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  • The Baltic Republics, Russia, and Energy: From Dependency to Interdependence?
  • Walter C. Clemens Jr. (bio)

Challenge and response. How societies meet challenges can determine how they live—indeed, whether they survive. 1 Many ancient societies organized their life around the control of water, for irrigation and flood control. 2 Modern societies, too, tap water for energy, but they also utilize oil and other resources to meet the power demands of industrial and post-industrial civilization. 3

In international relations, energy is both a policy tool and an object. States that possess or control abundant energy have a lever to promote a variety of goals. Energy have-nots, by contrast, may find themselves the targets of exploitation by energy haves. The complex balance of energy endowments in the former Soviet Union is a significant factor in relations between Russia and the three Baltic republics—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This essay, however, points to a surprising conclusion: in energy matters, as in many issues of environmental protection and economic development, the parties are interdependent. The Balts need Russia, but Russia also needs the Balts. Exploitation and dependency can be and are giving way to cooperation for mutual gain. Myopia and anger, however, may still lead to pain for either or both parties.

All Soviet republics depended heavily on the power apparatus in Moscow. They looked to the Kremlin, inter alia, for decisions on how to allocate and utilize most forms of energy and other [End Page 190] resources. The three Baltic republics, especially Latvia and Estonia, were rapidly industrialized under Soviet rule and needed fuel imports to keep their engines racing; all depended heavily on Russian energy sources for heating, electricity, and transportation. In 1990, Estonia produced 51 percent of the energy it consumed; Latvia, 8 percent; and Lithuania, 25 percent. Russia, a net exporter, generated 141 percent. 4 The dependency of the Baltic republics upon the center was magnified by their energy needs.

A second source of Kremlin influence was that Latvia and Estonia contained a higher percentage of Slavic-speaking settlers than most other Soviet republics. Russians and Balts who had lived in Russia played dominant roles in the Communist Party and managerial leadership of both countries. Slavic-speaking workers were imported to operate Soviet-era factories. Many settlers in Latvia and Estonia regarded themselves as Soviet or Russian or Ukrainian rather than as Latvian or Estonian. Less industrialized Lithuania had relatively few eastern Slavs on its territory, though it had a substantial Polish-speaking population dating from earlier times.

The third lever of Soviet control of the Baltic was the huge Soviet military presence there. The Baltic region was more militarized than most parts of the USSR, and most Soviet officers and troops there had no kinship with Balts.

Despite Moscow’s many control levers, Balts played an important role in undermining the entire Soviet system. 5 The Gorbachev regime achieved only modest success in its carrot-and-stick use of energy supplies and military force to discourage Baltic deviance in 1989 to 1991. 6 Following the attempted coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, the USSR recognized the independence of each Baltic republic in September 1991.

Still, given the Baltic region’s multifaceted dependency on Russia, many observers doubted that the three Baltic republics could endure as independent states unless they bowed to Moscow’s dictates. Reliant upon relatively cheap fuel from Russia since the late 1940s, would they not be compelled to accept Russian dictation in the 1990s?

How Balts Resist Dependency

Post-Soviet Russia in the early 1990s used many of the same tactics employed by the Gorbachev regime toward the Baltic region earlier. Russia released and suspended energy shipments to the Baltic republics in a quest to induce their compliance with Russian wishes [End Page 191] or punish their defiance. Thus, Russia pressured Lithuania in 1992 and 1993 by suspending crude oil shipments and by reducing and then halting all natural gas exports. 7 Russia also made it difficult for the Baltic states to pay their energy import bills, for example by demanding payment in hard currency at near world market prices for its oil, natural gas, and nuclear fuel exports to Lithuania. 8 Latvia’s...

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pp. 190-208
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