Pro-Moscow groups have launched websites for a so-called Latgale Peoples Republic in southeastern Latvia and a so-called Vilnius Peoples Republic around the capital of Lithuania, steps that represent no real movements in either case but that create serious problems for the governments of the two countries.
On the one hand, if Riga and Vilnius dismiss these actions as inventions, that will likely trigger a nationalist backlash among some members of the titular nationalities, thus creating or exacerbating relations among the ethnic groups of those countries and under mining social cohesion.
And on the other, if the Latvian and Lithuanian governments come down hard on these Internet developments, many in Moscow will present such overreactions as evidence that these regimes are not the stable democracies their EU and NATO allies know them to be and thus call into question the support these regimes enjoy in the West now.
Because Moscow or at least the Putin regime wins if either of these things happen, it is almost certain that these pages were launched not by homegrown minorities who may see the Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples democracies” as a model but by the Russian backers of those ideas whose paymasters view them as a means of destabilizing Russia’s neighbors.
To date, as the Delfi news agency reports, Latvia and Lithuania are carefully watching these sites but not overreacting in the way many in Moscow may hope for (rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/pb-proveryaet-rasprostranenie-v-socsetyah-idei-latgalskoj-narodnoj-respubliki.d?id=45513230 and ru.delfi.lt/archive/print.php?id=67035662).
The Latvian security police point out that the Latgale site is promoting secession and thus benefits Russia rather than Latvia, and Edgar Trusevic, a leader of the Polish community of Lithuania in the name of which the “Wileńska Republika Ludowa” site has been launched, views this site as a Russian provocation with which no one in Lithuania would have anything to do.
Yet another indication that Moscow is behind both these measures is the media campaign about these two sites and the response of the two Baltic governments that has begun in the Russian capital. For an example of this, which also includes citations to other articles, see politobzor.net/show-43230-v-socsetyah-obsuzhdayut-narodnye-respubliki-v-latvii-i-litve.html.
Also suggestive of Russia’s direct involvement with these sites is an article by Anton Grishanov, a Moscow analyst, who argues that the Donetsk and Luhansk peoples republics constitute a new model of secession as a form of integration that can and should be extended elsewhere (actualcomment.ru/embrion-donbasskoy-diplomatii.html).
Although no analogous page has yet been launched for some entity in Estonia, those behind such ideas have not forgotten the northernmost Baltic country: This week, the Donetsk Peoples Republic appealed to predominantly Russian-speaking city of Narva in northeastern Estonia for assistance against what it said were Kyiv’s “crimes.”
Despite Narva’s status as a sister city of Donetsk, the city government turned them down flat saying that “there is no mandate to open communications with the new powers,” although one city official, Vyacheslav Konovalov, indicated that Narva might be ready to help the population in Ukraine (news.err.ee/v/politics/39e38599-4bc1-4c80-aa97-f870b56dc120).
By Paul Goble, Window of Eurasia