What You Need To Know:
✅ Baltic States will either benefit or lose from improved U.S.-Russian relations;
✅ There is “less concern about the values – liberal or conservative – and more about the [U.S.] policy towards Russia;”
✅ With Trump in power, Andzans fears that NATO could review the decision to deploy troops to the Baltics and Poland;
✅ “Baltic states are quite unanimous when it comes to NATO and when it comes to the strategic partnership with the United States of America.”
Maris Andzans, Research Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, is hopeful that the “Baltic States will not be sold by the new administration.” Given that Russia plays a huge role in Latvian domestic policy, he explains that the Baltic States will either benefit or lose from improved U.S.-Russian relations. There is “less concern about the values – liberal or conservative – and more about the policy towards Russia.”
Andzans states that in regards to NATO, 2016 was a successful year for the Baltics until the Warsaw Summit. With Trump in power, Andzans fears that NATO could review the decision to deploy troops to the Baltics and Poland.
Part of the Trump’s concern is that the U.S. is spending too much money to protect other countries in NATO. Andzans confirms that Estonia is the only Baltic country spending 2.2% of their budget, while Latvia and Lithuania are still not spending enough. Nevertheless, the “Baltic states are quite unanimous when it comes to NATO and when it comes to the strategic partnership with the United States of America.”
Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Maris Andzans, Research Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs via Skype on January 22, 2017 in Kyiv.
Maris, what are the concerns of the Baltics and Latvia, in particular?
There are many concerns; it it still quite unclear what will Trump will do in Europe and with NATO. For the Baltics, it was a very successful year, especially in Warsaw at the NATO Summit, where it was decided that 1 000 troops will be put in almost every Baltic state and Poland.
NATO summit at Warsaw, Poland, 08/07/2016. Photo credit: HROMADSKE
Now there are talks... The decision might be revisited because the U.S. are the biggest spenders on defense in NATO. Currently, approximately 150 soldiers--American soldiers-- are in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and additional troops are coming from Germany. Latvians hope that the troops reach Latvia and stay for a while, and that Trump will not change the Obama-created policy.
NATO is the biggest issue, if you speak about the Baltics. As Trump repeatedly stated, “Some countries aren’t paying what they should.” Is there a difference in the views of Latvia versus other Baltic States? At the end, do Baltic States agree to pay NATO fees?
The Baltic States are quite unanimous when it comes to strategic partnerships with the U.S. To be fair, only Estonia’s defense budget is approximately 2.2% this year, so the NATO guideline is 2% but Latvia and Lithuania are still not spending enough; Latvia and Lithuania will spend 2% from the next year only. So what Mr. Trump now does is complain that only Estonia from the Baltic States complies with NATO demands.
If Trump asks for a bigger percent, Latvia and Lithuania might not be able to meet the minimum requirement. If we look at his inaugural speech and the information available on the website it would be “America first” “fight with radical terrorism” “Islamic terrorism”.
Russia is a huge factor in domestic policies, especially in Latvia where many speak Russian. What is the discussion in Latvia within different parts of society?
I think the U.S. election is something that now has been discussed in every kitchen, not only in the Baltics but beyond. I think there’s less concern about the values, the liberal or conservative values but more about the policies on Russia: what would be the policy of the U.S. towards Russia after Trump takes office and of course, the worst case scenario is the relationship being reset, similarly to what Obama’s Administration tried in 2009. That is the main concern. It is quite clear that the lobby will be reset between the U.S. and Russia, but it’s not clear what would be the rules. Will we benefit or will we lose from this “reset”? It’s quite clear that the Trump administration will probably try to negotiate some kind of deal on Syria with Russia and will try to employ the capabilities of Putin to combat “Islamic radicals” but what will be asked in return as a payment, by Russia… probably it will be something linked to the Post-Soviet space. Ukraine and Georgia will not have easy days, but there’s hope the Baltic States will not be sold to the new administration.