Throughout time the Baltic region has been a devastating mixing pot of religion, war, and social conquest, and the recent stabilisation of the Baltic states may not last in the near future.
It was only when the great Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991 that the nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia broke free of their socialist iron shackles, the economic collapse of the USSR allowing all annexed territories to regain their freedom. However, after nearly 27 years there is reason for worry because of recent Russian ambitions to invade previous Soviet territory; one example of this was in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, another in 2014 when they invaded Ukraine. Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia was ‘forced’ into taking back Crimea from Ukraine, when he said in a supposed meeting before the invasion, “We are forced to begin the work to bring Crimea back into Russia”. The reason Putin supposedly said this was because Ukraine’s president (who was pro-Russian) had just been illegally kicked from power, but it seems a little strange that Russia needed to take control of nearly a whole landmass. Ludicrous comments like this show why there is a chance that in the next 20 years the Baltic states may be Russian states. While the Baltics may have a miniscule population and economy compared to Russia, they are strategically important. Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania all take up substantial portions of the land next to the Baltic Sea. Additionally, the coastal areas are near Poland, Germany, Norway, and Denmark who are all NATO members, which could be seen as threat to Russian defence capabilities because Moscow and St Petersburg are so close to the Western border. If Russia had the Baltic states it would put an extra barrier between the Western NATO members and the Russian motherland.
So what could save the Baltic states in the next 20 years? One major guard against the might of Russia is NATO. NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that comprises 28 member nations and includes some of the world’s finest militaries, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and Canada. NATO’s official job is the security of the region including Article 5, a proclamation signed in 1949 that, “the Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”. This year British troops arrived in Estonia as part of the agreement to protect each other’s borders, but while it seems great to have the protection of foreign troops, my doubts come from the will to fight. Why would a Dutch or Canadian solider who has no problem with the Russians want to risk being killed in a foreign land that has very little resources or population? The Russians have thousands of nuclear weapons and military hardware that could cause doubt in any mind. What is stopping these foreign troops retreating home? Fortunately, NATO has never been put in such a situation so I can’t truly say that would happen. NATO has actually done a fantastic job at protecting its members, including the Baltic states: just this year the German Air Force dispatched four fighter planes to patrol the Baltic region.
The Baltic States’ independence could also be protected by Russia’s economy. While the Russian stereotype of being strong and powerful does seem motivational, it does not pay the bills. That was one of the main reasons the USSR collapsed: they couldn’t control their economy. Today Russia is coming back from economic sanctions and has home-grown business problems. Additionally, Russia’s largest export is oil, but that doesn’t last forever and other nations also have larges sources of the material. For instance, Saudi Arabia, Canada and the United States all export copious amounts of oil globally, causing price wars and flooding the market. This could cause more income to be diverted from the Russian military to other government programs, such as finance and industry.
From what I know I believe the Baltic states can remain independent, however with only a population of 6.12 million combined they must want that freedom if they are to retain their independence.