Energy Security, Memory Wars and "Compatriots" in Baltic-Russian Relations

Encina Ground Floor Conference Room
  • Nils Muiznieks

According to Professor Muiznieks, since the early 1990s, the Baltic states have been seen as unfriendly in the eyes of Russians due to their "return to the West" attitude. Professor Muiznieks explains the key features of Baltic-Russian relations while looking at how these problems may be resolved in the future.


Professor Muiznieks begins by discussing the less than warm relations between the Baltic states and Russia. He explains how this is particularly due to the Baltic states’ desire to “return to the West” since the early 1990s and escape Russian influence after so many years of occupation. This is particularly evident in the EU and the UN where Poland and Baltic States form a sort of anti-Russian “axis.” However, the Baltic states’ membership of such organizations means a share of their secrets, which, as Professor Muiznieks explains, the Russians subsequently exploit for intelligence purposes.

At the same time, Professor Muiznieks cites another crucial security issue for the Baltic states, energy security. Currently, there is less oil transit through the Baltic states then there was before; Professor Muiznieks believes this has helped issues of corruption. However, he notes energy companies still play a significant role both locally and in relations with Russia. Looking the future, Professor Muiznieks believes that while there are options for the Baltic states to lessen their electrical dependence on Russia by looking to Scandinavia, the shutting of Lithuania’s nuclear plant will most likely mean Latvia and Lithuania will turn to Russia for further supply. To Professor Muiznieks, the current situation holds opportunities but also many risks.

Unfortunately, the strategic power-plays continue on another platform, memory wars. Professor Muiznieks feels World War II is the key point of debate between the Baltic states and Russia. While Russia sees the war as a great triumph, the Baltic states view the conflict as a catastrophe which led to further occupation. Professor Muiznieks discusses the fact that this battle plays out locally through monuments or textbooks but also internationally through border disputes and UN resolutions. He cites the European Court of Human Rights as a new strategic arena for this war because of its utmost authority on the continent and the fact that its rulings can cement one group as victims and force others to pay compensation.  However, Professor Muiznieks believes any truce is unlikely. For him, this conflict is too linked to many personal family histories and not government based enough to be put to a real end.

Professor Muiznieks also looks to “compatriots” as a focal point of Baltic-Russian relations. “Compatriots,” in this case, are Russian citizens living abroad, particularly in the Baltic states. This issue is serious because Russian speakers comprise over a quarter of both Latvia and Estonia’s populations. Professor Muiznieks explains that tension was caused in the Baltic states after Russia’s war with Georgia as to how Russian policy would change towards its diasporas. In addition, Professor Muiznieks reveals that there is further concern over the possibility that Russia is encouraging speakers abroad to take up citizenship to create legal basis for any action against other states in the future. Professor Muiznieks also argues that funding for these “compatriots” is perhaps to counteract increasing EU influence in the region.

Overall, Professor Muiznieks believes that the Baltic states are seriously suffering from the global economic crisis which in turn is making it difficult for them to counteract Russian policy and be effective. Professor Muiznieks argues this makes the Baltic states quite vulnerable.

In a lengthy question-and-answer session, a multitude of points were raised. One of the key issues addressed was where the Baltic States, and in particular Latvia, fit in the European framework. This led to discussion of several other issues such as Scandanivia's changing role in the Baltic States, the role of the Baltic States in NATO, and language integration. Finally, another possibility much emphasized was the potential creation of nuclear power plants as a way to offset surging prices for Russian energy.