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Deputinization in times of Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine: experience of the Baltic states

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The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his name have gained a special symbolic meaning over the past years. Putin’s policies have become synonymous to those of the Russian Federation as an empire, as a leader of the Soviet Union, and now as an independent Russian state. Putinization, as Russia’s current policy of doing business, is to exploit globalisation as a strategy to establish foreign dependence on Russia in as many sectors of international cooperation as possible. Examples include the establishment of nepotistic ties between the Russian political elite and other countries by creating dependence on the supply of Russian energy and natural resources. Furthermore, putinization includes putting ‘moral pressure’ on other states, by creating myths about Russian statehood, language and culture as the greatest and most ancient, the spread of ‘brotherhood and unity of nations’ narratives, and propaganda advocating the Russian-speaking population protection and the empowerment of Russians abroad. Putinization arose and developed through Russia’s long and brutal planting of imperial ideas as well as the constant tolerance of them due to a lack of awareness of Russia’s true history, including Moscow’s appropriation of other nations’ achievements and denial of Russia’s crimes against them, Russian political elites’ mindset, and national sentiments. Putinization is a new disease of our time, particularly for the EU Member States (MS), getting in the way of commercial, financial, cultural, and other cooperation when Russia’s interests are opposed to those of the EU MS. This is the way Russia uses ‘chantage’ through already established ties in the network of putinization within Europe.

Deputinization would be the only feasible reaction to such destructive processes. Its goal should deprive Russia of any influence, whether it is exercised through the material component of inter-state relations or psychological manipulation by the Russian leadership. Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs – Dmytro Kuleba, gave a similar definition, describing the deputization as “getting rid of Russian influence in all spheres”- calling Russia a toxic partner, and urging the world to cut all ties with Russia as soon as possible. Unfortunately, despite Russian aggression in Georgia, Moldova, African countries, Syria, and Ukraine, as well as Russia’s full-scale invasion and genocide against the Ukrainian people, the idea of deputinization has not yet gained popularity among European countries, letting Russia’s influence strengthen in the region.

However, Baltic states are the example of those EU MS that have long been preparing to cut ties with Russia. Despite their economic and energy dependence on Russia, Russian minorities’ political and social activism in defence of ethnic Russians in the region and of the Russian language, and other examples of putinization’s influence, the Baltic states have managed to prepare for deputinization and its active phase after February 2022.

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have long prepared the basis for cutting ties with Russia, taking both economic and political steps. The Baltic states are known for their consistent international statements about expanding sanctions and increasing border security with the Russian Federation, full independence of the EU from the Russian grid, and the introduction of legislation to restore national languages and culture by reducing Russia’s and Russian minorities’ influence, which many experts find controversial. Furthermore, on the political-historical dimension, the Baltic states have taken steps to restore historical justice and condemn the actions of Soviet and Russian imperial authorities in the region, such as the Lithuania trials on the Soviet militaries storming the TV tower in January 1991, and establishing numerous museums dedicated to the Soviet regime’s brutality. In addition, they are abandoning the Soviet legacy by renaming streets, cities, and, for example, the demolition of Soviet monuments, as happened recently in Latvia with the monument to the “Soviet liberators” in Pārdaugava. The Baltic states are also hoping for the opportunity to educate new Russian leaders to establish a fundamentally different Russia, free of imperial aspirations and predatory world views. As a result, they are assisting in creating a dialogue forum to discuss possible democratisation in the country and supporting the Russian independent media and opposition.

Since 24 February, deputinization in the Baltic States has gained new impetus and scale. In addition to statements and actions supporting Ukraine at the international level, these states are aware of the need to implement radical changes within their borders. For instance, by severing economic ties with Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia thay have announced their intention to stop the supply and consumption of Russian energy resources by the end of 2022. Together with Poland, they have called for the termination of road connections with the Russian Federation.

In addition, understanding the necessity of penalising those who support Russian aggression and thereby foster putinization, the Baltic governments were among the first to prohibit Russian media from being broadcast on their territory. Another method of deputinization used is banning Russian symbols that represent aggression and propagate war against Ukraine, which was backed up by harsh sanctions. Thus, in early May, Estonia expelled Alexei Yesakov, the local “Immortal Regiment” organiser. The Latvian Seimas has taken more drastic measures, amending the Law on Citizenship to allow the deprivation of Latvian passports of those holding dual citizenship with Latvia who provide any support for war crimes (including against Ukraine). Lithuania has put Russia and Belarus on the list of hostile states and territories, allowing it to exclude companies registered in these states from public procurement tenders or to terminate signed agreements and contracts. Furthermore, the Baltic states have recognised Russia’s crimes in Ukraine at the state level as genocide. They were also among the initiators of a special tribunal to investigate Russia’s crimes on Ukrainian soil. These states are the voice of truth and common sense during meetings of the EU, NATO, and other international formations, encouraging them to provide Ukraine with all necessary weapons, humanitarian aid, and support for Ukrainian refuge seekers in the EU.

Given the EU’s disunity and difficulty to agree with some countries on the deputinization collectively, the Baltic states’ experience should inspire individual member states to recognise its importance and initiate key changes to overcome Russian dependence within their own country. Such actions will significantly help Ukraine and the international community in their struggle for universal and European values and help promptly respond to the negative processes caused by dependence on another state.

To that end, we consider the experience of the Baltic States, which has sent a diplomatic message (closing embassies and consulates in their countries, recognising Russia’s actions as genocide against Ukrainians aimed at destroying everything related to Ukraine’s identity), a security signal (joint and repeated statements on strengthening NATO’s presence in these countries), energy (support for a ban on Russian gas and oil purchases and reduction of  energy reliance on Russia), cultural integration and education (projects and policies for Russian national minorities’ full integration), as well as banning the use of aggressor country’s symbols associated with its illegal activities in other states (St. George’s ribbon; symbols Z, V, and cultural aspects of their public promotion: songs, poems, literature, cinema, theatre, and others, where Russia’s actions are labelled as “liberation”) is something other countries have to strive for. Their values are in danger when it comes to closer cooperation with Russia. Deputinization is the way of proving their intentions and to protect themselves from something that Ukraine experiences today. This article is a call for action that some countries took up from the Baltic states already and that should continue the wave of changing politics all over the EU, remembering that partnership with Russia should not be built on the principles and whims of putinization and, consequently, Ukrainian blood.

Yelyzaveta Markova is a young specialist in European and international law as well as European politics. She is a graduate of the College of Europe and Ghent University and is currently pursuing her PhD in EU law and technology at Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands).

Nina Basok is a young expert on Eastern and Central Europe, the Eastern Partnership initiative, the Weimar and Lublin triangles, Ukrainian-Polish and Franco-German relations, and the history of memory. She has studied at the College of Europe, Harvard University, Riga Graduate School of Law, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Umea, Lund, and Dalarna Universities.

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