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Putin Inauguration Ball With (out) Baltic States’ Presidents?

March 15, 2012 - Linas Jegelevicius - Bez kategorii

Inauguration_of_Dmitry_Medvedev,_7_May_2008-2.jpg

Inauguration_of_Dmitry_Medvedev,_7_May_2008-2.jpg

The presidents of the three Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have modestly congratulated Russia’s new president, but whether Moscow will invite the Baltic leaders to the inaugural ball in the Kremlin at the beginning of May remains a big question.

Putin’s words

Am I too naïve? Isn’t it too brave to expect a sign of grace from Russia after its leader lashed out at Latvia and Estonia over the plight of the Russian minorities in the countries just a few days before the March 4th presidential elections? And he implied that he won’t forget the little “abuser” countries. Even though most of the Russian minorities, especially in Estonia, have had no rebukes whatsoever to the local governments over “the minority rights.”

Do you remember Putin’s words? The Russian prime-minister-soon-to-be-president had said, “The status of non-citizens in Latvia and Estonia is ‘shameful.’”

And what did Putin suggest to “improve” the plight? Nothing clear, just a few slogan-like promises: “We are determined to ensure that Latvian and Estonian authorities follow the numerous recommendations of reputable international organizations on observing generally accepted rights of ethnic minorities, like the possibility to use their own language…” (He obviously referred to the referendum on the status of the Russian language that took place in Latvia last month).

You have the right for concern, Mr Putin! But could you have been a bit clearer referring to the unnamed human rights watchdogs? And why didn’t they scold the Baltics for abusing minority rights until now? Anyway, in this light, do you expect Andris Berzins of Latvia and Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia, the presidents, to hop onto a Moscow-bound plane after the tirade?

I don’t. Let’s imagine Berzins and Ilves set off for the inauguration ball. What happens if the tipsy and elevated Putin, swinging solemnly along the aisles of his benefactors and worshippers, stops at them toward the end of the queue for an explanation…Quite an awkward situation, isn’t it?

But seriously, if you were to ask me whether the three Baltic leaders will be invited to the Kremlin, I would doubt it. Mainly, for one reason: if the ball planners court Berzins, Ilves and Dalia Grybauskaite (Lithuanian president), they will be, most likely, embarrassed not to see them there.

Lukashenko of Belarus was well aware of Grybauskaite’s possible refusal to join him in his inauguration party in 2011, so he never sent the invitation. No big deal for both presidents!

I can hardly imagine the Baltic presidents frolicking in the Kremlin, as this would likely tarnish their long-cherished image and haunting them for months to come. Is it worth shaking the hand of the “21st century Russian Tsar” and whisper to him about the possibility of cheaper Gazprom gas? No.

Nevertheless, if the heads of the Baltic States were to listen to their people, they could be prompted to pack up their tuxedoes and, in Grybauskaite’s case, a fancy dress and head for the ball. In a recent poll, over 40 per cent of Lithuanians reckon the Lithuanian president should go for the celebrations to Moscow.

This is in the stark contrast with the Lithuanian officials’ stance on Russia. Although most high-echelon Lithuanian politics stopped short of calling the ballot rigged, nevertheless, the doubt over its transparency has been casted.

A few loud statements

The weaker than usual rhetoric has infuriated Vladimiras Romanovas, the gaudy owner of Lithuania’s Ukio Bankas (Economy Bank), who praised Putin’s victory and condemned Lithuania along with the United States over their stance in the elections.

“I am ashamed of the so-called national experts of politics, who, like sleazy puppets orchestrated the performance of the anti-Russian rhetoric, spat saliva like puppies on an elephant, thus causing a harm to Lithuanian business interests in Russia,” Romanovas fumed.

However, Vladimiras Laucius, a Lithuanian political analyst, doesn’t think that the scolding will backfire.

“Sure, these kinds of statements do no good for Lithuania. However, even with the few loud statements out there, I do not think that they will affect the current Lithuanian and Russian relations in any way, as a lot more is at stake,” Laucius says.

He doesn’t believe that Russia and Putin will ramp up the anti-Baltic rhetoric in the near future. “Sure, we will continue hearing occasional declarations about the situation of the Russian minority in the Baltics, but I do not think the rhetoric will ramify beyond his whole anti-West stance. The Baltic countries are ‘too small’ for Putin to single out any one of them, or even together, in a broader geopolitical context,” the political analyst emphasized.

For those itching to rebuke Putin, Lithuanian businessmen have a clear message: “Don’t exasperate him! Leave him alone! Let others teach Russia the lesson of democracy!”

“The elections apparently won’t change anything for Lithuanian business in Russia, as Putin has considerably large support throughout the country. However, any condemning statements could worsen the business situation for our businessmen there,” says Zygimantas Mauricas, a bank analyst.

In fact, a Putin victory has placated many Lithuanian entrepreneurs, who see him as a guarantee of stability in the country.

Status quo to remain

Gitanas Nauseda, presidential advisor and one of the most respected market analysts in Lithuania, also says “there shouldn’t be very significant changes following the Putin win. For one reason: the same person, Putin, has been at the wheel of the Russian executive power, government, and steering the state as its head,” Nauseda said. The analyst added, “Effectively, Putin, in either position, has always been very close to the executive power. Considering Putin’s geopolitical provisions and the economic principles he preaches, I would dare to say that the status quo in the relations of Lithuanian and Russian trade will remain.”

Some Baltic entrepreneurs expect changes on the Russian trade landscape not because of Putin back in the presidency, but because of Russia’s WTO accession. And in Estonia, where the Russian population voted overwhelmingly for Putin, with 86 per cent, there seemed to be greater preoccupation with an Estonian journalist’s arrest in north western Russia for allegedly filming without permission than with the impact of the Putin win in Estonia.

Nevertheless, despite some pre-election ripples in the Baltics churned by Putin, there is quite a favorable political climate for the presidents to make the trip to the Putin inauguration.

Will the Kremlin-stamped invitations follow? And, most importantly, would they be accepted?

There is still some time for guesses.

Linas Jegelevicius is a Lithuanian journalist and editor of a regional Lithuanian newspaper. He also contributes as a freelance journalist to several English language publications, including The Baltic Times, the only English-language weekly newspaper in the Baltics.

Baltic Spotlight is a column by Lithuanian journalist Linas Jegelevicius for New Eastern Europe. 

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