In a narrow understanding the notion Baltic countries covers the states possessing direct access to the Baltic Sea, options for direct sea communications between each other without crossing borders of other states. And these are nine countries: Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Estonia.
In a broad interpretation it is conventional to talk about eleven states, which are the members of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) founded in 1992. Except for those already listed nine states the CBSS also includes Norway – from the date of the Council foundation, and Iceland – since 1995.
But the basic (officially-legal) interpretation of the notion “Baltic region” in modern international practice is considered to be the interpretation formulated in the international program “Vision and Strategies of Baltic Region States Development”.
In accordance with this program Baltic region includes Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Belarus, counties of Germany – Schlezwig-Holstein, Mecklenburg - Vorpommern, Branderburg, Berlin and Hamburg, and the entities of the Russian Federation – Saint-Petersburg as well as Leningrad, Pskov, Novgorod, Murmansk, Kaliningrad regions and the Republic of Karelia.
Discussion on the format and the frameworks of the region today remain to be a part of political discussion and it reflects the controversy and complicatedness of the process. There are supporters of extended cooperation, others exclude Russia, the third ones share two formats - North-Scandinavian and “Baltic belt”, fourth ones observe Baltic cooperation exclusively through the prism of post-soviet rehabilitation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
After the Second World War Europe faced almost a half-century period of confrontation, which separated the states of the region into two opposing groups. There was almost no ground to develop a regional project of Baltic region scale.
But the upholders of regionalism – Scandinavians – came in the foreground.
In the 50-s of last century a practical model of regional cooperation was born in Scandinavian states. Its institutionalization began with the establishment in 1952 of the Northern Council, which initially became the forum of Interparliamentary interaction of Northern states.
However the development of Baltic regionalism went another way. Northern states, basing on the policy of neutrality and nonalignment, efficient in a bipolar world, found themselves on the periphery of European life in new terms. In practical sense they had no choice but to join a big European project with the membership in the EU and partially to limit independent political line.
Eventually, current Baltic regional cooperation to a greater extent has become a part of general European integration, and not only the result of the interest of a group or one of the EU states.
In the EU frameworks greater significance and development is gained within the perception of a common Europe as the Europe of regions. Exactly due to this, the term “the states of Baltic region” becomes less topical. It is persistently forced by the notion of “Baltic region”, which anticipates trans-border region consisting from micro-regions of various states and eventually not corresponding states borders.
Although in last two years, at the background of growing skepticism towards the bright future of the EU, the number of calls to strengthen regional consolidation and establishment of powerful Baltic block as an alternative, have increased.
According to current basic political declarations the objective of Baltic cooperation is formation in the region of a functional network of economic, cultural and political contacts, more intense and stable than interstate contacts, connecting national states of the European Union. The number of official mechanisms of Baltic regionalism may include the EU program “North Dimension”. In 1998 this program became a part of general foreign EU policy, and in 1999 the Guiding directions on the accomplishment of the “North Dimension” concept were approved.
Although, the European Union introduced significant corrections, which on the one hand made “North Dimension” more hearty and comfortable for Brussels, and on the other hand significantly reduced its initial potential. Thus the European Union immediately clearly specified that it wouldn’t grant any extra funds from its budget. The case can be only about redistribution and more effective implementation of current assignments. The main sources of financing of the initiative were defined to be already existing budget instruments and the EU support programs, such as PHARE, TAСIS and INTERREG. Except for that geographic frames of these programs are not limited with the boundaries of Baltic region or Northern Europe. That is why the “North Dimension” in practice has been deprived of independent financing sources.
Evaluating the efficiency of the “North Dimension” we can note that from the very beginning the accomplishment of this program based on the contradiction between ambitious objectives, developed by Finland, and pretty modest funds, granted by the European Union. Now we can state that with blurred formulations on development of positive mutual independence and strengthening of comprehensive cooperation of the states of the region, the European Union anticipated two quite definite tasks: preparation for the EU joining of the three Baltic states and Poland. Also assurance of stable supplies of energy from north regions of Russia. Persistent refusal of Brussels to create an individual financial structure to support the projects and programs of the “North Dimension” and suggestion proposed instead to enforce the coordination of already existing financial instruments of the EU, prove only that it had no intentions to grant extra resources to develop this region (as it happened in case of Mediterranean dimension), and most likely on the opposite, it strived to save already issued funds.
