Russia’s invasion of Ukraine The Baltic countries are worried that they may be different

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) – From Paris, London and Washington, events in Ukraine may seem like a new Cold War in Europe.

It looks much worse in the Baltics.

For Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, especially those who are old enough to live under Soviet control, Russia’s military is worried that Ukraine may become another target. Rising tensions that preceded Thursday’s attack have brought back memories of mass deportations and oppression.

“My grandparents were sent to Siberia. My father was persecuted by the KGB. I now live in a free democratic country, but it seems that nothing can be taken for granted, ”said Jaunius Kazlauskas, a 50-year-old teacher working in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has caused shock waves through the Baltic states. The President of Lithuania has declared a state of emergency, and Latvia has suspended the licenses of several Russian television stations accused of spreading disinformation and propaganda.

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All three Baltic countries were captured and annexed by Joseph Stalin during World War II, and regained their independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They joined NATO in 2004, becoming the military protection of the United States and its Western allies. Ukraine is not part of NATO.

Along with Poland, as well as NATO membership, the small Baltic states have been among the most prominent proponents of powerful sanctions against Moscow and NATO reinforcement in the Alliance’s eastern flank.

The leaders of the Baltic government have flown to European capitals in recent weeks and warned that the West must force Russian President Vladimir Putin to pay for the attack on Ukraine, otherwise his tanks will continue to roll towards other parts of the former Soviet empire.

“The battle for Ukraine is a battle for Europe. If Putin is not stopped here, he will continue, ”Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis warned at a joint press conference with US Secretary of Defense Lloid Austin last week.

Two days before the attack, US President Joe Biden announced that some American forces deployed in Europe, including 800 infantry, F-35 fighters and an Apache helicopter, would be transferred to the three Baltic states, describing the move as defensive.

This message was enthusiastically received in the capitals of the Baltic States. Although the NATO treaty obliges all allies to defend any attacking member, the Baltic states argue that NATO needs to show determination not only in words but also with shoes on the ground.

“Russia always measures military power, but also the will of the countries to fight,” said Janis Garison, State Secretary at the Latvian Ministry of Defense. “When they see a weakness, they will take advantage of that weakness.”

Although Putin has not publicly expressed any ambition to restore Russian control of the Baltic states, many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians worry that he wants to regain influence in all former Soviet republics, the collapse of which he once described as a tragedy. russian nation.

In a speech earlier this week, laying the groundwork for Russian military intervention, Putin said Ukraine was “not just a neighbor to us. It is an integral part of our own history, culture and spiritual space. ”

Culturally and linguistically different Baltic countries do not have the same connection with Russia’s history and identity. However, for most of the last 200 years, they were ruled by Moscow, originally by the Russian Empire, and by the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years after World War II. There are ethnic Russian minorities in all three countries; In Latvia and Estonia, they make up about a quarter of the population.

Although many of them are well integrated, tensions escalated in 2007 when hundreds of ethnic Russians rebelled against the government’s plans to relocate a Soviet war memorial in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. Estonia has suspected Russia of inciting unrest and organizing cyber-attacks that have paralyzed government computer networks.

“When we hear Putin humiliate Ukraine, calling it an artificial state without history, it reminds us of the same things he has been saying for many years about all the former Soviet republics,” said Nerijus Maliukevičius, a political analyst at Vilnius University. Russia’s “state propaganda machine is now operating at an unprecedented intensity, and the news is not just about Ukraine,” he added.

Lithuania borders both Kaliningrad, the Russian region where the country’s Baltic Sea fleet is based, and Belarus, the former Soviet republic with tens of thousands of Russian troops deployed for joint exercises. Belarus has recently announced that the exercise will continue due to tensions in eastern Ukraine.

“It seems they are not going to leave,” said Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas before Russia launched an attack in Ukraine. “It simply came to our notice then that the numbers didn’t mean everything. There are technically very advanced soldiers on our side. Their main task is deterrence and, if necessary, defense.

The Baltic States have expressed strong support for Ukraine. The leaders of the Baltic states recently arrived in Kiev to show their solidarity and sent weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Estonia, which is celebrating its independence day on Thursday, is taking a strong stance in the conflict, but not out of fear for its own security, said former president Kersti Kaljulaid, the first woman to take office.

“We do it because we think it is our moral duty,” she said. “We believe very strongly that every nation has the right to decide its own future.

Although the Baltic states are Russia’s immediate neighbors, she said other European countries should also worry about Ukraine’s crisis.

“Frankly, I don’t think it’s more about the Baltics,” she said. “If you look from Kiev, it is the same distance from Berlin as Tallinn.

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