Unplugging the Baltic States: Why Russia’s Economic Approach May Be Shifting, russiamatters.org

Emily Ferris​, research fellow in the international security studies department at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

[…] The Baltic states have also voiced concerns about the deployment of Russian weapons and troops close to the Baltic states’ borders with Russia, as well as Russia’s nuclear build-up, including renovations of weapons storage facilities in its exclave of Kaliningrad. Russia has built up forces in its Western Military District, which encompasses the Baltic states’ border regions, most recently adding an air defense missile regiment to its capabilities. There is also evidence suggesting that the Western Military District has upgraded some of its tactical capabilities, and has re-established the 1st Guards Tank Army in the district, which includes modernized main battle tanks and represents the first new Russian tank army formed since 1991. In addition, the Russian Navy’s Baltic Sea Fleet is headquartered in Kaliningrad, which borders the Baltics. […]

In addition to deploying and demonstrating military assets on its own territory adjacent to the Baltic states, Russia also maintains ties to Russian-speaking communities in these states, which the Kremlin undoubtedly also views as assets in its strategy to retain influence in the region. Latvia has the largest contingent of those identifying as ethnic Russians, with around 35 percent, while Estonia has 29 percent and Lithuania has the fewest, at around 6 percent. The issue of grey passport holders—where citizenship was not automatically granted to ethnic Russians in Latvia and Estonia upon the collapse of the Soviet Union—has complicated progress on integrating Russian speaking communities there. Moscow has taken advantage of these complications to position itself as the defender of Russian speakers in the region. Among other things, Russia has criticized Estonia and Latvia for not granting automatic citizenship to their large Russian-speaking minorities, maintaining that all three Baltic states have passed restrictive laws limiting the public use of the Russian language. […]

Energy supplies account for much of the Russian-Baltic trade. When it comes to oil, the first half of 2019 saw Estonia and Lithuania import over 75 percent of their oil from Russia, while Latvia imported significantly less, with only up to 25 percent of its oil imports coming from Russia. The Baltics also used to import most of their gas from Russia. For instance, in the first half of 2019, Estonia and Latvia received more than 75 percent of their natural gas imports from Russia’s Gazprom, while Lithuania received 50-75 percent. In addition to selling gas, Gazprom used to own significant stakes in all three of the Baltic states’ main gas companies: 37 percent of Lithuania’s Lietuvos Dujos, 47 percent of Estonia’s Eesti Gaas and 50 percent of Latvia’s Latvijas Gaze as of 2013. This gave Gazprom, and by extension Russia, a significant say in the Baltics’ gas policies. […]

Russia’s shifting economic relationship with the Baltic states appears to be reflective of some of its own economic security concerns. Russia is keen to avoid depending on NATO member states for trade and is wary of its reliance on Baltic ports to handle cargo. As oil prices, upon which the ruble largely depends, remain depressed, and projected economic growth in Russia is set to remain at just 1.8 percent in 2021, Russia is increasingly reluctant to pay the Baltics for using the region’s ports for exports of oil. Läs artikel