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Noted analyst and American expert on Soviet affairs, Paul Goble, highlights challenges and difficulties that the Baltic States still face during the 20th anniversary of restoration of their independence.

Goble believes that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are confronted with three impossible challenges – small territories, geographic location and demography, writes The Economist/LETA.

“Let us be blunt: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are small countries. Therefore there are three obvious consequences. First of all, they have little margin for error. Secondly, they are typically dependent on others. And finally, they are often ignored or their interests sacrificed by other countries in the name of reaching agreement with larger and “more important” states,” points out Goble.

“The second permanent condition is geography. Late Estonian President Lennart Meri liked to say that he would rather have Canada for a neighbor. However, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania cannot choose their neighbors, and to be fair, they live in what is a notoriously bad neighborhood, one where their interests have been ignored or trampled on by others,” explains Goble.

“Unfortunately, there is little sign that the neighborhood is getting better despite all the hopes of 20 years ago. On the one hand, some of the Europeans in whom the Baltic leaders and peoples put so much confidence have proved to be indifferent or worse, sometimes publicly telling the Balts and other East Europeans to keep their mouths shut and far more often pursuing their own traditional national interests at Baltic expense, especially when it comes to energy supplies from the Russian Federation.”

“On the other hand, the situation in Russia is deteriorating and deteriorating rapidly. Not only do few in the Russian Federation accept the settlement of 1991 as legitimate and final, but many in that country are openly attracted by radical nationalism verging in some cases on fascism, especially as it becomes obvious that the Russian Federation is at risk of collapse and disintegration in the near future. Because that is so, the coming disintegration of that country is likely to be more violent and bloody than was the end of the USSR, a trend that will have a serious and frightening impact on the neighbors as well,” points out Goble.

“The Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008 and the West’s half-hearted opposition to that suggest to many in the Russian capital that “a good little war” is just what they need to generate domestic support and put off if not prevent disintegration. There is no guarantee that Moscow will not try this strategy again, especially if it is handed a plausible casus belli by neighboring states, even if it will ultimately be a disaster for Russia itself.”

“Saakashvili behaved foolishly, but Russia’s Vladimir Putin behaved criminally. That needs to be accepted. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many in the West, foolishness is the greater crime, especially if there is this kind of power imbalance. And that is something smaller powers need always to be remember.” emphasizes Goble.

According to Goble, the third impossible challenge is demography.

“When people talk about demographic problems in the Baltic countries, they almost inevitably focus on only one of them: the difficulties of coping with the consequences of the Soviet occupation on the ethnic and linguistic make up of their populations. For Lithuania, these problems have been minimal, but for Estonia and Latvia they have been extremely serious. Ensuring that all the residents of these countries speak the national language and that those who came under the conditions of occupation pass through a process of integration both legal and psychological has been difficult, but the reality is that both Tallinn and Riga have achieved wonders, especially given the pressure they have been under from Russia and the West to ignore the fundamental and internationally recognized right of occupied countries not to offer citizenship to those moved in by the occupying authorities.”

“The reality is that today, 20 years after the recovery of Baltic independence, the ethnic composition of the population is NOT the most important demographic problem there. There are now three more significant ones – hollowing out of the countries, the departure of the young, and “the revenge of the middle aged”, explains Goble.