Professor Alpo Rusi at the Lithuanian Embassy, Helsinki, on October 4, 2017
Your Excellency ambassador Valdemaras (Valdas) Sarapinas, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honor to to be invited to the Lithuanian Embassy today.
I am thankful to you, your excellence, ambassador Valdas Sarapinas, for arranging this event. I also want to extent my warmest thanks to Professor Hannu Niemi for his contribution in particular in the Donelaitis Society, Friends of Lithuania, that has played an important role for organizing for example contacts between the universities since 1990.
I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to the memory of Professor Leonidas Donskis for his achievements in the field of philosophy and political sciences but also for his contribution in developing relations between Lithuania and Finland. My intention is to explore Finland’s and Lithuanian’s positions concerning the security situation and challenges we face in the Baltic Sea region.
One cannot forget history because history and geopolitics have come back. The Baltic and Nordic states have been close to each other during the modern times although geopolitically and culturally they have been to often separated from each other. The Baltic states and Finland were under the Russian rule more than hundred years before the collapse of the Imperial Russia in 1917.
After World War I five new independent countries emerged in the Baltic Sea region. The establishment of a Union of the Baltic Sea countries was discussed. Between the two world wars Finland was sometimes considered of being the fourth Baltic state. The role of Finnish Foreign Minister of Rudolf Holsti was crucial in the early 1920s to promote cooperation between the Baltic states, Finland and Poland.
The Ribbentrop-Molotov Treaty on August 23, 1939 changed the course of history and separated Finland from the Baltic states until 1990. The deepening of cooperation and strengthening of economic interdependence between the Baltic and Nordic states ended almost overnight.
Within the OSCE process new opportunities emerged in the 1970s. I would like to pay tribute to the founders of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group that was established in 1975 based on the Final Act of the CSCE. The group was active until 1981 and published over 30 documents that exposed for example limitations on freedom of movement, discrimination of minorities and persecution of human right activists. Upon his release from prison, Viktoras Petkus reestablished the Lithuanian Helsinki Group in 1988. These human rights activists were the real champions of the Principles of the Final Act and without their efforts, the Cold War would have lasted much longer.
In Lithuania there was also a strong independence movement Sajudis and its leader professor Vytautas Landsbergis whose activities were crucial for the restoration of Lithuania's independence. The rapid developments after the Cold War facilitated a historic change and many hopes were expressed. The enclave of Kaliningrad was believed to become a Hong Kong of the Baltic Sea or ”the fourth Baltic state” but it became a black hole and a Russian military fortress.
The dramatic weeks in August 1991 in the foreign ministry and the office of the Prime Minister in Helsinki will be remembered by those ones who worked on the rapid recognition of the Baltic states. The geopolitical picture on the Baltic Sea region was changing. All of us in the Baltic and Nordic countries were finally together and active participants when history was made. Next step after the recognition was to start working on the papers for the application to the EU membership. There were not too many who would have predicted that the Baltic neighbors would follow and join the EU already 2004.
In the 1990s the Baltic and Nordic states deepened cooperation and the Baltic Sea Council was a case in point. Lithuania had in Finland active diplomatic missions to deepen economic and political relations with good results. I am sure that the same working plan was implemented in our impressive embassy in Vilnus. I was privileged to be accompanied with President during his visits to Lithuania.
In the mid 1990s a dispute between the security interests of the Baltic states and Russian Federation started colliding on the role of Nato. In the Finnish political elite the was not easy either. In my view, the Lipponen government and president Ahtisaari did not reach easily a common ground on the issue. President emphasized the right of the countries for their own security choices based on the OSCE principles and declarations. Lipponen’s government had a different narrative and emphasized the role of Nato but rejected its special responsibility in the Baltic sea region defense that of course led to critical comments in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The new division between the West and Russia was not a necessity but unfortunately the developments did not create favorable conditions for the integration of Russia to the European and and transatlantic structures of co- operation primarily due to the internal developments of Russia. President of my country , Martti Ahtisaari hosted a summit between the Russian and US Presidents Boris Jeltsin and Bill Clinton in March 1997 in Helsinki to facilitate the smooth enlargement of Nato. This summit worked for the security of smaller states, not like the summit of Tilsit of 1807 that was against the interests of the smaller states.
Based on the OSCE Paris Declaration of 1990, ”every country has right to its own security choices”. One can remember that the Baltic states were not allowed to participate that summit because the Soviet union rejected even the status of observers to be given to these states aspiring already for years for independence. The collapse of the Soviet system was at stake.
The rise of Vladimir Putin ended all speculations about the future status of Kaliningrad and on the contrary the enclave has become increasingly one of the security problems in the Baltic Sea region. Finally, the war in Georgia 2008 and the annexation of the Crimea 2014 ended any possible thaw between Russia and the West in the short term having a negative impact on the Baltic Sea region.
Today we need to elaborate, what will happen next and what should be done to eliminate instabilities and create trust between Russia and the West. Finland and Lithuania are close partners within the EU and even Nato and integrated to the West. Already in the early 1920 Finnish Foreign Minister Rudolf Holsti stressed that the Baltic states like Finland are part of the Western Europe politically and culturally. History had vindicated this fact.
The Baltic states as Nato members are integrally part of the transatlantic security system thus stabilizing security in the region. Military non-alignment of Finland but also of Sweden is not so far separating them from the transatlantic security system . These two states are working for this separation not to happen. The conflict between the West and Russia should not separate us anymore. We need to find common policies and solutions. There should not be anymore any gray zones of security in the Baltic Sea region.
