This week, President Trump sat down with the leaders of the three Baltic States at the White House to discuss the Russian ‘threat’ that prevents them getting a good night’s sleep. Unreported however, was the fact that on the same day that its leader was being received in the White House, the Latvian government was decreeing that the children of its 40% Russian population must be taught in Latvian.
Before sitting down at the White House to complain about the so-called ‘Russian threat’ to his country, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis signed a bill that outlaws teaching in Russian, even in schools for ethnic minorities. The only exception is Russian language and literature, or other subjects “connected with culture and history.” Latvia’s Social Democratic Party Harmony protested against the new law, saying that it contradicts both the constitution and the Council of Europe’s framework convention on protection of minorities, ratified by the Latvian parliament in 2005. Harmony called for the reversal of anti-Russian education reforms, to no avail.
As could be expected, the Russian lower house decried this as “inadmissible”, warning Riga of potential reciprocal economic sanctions, noting that the legislation violates the principles of the European Union and the Council of Europe, of which Latvia is a member, as well as the rules established in the majority of civilized nations.Russian lawmakers intend to appeal to the United Nations, the parliaments of European and Eurasian countries and the EU leadership, warning that the new law could lead Russia to issue a partial or full ban on financial opera-tions, increase import tariffs, restrict tourists and suspend certain bilateral trade agreements.
I’m sure his Baltic guests did not tell President Trump that Russian speakers make up to 40 percent of Latvia’s 2 million population, and that all foreigners must pass a language test to become citizens. Although most non-citizens are ethnic Russians, there are also large numbers of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians. Although language requirements are common when it comes to citizenship just about everywhere, in Latvia, besides not having voting rights and being unable to serve in the military, the police, or as civil servants, Russians are also banned from being lawyers or working in pharmacies!
This latter suggests something sinister about Baltic attitudes toward their powerful neighbor, however what is most striking is the fact that so-called experts on Eastern Europe never mention the history that created these attitudes. Here is an excerpt from my just-published Russia’s Americans:
“There is no historical record of an ‘aggressive’ Russia. Russia, Poland, the Baltic princes, Sweden and Norway fought each other for centuries. In order to understand how Ukraine has come to play such an important role in all of this, it’s helpful to know that in the ninth century, the inhabitants of the vast area between Prussia and the Ural mountains invited the Viking King Ryrik (who became known as ‘Rus’) to impose order in the region. He founded a new city, (‘Novgorod), south of what eventually became St Petersburg. His successor, Oleg, moved south from Novgorod and founded Kiev, which became known as 'Kievan Rus’. That much revered original Russian state disintegrated during the two centuries of Mongol rule, after which the Grand Dukes of Muscovy began taking over, according to a medieval theory that allowed monarchs to simply declare a transfer of power.
With Kiev no longer the center of the Russian state, the territories on its western periphery coalesced into several entities which evolved into Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics. For hundreds of years, today’s Baltic countries, facing onto the northern sea, were alternately Swedish Russian and Ukrainian principalities, as was at times, Poland.
Following are excerpts devoted to Russia’s interactions with its neighbors, from the Wikipedia article on Russian history:
“In the 15th century, the grand princes of Moscow continued to gather Russian lands, increasing their population and wealth. The most successful practitioner of this process was Ivan III, who laid the foundations for a Russian national state. Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for control over some of the semi-independent Upper Principalities in the Dnieper and Oka River basins.
“Ivan IV (the Terrible) refused to pay further tribute to the Tatars and initiated a series of attacks that opened the way for the complete defeat of the declining Golden Horde. Ivan and his successors sought to protect the southern boundaries of their domain against attacks by the Crimean Tatars and other hordes. Although his long Livonian War for the control of the Baltic coast and access to the sea ultimately proved a costly failure, Ivan managed to annex the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia. …. Through these conquests, Russia acquired a significant Muslim Tatar population and emerged as a multiethnic and multi-confessional state. Also around this period, the mercantile Stroganoff family established a firm foothold in the Urals and recruited Russian Cossacks to colonize Siberia.
“At the end of Ivan IV's reign, the Polish–Lithuanian and Swedish armies carried out a powerful intervention in Russia, devastating its northern and north-west regions. During the Polish–Muscovite War (1605–1618), Polish–Lithuanian forces reached Moscow. A group of Russian nobles known as The Seven Boyars recognized the Polish prince Vladyslav IV Vasa as the Tsar of Russia in 1610). After a popular revolt prevented him from taking the throne, the Polish army setting fire to Moscow.
“The Russo-Polish war, known as the "Time of Troubles" resulted in the loss of much territory to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as well as to the Swedish Empire in the Ingrian War. Fortunately for Moscow, the Polish–Lithuanian Common-wealth and Sweden were engaged in a bitter conflict between themselves. Russia made peace with Sweden in 1617 and signed a truce with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1619. Recovery of lost territories started in the mid-17th century, when an uprising in Ukraine against Polish rule brought about the Treaty of Pereyaslav between Russia and the Ukrainian Cossacks.
“According to the treaty, Russia granted protection to the Cossack state in western Ukraine, formerly under Polish control. This triggered a prolonged Russo-Polish War which ended with another treaty in 1667, in which Poland accepted the loss of Kiev and Smolensk.
“Peter the Great’s only secure northern seaport was Arkhangelsk, whose harbor was frozen nine months a year. Access to the Baltic was blocked by Sweden, whose territory enclosed it on three sides. Peter's ambitions for a "window to the sea" led him to make a secret alliance with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark against Sweden, resulting in the Great Northern War that ended in 1721 with Peter acquiring four provinces south and east of the Gulf of Finland that secured his access to the sea, initiating a 200-year domination of that region. Thus was officially born the Russian Empire, with Tsar Peter claiming the title of emperor.
The following year, Peter took advantage of the decline of the Persian Safavid Empire to Russia’s south, launching the Russo-Persian War that increased Russian influence in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea. (Nine years later these lands were ceded back to Persia, as part of a Russo-Persian alliance against the Ottoman Empire.)”
Currently, with NATO troops and tanks poised along the entire length of Russia’s Western border, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the latest supine gesture of the European Union toward its master is to have agreed to strengthen its infrastructure to accommodate rapid military deployment needs http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4385_en.htm. I can remember the spirited campaign the countries of Western Europe put up against the US plan to install Pershing missiles in Germany. This was to no avail, however Europe eventually reunited, and one would have thought that once whole, it would chart its own course vis a vis Russia. Who would have thought that the Eastern countries would pull the West back into an anti-Russia policy more dangerous than the first Cold War?