This is just a sneak peek from Morgane’s feature in SCENARIO 05:2015. If you are not a current subscriber to SCENARIO or a member of The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, then subscribe or get in touch with us here.
Looking ahead at the next 10 years, the three countries share a great deal of uncertainty, and the awareness that the future of Russian-Western relations will affect them on an existential level. We explore four possible scenarios that would impact the geopolitical and security situation in the Baltic countries.
Scenario 1: Russia gets bold
Imagine that Russia weathers the economic storm, finds stable sources of liquidity, manages to become less dependent on fossil fuel exports, and successfully upgrades its military; that a strong ruling elite continues to govern on the same premises as today and with a similar popular support – in short, that Russia can, in the next 10 years, still afford to behave as a global player with leverage. Meanwhile, imagine that, in the short term, the ‘blame game’ escalates, that Western countries send arms or troops to Ukraine and that all the attempts at reaching a truce in Ukraine fail.
Leaders usually find it hard to change course when they have been consistently calling for confrontation. For the Western leaders who have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin on moral grounds, it is difficult to reconcile without losing face. In Russia, Putin has built his power on a warrior-saviour persona, which thrives in a conflictual environment. These factors facilitate entrenchment in conflict.
On the medium term, tension would spread. Feeling pushed in a corner and considering attack as the best form of defence, an uninhibited Russia might call all-in, annex neighbours, push offensives in the Arctic or in space, even threaten to go nuclear. On the other side of the fault line, the proponents of a tough stance toward Russia would be able to claim that they were right – and policy would follow, giving in to escalation.
In the Baltic countries, the Russian army is not the only perceived threat. The ‘enemy from the interior’ is a strikingly ubiquitous motive in conversations. Respectively a fourth and a third of the population in Estonia and Latvia is ethnically Russian.
Wandering through Eastern Latvia, however, where a lot of the ethnic Russians live, you realize that, while Putin is not an unpopular figure there, people are grateful for the quality of life that they enjoy by being in the EU. Pro-Russian separatism
In the Baltics might be much less actual than Catalan or Scottish separatism, or other European problems like nationalism and populism – provided that Russian minorities not be pushed in Putin’s arms by being ostracized in their own countries. Now for the European Union, war in the Baltics between, say, NATO and Russia, would be catastrophic. Europe would have to learn again what it means to be on a front line.
Scenario 2: Business as usual – but…
In European governmental circles, it is good form to say that resuming ‘business- as-usual’ with Russia is out of the question, even after the current crisis has passed. It seems reasonable to predict that heads will cool down if a diplomatic solution with Putin’s regime is reached, and this seems to be the stance of the French and German heads of states.
Many argue that compromise is more desirable than a win-lose outcome. But in the present case, there is no compromise without at least some losers. The opposing forces in Ukraine have fundamentally irreconcilable agendas – they can’t both win. External parties to the crisis, however, are not in that case. They do share interests – and it rests upon them to refuse to enter a ‘New Cold War’.
In case of reconciliation between the West and Russia’s current regime, we can expect somewhat normalized relations. Economic and financial flows will resume, although the West might have lost some of its dominance over the Russian economy,
And Russia, some of its dominance over Europe’s energy supplies. The Baltic States have already turned to other sources of energy, such as American liquid natural gas. A good guess is that they will never be as dependent on Russian energy as Ukraine desperately is.
Certainly, the cheerful post-war discourses will not be heard anymore. Cooperation between Russia and the West on a number of pressing international issues will be impeded. There will be more pressure, amongst governing elites and populations, to take permanent precaution measures against Russia. Russia will probably keep surrounding its plans with ambiguity, leaving the Baltic populations in a tiring state of uncertainty.
Many experts agree that the next few decades’ challenge will not be to cope with a resurgent Russia, but to handle a slowly decaying and all the more unpredictable one. This view implies that Russia’s involvement in Ukraine is something like a swan song. Security expert at Copenhagen institute for futures Studies, Dr Adam Svendsen, warns of the possibility that Russia become a ‘spoiler’ – the kind of state that projects its failure and frustration by sabotaging others’ enterprises, even if it does not push for direct confrontation. So, if re- conciliation is reached, it better be done right, because lingering frustrations make the best terrain for pop-up crises.
Scenario 3: Russia goes rogue