By the way in the lobbies of the EU and international forums this incited unofficial but pretty stable statement-slogan “North Pays – South Spends”. As commentators currently write, the same cynical approach European bureaucracy seems to repeat with the project “Eastern Partnership”, although now it may be involuntarily. And the EU adopted the Strategy and the Action Plan of the European Union on the region of Baltic Sea, which were approved by the EU Council in October 2009. This is the first domestic regional strategy of the European Union, which is aimed at improvement of the efficiency of the current EU activity in the region. The strategy promises new tools, improves the distribution of tasks between the member-states and sub-regions, giving more focus on the region within the EU policy in general.
The main formalized institution of regional cooperation is the Council of the Baltic Sea States. It includes Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Estonia as well as the European Commission. Starting from July 1st 2009 Belarus has had the status of observer at CBSS.
The organization as the most other interstate bodies doesn’t possess supranational authorities and is a standard intergovernmental forum, where participating states share the views on the issues of development of regional interaction, “umbrella” structure under the aegis of which about 60 various institutions were founded.
The most significant bodies: the Parliamentary Conference of the Baltic Sea, Subregional Cooperation Conference, the Union of Baltic Cities, the Chambers of Commerce Association and Business Advisory Council of Baltic States.
Not so long ago, in Riga in the course of international seminar, devoted to the issues of Baltic cooperation an unexpected suggestion was sounded, which was supported comprehensively. It is about to observe the “Nordic Baltic 8” project as a reserve and very beneficial variant in case of the EU collapse.
Evidently today the united Europe is not able to become soon an en bloc union of independent states. Plenty of contradictions arise not only in the states of “new Europe” with the newly accepted states, but also in old more safe EU states. This covers attitude towards Euro, which is refused by some EU member-states. And the review of the Lisbon treaty. And the growth of underground economy at the background of liberty within the labor market. And often unacceptable conditions, dictated from the center to “young states”. And plenty of other contradictions, making the European Union a too flexible formation.
It’s worth to note that in the European Union itself lately they have actively discussed the options of other projects. One of such projects is ”Nordic Baltic 8”.
There is naturally logic to the benefit of such regional union. Most Northern states possess strong economies and independence from Euro. The Eight all together is the ninth biggest economy in the world. And it can be assured with a profitable future by cooperation with Russia (there we can also observe the “Nord Stream” project).
At the same time there are more disagreements and competition in economy between Baltic states, than cooperation, it’s quite troublesome for them to survive one by one. Joining of such prosperous alliance could influence beneficially the development of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia within global economic area and improvement of relations between each other.
The main neighbor and partner in the region, is naturally Russia. Russia is significant as a participant of regional cooperation projects, as well as the strategic EU partner, and as a partner on formation of regional security and as a hope in economy.
In Russia we may observe currently contradicting processes, which affect the attitude towards neighbors. Economic diplomacy, pragmatism, professed by current Russian political establishment, at the background of global crisis give results, but they don’t solve the issues of real economic vulnerability of Russia, technological modernization.
As liberal analysts assume, in near years there will be several key imperatives, which should define strategic policy of Russia in Baltic region. They should ground on the thesis about hopelessness and contra-productivity of confrontation with West.
Then from a problem, threat (real and virtual) Russia shall turn into the most significant resource of Baltic states development. It’s understood that for political leaders it’s hard to accept this and to sound this, and how hard it is to be accepted by native nations. But exactly the cooperation modality seems to be the most rational. Although, naturally, much depends on social-political development of Russia itself.
