Politics of Energy and Memory between the Baltic States and Russia

Book Review

Reviewer: Anya Gromilova

Publisher: Ashgate ISBN: 9781409446538
Author's page: Agnia Grigas

Politics of Energy and Memory between the Baltic States and Russia

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The bookThe Politics of Energy and Memory between the Baltic States and Russia offers as in-depth and penetrative look into the three former Soviet Baltic Republics’ foreign policy towards Russia from 1994 to present day. Grigas focuses primarily on the domestic variables of policy making in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in order to dismantle the conventional approach to studies of the Baltic-Russian relations. The author argues against simplistic narratives such as the common perception that the Kremlin is the only actor with the power to make decisions, while the Baltic policymakers are mere responders that accept this dominance. Moving beyond this, the author advocates a more multidimensional and multiplayer vision of the shaping of policies in the Baltics since their breakaway from the Soviet Union.

In order to compare Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian policies towards Russia in different issue areas, the book elucidates four specific case studies. The first two are focused on the oil and gas sectors and the latter two explore the non-economic issue areas that are prominent in the Baltic-Russian relations, addressing the policies of the Baltic states towards the legacy of the Soviet occupation - the Victory Day commemorations and the Baltic pursuits of compensation for Soviet occupation. Providing a thorough depiction of the on-going changes of the domestic political contexts in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, this book challenges the dominance of the ethnic factor in explaining the Baltic foreign policies towards Moscow. It offers numerous examples to illustrate that despite the controversies around the significant Russophone minority in its territory, Estonia was much more cooperative and pragmatic towards Moscow when compared to Lithuania (where the number of the Russian speakers is low and never sparked conflict, but the pursued policies were the most hostile and adversarial towards Moscow). Shifting the focus from the ethnic factor, Grigas invites the reader to include other, often underestimated, variables of policy making in the Baltics such as the behavior of the domestic incumbent political parties or the compelling influence of the Baltic business elites in order to shed light on the complex and multidimensional nature of foreign policy making in different sectors and across different time periods. Moreover, it reveals major vulnerabilities that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are still facing and stresses above all the urgent need for the three Baltic countries to improve their energy predicament and diversify their supplies.

Grigas’ book is timely, coming out approximately one year before the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and the up-following Crimea’s secession, events that have put questions of energy security back on the top of the European agenda. In the Baltic States, the course of Russian actions in Ukraine naturally unleashed all sort of fears. There are common threads that run through the positions of Baltic States and Ukraine vis-à-vis Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union – including geographical proximity, legacy of dependence, complex ethnic composition, and questions of energy security . All these common elements have given rise to the fears that the Baltic States might be “next” on Putin’s list when it comes to “protection of Russian compatriots”. Although so far such fears have proved to be unfounded, the Ukrainian crisis might mark a watershed in policy-making in the Baltics towards Russia whose credibility as a reliable partner in Europe is arguably at the lowest point at the moment. It is this conflictive point that makes Grigas’ main normative suggestion that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania should decrease its dependence on Russia particularly valuable. However, Girgas notes that this dependence does not only include the energy sector but other sectors as well. For example, Russian retaliation against the EU’s sanctions have shown that Baltic states’ economies that are largely accounted for by agricultural trade with Russia were hit the hardest in the EU. Finding the lingua franca with Russia in the Putin era is not easy and this book does a great job of explaining the peculiar and complex position of the Baltic States when it comes to dependency and security in this regard.

2019 - Volume 13 Issue 3