The Baltic Region in a New Reality: From Cooperation to Conflict
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On February 9, the Valdai Club held an expert discussion titled “The Baltic Region: What Will the Unprecedented Militarisation Lead to?” Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, acted as moderator and asked the participants whether cooperation in the region has ceased forever, and whether it is in Russia’s interests to do something to bring it back to the regional agenda.

Alexander Grushko, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, emphasised that the geopolitical ambitions of the West have turned the recently calm and peaceful Baltic region into an arena of military competition. “I think everyone is dreaming now of the times of former boredom,” he said. Giving a brief historical outline of the formation of a security system in the region in the context of the development of arms control, Grushko demonstrated how the destructive activities of NATO led to a turn from building regional security on the principles of restraint to the militarisation of the region and its involvement in the military construction of the North Atlantic Alliance. “This is a new reality that forces us to take appropriate military-technical precautions,” the diplomat admitted.

Igor Istomin, Leading Research Fellow  at the Center for Advanced American Studies, MGIMO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, called the recent history of the Baltic region an example of the transformation from cooperation with Russia into a new locus of conflict. He noted that countries that until recently sought to act as intermediaries and points of rapprochement are now at the forefront of the anti-Russian agenda. Istomin also pointed to the duality of NATO's policy: on the one hand, the alliance considers a direct clash with Russia a catastrophic scenario, but, on the other hand, the countries of the Baltic region, which have taken a hardline anti-Russian position, constantly provoke Russia and try to induce other members of the bloc to do so, which poses a risk of escalation.

Swedish political scientist Gregory Simons, describing Stockholm’s current course of action, noted that Sweden has moved away from its tradition of neutrality and, as a result, has turned from a subject of international relations into an object. The same, he said, applies to Finland. He emphasised that the Western-centric world order is increasingly filled with ideological, messianic conflicts with the interests of the non-Western world, which is becoming more and more pragmatic. Within the framework of this world order, the United States seeks to make European countries completely dependent on itself. Simons believes that the proxy conflict in Ukraine is also aimed at this. Only political means will help end the confrontation, he is convinced, but in this escalation everyone is afraid of losing face and therefore cannot take the first step.

Konstantin Khudolei, Head of the Department of European Studies at the Faculty of International Relations at St Petersburg University, considers the situation in the region to be at its most unfavourable and alarming since the end of World War II. He noted that a serious shift has taken place in the political elites and societies of Finland and Sweden, making the entry of these countries into the North Atlantic Alliance almost inevitable. In his opinion, this will create a situation in the Baltic region similar to the one that developed after the Second World War in the Elbe region, threatening to lead to significant militarization and a general aggravation of tension. In addition, this will strengthen NATO's position in the Arctic. It is unlikely that former regional cooperation will be restored against this background; however, it is possible that in the future it will be possible to build new ties based on a new platform.