmonavtiv, Dzerzhinskyi, Sverdlov and others.

Damage and disconnection of coal-mining enterprises from electric services led to the shutdown of mine water drainage systems. This, in turn, led to full flooding of the mines and further poisoning of the region’s water supply.

Ecocide is the premeditated destruction of an area’s environment to destroy its people or the possibility of inhabiting or living there. Long before the war which now complicates current remediation efforts, a passive depopulation effort in Donbass was underway.

This is why the Ukrainian government environmental effort in Donbass is being referred to as ECOCIDE.

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Eastern Europe

Baltics manipulate NATO finances to their advantage

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Three NATO member states – Denmark, Estonia and Latvia – are sure that they have made an important step towards the strengthening their security. On March 8 defence ministers of these countries opened the headquarters of Multinational Division North (MND N) in Latvia’s Adazi.

It is known that during the NATO summit of July 11-12, 2018 in Brussels the letter of intent to create Multi-National Division North (MND North), a division-level headquarters led by the framework nations of Latvia, Estonia, and Denmark was signed. Besides, the letter of intent was also signed by the ministers of defence of Canada, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania.

It is interesting that the Baltic States, as well as Poland, have been seeking permanent NATO presence in their territories for a long time. They “knocked at NATO’s door” and got only soft refusing. But the Baltics’ authorities did not give up longer-term ambition to defend their countries by collective NATO capabilities and by using NATO funds.

Of course, all Baltic States are small countries with small populations: Lithuania just below 3 million, Latvia below 2 million, and Estonia below 1.5 million. They have correspondingly small defense budgets, and thus also correspondingly small military forces, although by the end of 2018 Latvia and Lithuania joined Estonia in meeting NATO’s 2% target.

To their opinion, the only way out to ensure security is to attract NATO attention and money for these needs. Direct requests for help haven’t brought desired results. Thus, the authorities decided to go the other way. They invented an initiative of creating the headquarters of Multinational Division North, conducted a PR campaign and convinced the alliance of necessity of the new HQ to be a part of the NATO troop command structure.

“The creation of Headquarters Multinational Division North in Latvia is a highly important step not only in strengthening Latvia’s defence but also for the entire region’s security. We are proud to be the host country,” said Latvia’s Minister of Defence Artis Pabriks.

“With the launch of Multinational Division North, we will achieve a new level in strengthening NATO’s response capacity in standing up against the threats faced by our region. The alliance’s deterrence capability and capability to defend us will increase significantly when Multinational Division North becomes operational,” added Estonian Defence Minister Juri Luik.

What for? What are the benefits for involved countries? First of all, such countries as Latvia shift the responsibility to NATO and waste NATO money. It is very convenient to initiate but not to realize, to found but not to finance a project.

Does the alliance’s leadership understand that the Baltics just use up NATO in order not to pay for defence out of their pocket? Latvian minister of defence Artis Pubriks is so proud of the new structure that doesn’t realize that he himself sells his country’s territory to foreigners for nothing, just for promise. Will NATO fight with Russia, which is by the way, a nuclear state? Of course NO, but foreign troops will train and shoot in Latvia, making noise, frightening the locals, polluting forests and water. And then they will depart, ready to defend their homeland, but not Latvia! Mr. Pabriks has outsmarted himself!

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