Tension Increases Between Russia and Its Neighbors
Policy + Politics

Tension Increases Between Russia and Its Neighbors

Russia’s increasingly tense relationship with its neighbors in Europe worsened last week with a series of diplomatic, political and economic exchanges that highlighted the complex dynamics at work in Eastern Europe.

Early last week, according to state-run news agency Interfax, Russia’s Prosecutor General reportedly began examining the “legality” of the former United Soviet Socialist Republics’ 1991 decision to recognize the independence of the three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The report came just a week after the Russian government declared the 1954 recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea unconstitutional.

Related: Why Vladimir Putin Wants Texas to Secede from the U.S.

The latter was seen by many as a retroactive justification for the Russian invasion of Crimea last year and the “annexation” of the region months later.

This, understandably, made many in the three Baltic nations nervous. Russia has been increasingly aggressive in the region, sending fighter planes, bombers, and naval assets close to and sometimes into the territory of its smaller neighbors.

The Baltic Republics, however, are all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which means an attack on them is considered an attack on all NATO members, including the United States. This point was noted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, who on said it was “raving nonsense” to think that Russia would consider attacking a NATO-aligned country.

"We are talking about an elephant and a pug, a behemoth and a house cat,” Ivanov said, according to government-run Sputnik News. “That is the comparability of our military budgets. We have very different military assets, but the most important question is, ‘Why would we do this?’ Do you seriously think that we want to unleash war with NATO? Are we suicidal?”

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By Wednesday, the prosecutors’ office had walked back the possibility of declaring the recognition of the Baltic Republics illegal. However, it wasn’t the end of the week’s tension with Russia’s neighbors. Talks between Moscow and Ukraine regarding natural gas shipments broke down, and Russia stopped the flow of natural gas to its Western neighbor.

The talks, complicated by the invasion of Crimea and Russia’s support for rebels in Eastern Ukraine that have been fighting to separate from the Kiev government and be annexed by Russia, fell apart amid pricing disagreements. Russia argued that in the midst of a price slump for energy, it could not longer offer Ukraine a discount on natural gas.

Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom, said, “Gazprom will not supply gas to Ukraine at any price without pre-payment.”

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Negotiations are expected to resume at some point, though Ukraine is in a better position to bargain in the summer than it will be later in the year, as winter approaches and gas use soars.

Finally, in another diplomatic dustup, Russia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday confirmed that Finland had refused entry visas to six members of the Russian Parliament, who had been scheduled to attend a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Among the six were three high-ranking members of the Russian legislature, including Russian State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin, Leonid Slutsky and Alexey Pushkov, who chair key committees relevant to Russian relations with Europe.

All three men are on European Union sanctions lists drawn up after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russian officials have regularly denounced the sanctions as a measure imposed on the EU by the United States. On Wednesday, the speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house denounced the move, calling it indicative of the EU member states’ loss of autonomy.

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“We are very disappointed by this decision,” said Speaker Valentina Matviyenko. “We are upset as this once again stresses that the EU countries, under the guise of the so-called solidarity, have lost sovereignty and lost independence.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry likewise blasted the move, summoning the Finnish ambassador to the Kremlin and declaring, “EU decisions cannot justify Finland’s departure from international commitments when the country is hosting the annual session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.”

The blow-up occurred while Russian President Vladimir Putin was reportedly on vacation in Siberia, and there was no public comment from his office.

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