Early this week the outgoing EU ambassador to Russia, Vygaudas Usackas, wrote in the Guardian about the Russian policy. ”The Russian leadership will continue to reject the outcome of the cold war and insist on a European security order based on the spheres of influence of major powers. Russia respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors only as long as their geo-political choices align with its interests”.
This analysis of an experienced and respected EU ambassador to Russia constitutes an important basis for developing our common EU policies concerning Russia. This task is not easy as we know. Ambassador Usackas also states that ”Efforts by member states and Brussels to counter Russian propaganda, disinformation and meddling are essential, but they are not enough”. He warns about Russian attempts to use business interests to split and weaken the EU, in particular concerning energy security.
Finland and Lithuania do not share a similar kind of approach to the Nord Stream II project. I personally support the line of the Baltic states and Poland because NS2 has its geopolitical dimension. Energy security is of particular importance given our dependence on Russian gas in Europe and economic Interdependence that Russia has too often weaponized for its geopolitical interests. In the EU we need to strengthen the EU energy objectives which should be the key factor when deciding on NS2.
From the point of view of the Baltic and Nordic states the present security situation reminds that of the early 1920s although the enlargement of Nato and EU changed the geopolitical situation decisively in the region. Any military or hybrid attack against one of us is an attack against all of us.
Non-aligned Finland and Sweden have been producers of security but since 2014 more and more knocking the doors for security co-operation with Nato and member states of Nato. It was a mistake that in both countries a serious debate on Nato membership was dropped after the year 2000. It would have been good for the Baltic sea region stability in case both of them would have joined Nato together with the Baltic states. Of course there is no certainty that the parliaments would have approved this ”working plan” after the debate.
During the recent weeks we have been observing the strategic military exercise Zapad 2017. Ukraine’s Commander in Chief Viktor Muzhenko has told Reuters that Russia has left troops behind after staging war games in Belarus despite promising not to. Based on his information Russia had withdrawn only a few units from Belarus and lied about how many of its soldiers were there in the first place. Furthermore, Russia has announced that it will begin a control check that will include all military units in all of the military branches. During the coming weeks we will see whether the security situation in the Baltic sea region can be improved.
It is widely discussed that within the transatlantic security system we need to develop the EU security and military arm and important steps have been taken under the EU Treaties in this respect. As long as Europe remains a heterogeneous entity and not a serious security actor, it is not good for the United States and Europe. New global challenges need also new answers.
In the short term, at the regional level, around the wider Baltic area, Russia is concerned about Washington’s ability to project said power into Russia using NATO as a springboard. At the sub-regional level, one of the narrower concerns is about Moscow’s ability to defend the exclave of Kaliningrad against NATO in a crisis.
At the same time, to add a much-needed reality check, we must ask whether the political level of U.S.-Russian relations allows for a new approach. Could arms control come about between Russia and the other European states, rather than having to wait for U.S. or Russian politics to change?
Again, arms control is not a panacea, particularly not to prevent deliberate escalation. But it can certainly contribute to a more stable status quo. Besides arms control, relevant confidence-building measures are needed too. From NATO’s perspective, stability would mean limiting, and perhaps reducing, Russia’s conventional capabilities in the wider Baltic region, which would include parts of Russia’s vast Western Military District. I have to limit my considerations just to this comment.
A German scholar Ulrich Kühn has recently proposed even ”European unilateralism” with respect to arms control. This issue may be relevant in case Germany would continue to be reluctant to raise its defense spending level to 2 % of GDP to modernize its armed forces.
It is easy to agree with Kühn that Vladimir Putin has made it abundantly clear that there is only one thing he respects: power Talk of arms control from Berlin under such conditions rings hollow (and not only in Moscow).
Russia needs to be seriously checked in all scenarios either based on a more European military check or preserving the present transatlantic balance between its European pillar and the US and Canada. Furthermore, if NATO and its closest partners Finland and Sweden wants to enhance crisis stability, it has to communicate effectively with Moscow through permanently available crisis communication channels.
Finally, in order to strengthen common security basis, there is a need to strengthen interconnectedness of the Baltic and the three Nordic states as well as Poland. As Edward Lucas, the editorial writer of the Economist, has proposed ”the Nordic-Baltic -Polish axis’ (NBP9,)economies combined have a bigger GDP than that of Russia”. The argument of Lucas needs to be considered seriously.
BNP9 could be a valid framework for the further deepening of cooperation and coordination between either nine or seven countries of this geographically interconnected Northern European states which wouldn't be a revival of the interwar idea of the Intermarium. Today the Nordic and Baltic countries are established leaders globally across many areas, such as human rights, the use of digital technology and innovation in energy production, with the Nordic countries notable for their social welfare model.
Within the EU the Baltic and Nordic member states have exercised sectoral cooperation already for years. Great Britain hosted the Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers early September 2017. In the longer term a deepening of divisive line between the West and Russia needs to be eliminated that would eliminate or at least diminish the tension in the Baltic sea region.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini has emphasized the need to strengthen of cooperation with the Baltic states which I consider as an important signal. He has also paid special attention to the new opportunities for increasing of economic, cultural and political cooperation with Lithuania that has been historically less known of the Baltic states in Finland.
Thank you for your attention.
"The more you understand the world, the higher your chance of shaping it".
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