It would also be a mistake to generalise ethnic minorities as one grey mass. Baltic countries, for many reasons, are rather different in this regard – Latvia’s population is more than one third Russian, almost 30% of people living in Estonia are Russian, and in Lithuania Russians account for almost 6% (the Polish minority in Lithuania accounts for 6.6% of the population). Even minorities themselves might within themselves be very different in their political preferences, socio-economic status, religious beliefs, and so on.
It is no secret that there are certain cities with big Russian minorities. These include Narva in Estonia, Latgale and Daugavpils in Latvia, and Visaginas in Lithuania. Obviously, the majority of the Russians in these cities are targeted by Kremlin propaganda, some people are affected by it, and some even take an active part in promoting the “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World). Nonetheless, placing too much emphasis on this would only contribute to the policy of divide and rule, making it too easy for the Kremlin. In fact, more than 65% of Visaginas voted in favour of the new nuclear power plant in the city during a referendum in 2012, which was totally against the interests of the Kremlin. Therefore, one should be very careful with any judgement or accusation of that kind.
Nonetheless, the Baltic states should certainly be alert and ready for different kinds of provocation. It is enough to remember the story of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn in 2007, and all the cyber-attacks and riots that followed it. The “demo version” of Russia’s “little green men” was tested back then. But, having said that, we should not be over suspicious about the ethnic minorities in our respective countries, as it is much more important to make their integration more efficient. If ethnic minorities feel like true citizens, they will be less vulnerable to any external influence.
Finally, I would argue that corrupt practices, shady business, the Soviet legacy, and certain politicians who are financed by money stolen from the Russian citizens and who advocate on the behalf of the Kremlin are much bigger vulnerabilities.
Vytis Jurkonis is lecturer at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University.
The commentary was first published on PISM blog