Baltic Reports No 19 / November 4 – 10

  • November 18, 2019


The NATO forces stationed in the Baltics aren’t able put up a credible defense, a recent report by the US think tank RAND Corporation states. It would only take a few days for Russia to capture some or all of the Baltic states’ capital cities. To make it clear, according to the Brookings Institution, there are around thirty-five thousand NATO troops in the Baltics, but Russia has well over one hundred thousand of its own just across the border. The RAND report advises NATO to improve its capabilities in and near the Baltics, and discusses whether modernised nuclear options should be on the table too. The statement that Russia could invade the Baltics in a few days is nothing new, but using nuclear to deter Russia is a recent idea. This would bring the world back into the worst decades of the Cold War’s Arms Race. RAND Corporation has advised the Baltics before to prepare for a guerrilla warfare. Besides, there have been many people declaring that the Baltics will be the next targets after Ukraine. So the report does not make any groundbreaking statements. Still, last week, Bloomberg reported that the possibility of nuclear escalation in a conflict between NATO and Russia over the Baltic region is higher than one might imagine. French president Macron reacted saying that Europe will need to try to find common ground with its Eastern neighbour. Not doing so would be “a huge mistake”. It is important to add that more than half of the funding to Rand Corporation comes directly from the army, which is often intertwined with weapon producers. For the Estonia’s Defence Minister Jüri Luik the whole situation looks over dramatised. 



Besides milk whey, fish and poultry – or in other words, meat from birds – Estonia is looking into exporting beef and other types of fish to Chinese market. This was one of the topics discussed in this week’s meeting between Estonia’s Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik and Li Guo, deputy head of the General Administration of Customs of China. According to Dutch Bank there are only a few European companies and countries that have  direct access to Chinese market when it comes to poultry. Besides Poland, Russia and France, Estonia is one of them since last year. And there’s a reason why it is happening now. China has been struggling with African Swine Fever and so they are expanding their list of different food products. Export of Estonian agricultural products to China has already grown by a quarter in a year. But there is also another way to look at the meeting between Estonian and Chinese high officials. International analysts have noticed how China has actively intensified cooperation with 16 Eastern, Baltic, and Central European countries. It has generated extensive criticism and concerns among EU institutions and Western European member states. Estonian officials, not surprisingly though, have talked about these recent agreements with the Chinese government as if it was a success story where Estonians proved to be great diplomats and good food producers. In reality, the fact that China has chosen to open their market to Estonian businesses is not an accident and probably part of China’s plan to increase their influence in the region. All the Baltic states have seen this in recent years.


In recent weeks, Estonian political culture reminds me of Germany during the first half of the 20th century. Estonian Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner Liisa Pakosta made this shockingly honest statement on Estonia’s public broadcasting primetime show Esimene Stuudio. She explained that members of the governing conservative party EKRE aggressively encourage people to exert pressure on minorities. This situation is new for Estonia. For the past few weeks one of the governing parties EKRE has been attacking the LGBT community. For example, last week EKRE members organised a protest against Estonia’s LGBT community. The party wants the government to stop funding local LGBT organisation. Also a foundation for the Protection of the Family and Tradition, a self-proclaimed traditional family rights pressure group, has started many public petitions to stop funding the LGBT organisation. The Institute of Society Studies that claims to be just a research centre, even made a poll on whether Estonia should keep funding it, even though the organisation does not receive a regularly state funding, but has to apply for the money based on  projects. Estonia saw many quite progressive steps in recent years. For example, same sex couples can register their partnership in Estonia, which makes it the only Eastern European country where you can do that. There are regular parades organised and there haven’t been any serious attacks. Analysts are concluding that maybe the progressive changes appeared too fast for Estonia’s post-Soviet society.