As a group of analysts from the states of the region considers, within the relations of Russia and Baltic states future interaction shall be defined by growing dependence from the relations the EU - Russia. As well as the dependence from translatlantic relations the USA – the European Union, the USA – Russia.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that the agenda shall exclude the problems of relations between the Baltic states and the Russian Federation. But their role has already started to change; they shall gradually lose their interpolitical acuteness, conflict potential. Together with that the priority of trade-economic relations in bilateral and even more in multilateral format promotes significantly.
For Russia the opening option to develop stable mutually beneficial relations with Baltic states can serve as an instrument for adaptation and establishment of common economic space with the European Union, social and economic development of North-West regions and Kaliningrad region, restructuring and development of competitive ability of Russian industry.
Obviously, improvement of relations with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia is important for Russia, but still it is the element of the general strategy to establish stable mutually beneficial relations with a wide region of Northern Europe including whole Scandinavian region and Germany. Yet the ruling elite of Russia has a dominating point of view that Western Europe observes Baltic states not as a bridge, but “sanitary cardoon” between itself and Russia. No other status is anticipated for them, when the case is about development of relations with Russia.
It’s worth to note that Russia has been cultivating a general approach towards the three Baltic states for a long time. However in recent years, a differential approach has dominated. The most evidently it has revealed within the relations with Lithuania, which used the zero variant solving the issue of observance of the rights of Russian-speaking citizens and which demonstrated a good political will on the issue of Kaliningrad.
The differentiated, pragmatic approach, in common view, Russia shall implement also further playing on revival of competition and using economic stimulus and motivations as the tools for correction of Baltic states policy.
Except for economy and trade another key subject remain to be the issues of security.
Baltic region and Northern Europe in most cases are acknowledged as the space of stable security. Conflict potential in the region is low, especially in comparison with South Europe. Even in years of the Cold War, there was a differentiated model of NATO and the EU membership, as well as various statuses of states – from active members of military and political organization NATO, to neutral ones.
The future of Russia and NATO relations shall remain unclear, and the level of concern shall hang over the relations of Russia with Baltic states.
The situation which can seriously affect these relations is related with the future location of American Ballistic Missile Defense elements.
Radar infrastructure of Baltic states has existed for a long time, and to the mind of Russian military commentators it (“BALNET”) is already prepared to be an additional component of American Ballistic Missile Defense System.
The main elements of the “BALNET” system were commissioned in 2000, when the decision on acceptance of Baltic republics into NATO hadn’t been yet made. The central object of “BALNET” is the “Regional Center of Air Control and Coordination”, located in the village Karmelava which is 100 km west from Vilnius. The center is maintained by advisory specialists from the USA and other NATO states.
The regional center coordinates the work of three national nodes of “BALNET” system, located respectfully in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The main part of equipment for the network was supplied by the USA, and installation, commissioning and personnel training were performed by Norway specialists, experienced in operation of the same air control system in the province Finmark bordering Russia.
“BALNET” is included into an integrated system of air control and early prevention of NATO, and through it into the USA possessed global intelligence-informational system “ECHELON”.
Extension of capacities of “BALNET” went on for a few years. In particular, Latvia made a decision to locate in South-East of its territory, 70 km from the border with Russia, a powerful American radar complex TPS-117, geographic location of which allows easily to cover Pskov region of Russia.
According to the information published in open sources about the abilities of the TPS-117 station, its operating radius comprises about 460 km. However, as Russian military specialists write, this type radar station is able to detect fast-speed and small-size air targets which makes the station a strategic object.
Formally, the radar ASR-7 operating in Ventspils (a gift to Latvia from the Government of Norway) is called to serve for security of civil aviation, to assure rapidness and efficiency of search and rescue operations in Latvia. However its main function is military. The radar is able to register in the air within the radius of 150 km not only the objects that maintain contact with land, but also those which do not identify themselves.
The presence of this already existing infrastructure, naturally, doesn’t call enthusiasm of Russia and we may suggest how the deployment of American Ballistic Missile Defense System influences the development of a full-value and comprehensive regional cooperation.
There is no ground to assume that the line of Russia on Ballistic Missile Defense changes even in case of unbelievable inter-political alterations. However, gradual pragmatic regional approach is predicted by many analysts as inevitable.