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Russian-speakers stand around the statue of a Red Army soldier protesting against the Estonian government’s plan to move it, Tallinn, Estonia, April 22, 2007 (AP photo by Timur Nisametdinov).

Compatriot Games: Russian-Speaking Minorities in the Baltic States

Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

Nowhere does Russia’s policy of protecting its “compatriots”—Moscow’s loosely defined term for the Russian diaspora and Russian-speakers residing in the former Soviet republics—spell as much concern for the current post-Cold War order as in the Baltic states. All three Baltic states have significant numbers of Russian-speakers that are concentrated in territories close to the Russian border. In Lithuania, Russian-speakers make up 15 percent of the entire population; in Latvia 34 percent; and in Estonia the number might be as high as 30 percent.

This has been a major source of worry for the Baltic states, because in the recent past Russia has demonstrated its ability to annex territories and create puppet states in places as disparate as eastern Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Moldova’s Transnistria, all while using the ambiguous policies of protecting its compatriots. Likewise, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius have been consistently challenged by Moscow’s soft power, compatriot policies, information warfare and “passport-ization” efforts, whereby Russian-speakers are offered Russian passports and citizenship. ...

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