Around four thousand healthcare workers protested in front of the parliament, Saeima on Thursday, November 7. The action was named “One day without medics” and organized by the Latvian Trade Union of Health and Social Care Employees and supported by The Latvian Junior Doctors Association and medical students, physicians and other medical practitioners. Protesters indicated that the fight is not about their wages, but the state of healthcare in Latvia in general, chanting “Health for Latvia!” They all came out, because before the formation of the current government, the parliament promised, and even defined in law, that the budget increase for salaries in the industry would be 120 million euros in 2020. But instead the industry received an increase of almost three times less than promised. Just before the protest the government diverted an additional 18 million euros after reviewing profit outlooks for Latvian State Forests and Bank of Latvia, as well as putting off the opening of an embassy in Australia. But the medics were not ready to compromise. Latvia spends three percent less of its GDP on healthcare compared to the average spending in Europe, and every fifth Latvian medical student continues their profession in other countries with better pay, work environment and professional growth conditions. More protests are to follow and, if additional funding is not received, they will call for dissemination of the parliament.


One of the highest-profile trials in Latvian history happened on November 4. Central bank governor and European Central Bank governing council member Ilmārs Rimšēvičs appeared in court, alongside Latvian businessman Maris Martinsons. Both men are facing charges of corruption and money-laundering, but Latvia’s court system is notoriously slow and indecisive when it comes to cases involving high-profile figures and corruption allegations. On arrival at the hearing, Rimšēvičs – arrested by anti-corruption officers in February 2018 – repeated his denials that he had ever accepted bribes and maintained his innocence. Rimšēvičs’s lawyer believes that his client, the central bank governor, has immunity from criminal proceedings, criminal prosecution and criminal charges. This is why he decided to ask Riga District Court in Jurmala to turn to the European Court of Justice so that it can make a pre-judicial decision on this matter. Other examples of high-profile trials that are still ongoing are cases against high-flying businessmen Kārlis Miķelsons and Ugis Magonis, who were both arrested on suspicion of taking bribes, one of them in 2010, the other on 2015. Cases against them have been ongoing for several years without conclusion. The most notorious case of all, involving Ventspils mayor and Greens and Farmers’ Union well known figure Aivars Lembergs, is now comfortably moving into its second decade.

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The Polish oil and petrol company Orlen received discounts from Lithuania’s Government in exchange for support of basketball clubs. The clubs are owned by the people linked to the Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis. This is what the has recently reported. Lithuanian branch of Poland’s state-controlled oil refining and petrol retailing giant is enjoying the smaller railway freight rates and has favourable conditions in the state electricity reserve auctions in Lithuania. For this, Orlen financially supported the Rytas and Lietkabelis basketball clubs as well as the Regional Basketball League. All these organizations are owned by the businesspeople allegedly connected to the Prime Minister Skvernelis. This would make it the biggest corruption case in decades also involving highest Government officials of two states. Skvernelis had held unannounced meetings with Polish politicians earlier this year. Subsequently he received the Man of the Year award at the Polish Krynica Economic Forum. In September, Skvernelis also initiated the nomination of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party, for a top Lithuanian state award. After the report was published, Skvernelis has cynically denied that Lithuanian government granted controversial concessions to Poland’s oil group Orlen and rejected the news as deliberate lies. 


The UN is about to criticise Lithuania for how the government is handling discrimination of women. The Lithuania’s periodic report was presented at the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women on October 31. One of the committee members, who happens to be Lithuanian, Dalia Leinartė published her critical opinion. Currently Lithuania’s Parliament is considering the amendment of the law which would make involving a third person – a mediator – in conflicts that occur within families obligatory starting from 2020. Leinarte says that mediation is the wrong tool and will not stop domestic violence. According to her attempting to solve the conflict behind closed doors is the practice mostly applied in muslim countires. It basically means that the victim of the violence is trained how to live with the culprit, but not defended from him. Today Lithuania is reluctant to ratify Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Populist government denounced the convention as the instrument of “genderism” propaganda that will undermine the traditional gender roles. Such message helps to consolidate conservative voters and mask the problem that has already grown out of proportion. Around 80 percent of appeals to police about the domestic violence do not reach pre-trial investigation. The situation is being ignored by all branches of government the recent addition being the newly elected President. On November 1, his wife Diana Nausėdienė joined the crowd of family values promoters in their cause to ban abortions and lit a candle for “unborn babies’.


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