On Thursday President Dalia Grybauskaitė met with Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, during her visit to Lithuania, to discuss preparations for the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius as well as other EU foreign policy and defence issues. It’s been a busy week for the Eastern Partnership, after the EU was blindsided by the announcement that Armenia would be joining Russia’s Customs Union over the EU. Meanwhile, Syria is causing friction between Russia and the Baltics. How does all of this fit together? Let’s observe…
Let’s start with Lithuania…
Of her meeting with EU representative Catherine Ashton, President Grybauskaitė explained:
“Lithuania is preparing intensively and very responsibly for the Vilnius Summit which will be held in November. It is one of the largest and most important events of the Lithuanian EU Presidency. This summit can open a new phase and new opportunities for interaction between the European Union and Eastern neighbors. To this end, we need active engagement and close cooperation among Eastern partners, EU member states and EU institutions.”
The summit, already eagerly awaited since the beginning of the year, has become the subject of even more focus in recent weeks. With Armenia’s seemingly snap decision to ally with Russia’s customs union, after what appeared to be smooth progress towards signing the free trade agreement with the EU in November. Speculation now abounds as to who else might butter their bread on the Russian side–as Russia tries to persuade through pressure tactics on trade with Ukraine and Moldova. As well as an escalating battle with Belarus.
— Dalia Grybauskaitė (@Grybauskaite_LT) September 5, 2013
— LT EU Presidency (@EU2013LT) September 5, 2013
The other Baltic connection…
Ashton’s visit to Lithuania comes days after the leaders of the Baltic countries gathered with President Obama at the White House as part of a NATO-related meeting. On the agenda for the four heads of state was the discussions of a broad range of issues, including regional security cooperation, energy security, cyber-security, defense cooperation, the future of NATO, and Russia’s role in the region. The meeting came in tandem with some bizarre and inflammatory remarks from some Russian analysts about retaliating against the Baltics, should NATO attack Syria.
Russian political scientist, Mikhail Aleksandrov, caused waves in the last few days after airing his suggestions for retaliation should NATO decide to attack Syria:
“Previously I have suggested that if NATO attacks Syria, we need to more our military forces to the Caucasus region. However, now the situation has changed, Russia has to impact there, where it will have a clear strategic advantage, i.e. the Baltic States.”
“Russia must clearly show to the West that for the aggression against Syria, they will have to pay dearly. So, Russia has to impact there, where it has a clear strategic advantage, i.e. the Baltic States. As in the Caribbean crisis, Russia has to raise the dilemma for the West: if you are attacking Syria in violation of the international law, we occupy the Baltic States.”
According to Aleksandrov, re-occupying the Baltic States would likely prove to be a relatively easy task:
“I think that the Russian forces could enter the Baltic States with minimal damages or perhaps even without damages. Unless someone by his own stupidity would fall under the tanks, as it was in 1991. Moreover, I think that half of Estonia’s and Latvia’s population would meet the Russian military with the flowers, as it was in 1940.”
Right on the heels of the meeting of the American and Baltic Presidents was the gathering of the Nordic and Baltic Foreign Ministers in Visby, Sweden. The discussion of the ministers included, among other things, the Eastern Partnership and the Syria crisis.
The Ministers of the eight countries issued a joint statement, expressing their firm support for the objectives of the EU Eastern Partnership policy and acknowledging the important results achieved so far. The Ministers express full support to the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November. The initialing of the DCFTA will be possible provided that Ukraine demonstrates tangible progress in the three key areas set out by the EU Council Conclusions of December 2012.
The ministers also expressed the hope that Moldova, Georgia and Armenia would sign the agreement. This was of course, just hours before the announcement that Armenia would, by default, not be signing.
From Russia with…Love?
As Ashton met with Grybauskaitė today, President Putin welcomed world leaders to St. Petersburg, as this year’s G20 chair. Putin kick started the meeting with an ominous message about a looming economic recession:
“We would be premature to sit back and relax. We need to return to re-establishing world economic growth”.
Putin asked the leaders to abstain from discussing Syria until further on in the G20 summit meeting–as it is a topic which is sure to dominate the proceedings. With Russia offering to invade the Baltics if the U.S. intervenes in Syria, it should be an interesting conversation. Watch this space.
Does this handshake between Obama and Putin seem awkward to you? http://t.co/oN8NV1u0ST
— PostTV (@PostTV) September 5, 2013