Thursday, October 09, 2014


Welcome to Latgale in south-east Latvia: If there is any EU region which looks like a soft target for Russian-manufactured separatism, this is it. The street names may be in Latvian, but most people - more than 70 percent in the regional capital Daugavpils - are of Russian origin. They lived here for generations or they were shipped here by Stalin. Older residents speak only Russian. Old and young consume only Russian media, read Russian history books, go to see Russian plays, and celebrate Russian holidays. They tend to work in Russian-language offices and many go back and forth across the Russian border, which is still being demarcated, without a visa. But they cannot get a Latvian passport, or vote, unless they learn Latvian. Their children can do only half their classes in their mother tongue and their MPs are locked out of ruling coalitions.... Russian media was never kind to Latvia. But since the Ukraine war, Russian-Latvians hear on TV that EU-backed “neo-Nazis” are slaughtering Russians in east Ukraine and that Latvia is sponsoring “a rebirth of fascism”. They also hear that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is ready to protect the “Russkiy Mir”.... But even if Latgale looks like a soft target, Latvian authorities say it is not. “We live in times when any provocation cannot be excluded, but a ‘Ukrainian’ scenario for Latvia is impossible”, its foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, says. His spokesman, Karlis Eihenbaums, notes that some Russian-Latvian activists have a new air of menace: “They don’t say it openly, but you can feel it: ‘If you don’t fulfill our dreams than Crimea-type things can happen here’.” But he points out the pro-Russia protests got almost no support. “If you can gather 40 or 50 people in a city of 1 million, that’s nothing”, he says, referring to Riga, also a majority Russian-Latvian town.... If they are right, then why does the Russkiy Mir hold so little appeal? Andis Kudors, a Latvian academic who specialises in Russian soft power, says the reasons are mostly economic. In Ukraine, public institutions were dysfunctional and insolvent. Elderly people in Crimea, for instance, had lousy pensions compared to Russia. But Latvia is better governed and offers more opportunities. “I was born in Latgale and this idea of autonomy is impossible”, Kudors says. “Even with the social problems in the region, there are no radicals who would fight to be part of Russia because people know that Russian living conditions, especially outside St Petersburg or Moscow, are much worse”.... Mitrofanov noted that after 23 years of living together, there is a “moral” dimension to Russian society in the country. “We feel that we are Latvians, even if in our native language and culture we feel that we are Russians”, he says. “We see our future in the next 50 years as coming closer together. In Finland there is a Swedish minority, but Swedish is an official language and Swedish people have the same opportunities as Finns at all levels of society. We want to build Finland in Latvia”, he adds.
Andrew Rettman, "Russkiy Mir in the EU?" EU Observer. 7 October 2014, in
"Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade rather than coerce. It means that others want what the United States wants, and there is less need to use carrots and sticks. Hard power, the ability to coerce, grows out of a country's military and economic might. Soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals and policies."
Joseph Nye, "U.S. Power and Strategy After Iraq". Foreign Affairs. (July / August 2003), pp. 66.
In these days in which the extremely 'hard power' orientation of Putin's Russia would appear to be unstoppable, it is both enlightening and pleasurable to look at the case of Latvia. Notwithstanding the successes of Putin's policies in Ukraine (so far) it is interesting to see that in the just concluded elections held in Latvia the pro-Russian, pro-Putin party, lost almost twenty percent of the vote from the previous result. The ruling, pro-Western coalition of parties will remain in office 1. But equally interesting is that as the above referenced article in the EU Observer notes, the very last thing that most of the Russian-speakers in Latvia want is a return to Matushka Russia. An instance of one truly needed it of the continuing salience of the European Unions's 'soft power' attractiveness. It was a very similar type of power which brought out tens if not hundreds of thousands into the streets of Kyiv back in the beginning of this year and late last year. The inherent attractiveness, still, regardless of the six-years post-facto to the Financial Crisis of 2008, of the concept of Europe, to the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. This remarks are not to gainsay the fact that in the continuing confrontation with Moskva, that the Western Powers will most definitely need to employ both now and in the very near future, some species of machtpolitik. Merely, that while the latter cannot be the be all and the end all of any nation's or coalitions foreign policy. It may be the vital core, but it cannot be its entirety. Most especially prematurely. As the great Furst von Metternich once observed of the ever bellicose Austrian Viceroy of Italia, Field-Marshal, Graf Radetsky in 1847:
"The Marshal has all the qualities of a good soldier: he loves battles; as head of the diplomacy I love battles when they are ordered and dislike them when they are not. Now the present situation affords no real material offensive. Days succeed and do not resemble one another; the day when active operations are commanded may arrive: but it has not arrived yet" 2.
1. Richard Milne, "Frontline Latvia feels heat as Putin probes Baltic states’ resolve". The Financial Times. 8 October 2014, in
2. A. J. P. Taylor. The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy, 1847-1848. (1934), p. 18.


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