Russian Language Still Divides Russia And Baltics – OpEd


Russia’s backyard is steadily crumpling due to multiple factors that have developed over these three decades after Soviet’s collapse. Russia and the Baltics have never been at peace, and to build any cordial relations reminiscent to the type during the Soviet Union. The main differences between them largely stem from the Baltics’ desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Baltic republics abandoning the official use of Russian language in the region. These have already had a fateful visible impact on the Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and Russia. 

Rather the Baltics have great potential for qualitative multifaceted relationships with Europe. There is a lot of pessimism combined with lack of interest about what the Baltics can achieve from relations with Russia. Truly and firstly, in the political sphere, there are sharp controversies between Baltics and Russia. Agreeably, the relations in other spheres, especially in economic cooperation, are lagging behind. As much of this depends on the post-Soviet political and cultural attitudes. The Baltic republics have packed away from the Russian language, one principal cultural aspect that practically united them under the historical hammer and sickle Soviet banner.

That however, there has been an increasing concern over protecting the Russian language, the culture and Russian-speaking population in the Baltics. Due to the changing geopolitical situation, Russia has generally attempted to normalize cultural relations with former Soviet republics but is seriously hampered by its own boastful hegemony, imperialistic approach and other multiple challenges. Most often, Russia seeks influence by imposing undisputed policies on its Soviet neighbours, according to numerous western research articles. Experts further asserted in these reports that Russian authorities have done little to promote social integration in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

And that ethnic Russian minority population in Latvia and Estonia, which joined the European Union (EU) along with Lithuania in 2004, has repeatedly complained of discrimination and denial of political and social rights by the three Baltic governments. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian governments categorized people who came to their territories after the Soviet occupation in 1940 as ‘immigrants’ and only after 1991 could they be naturalized as citizens of Estonia or Latvia.

The three republics attained full independence after the 1991 failed coup attempt in the Soviet Union which fragmented into the Russian Federation and other independent republics that constitute a loose Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). There is a significant difference between the terms “ethnic Russians” and “citizens of Russia” and “Russian-speakers” which the media and academic institutions often use interchangeably.

Nearly all of the former Soviet republics have adopted their native languages that were suppressed during the communist era at the expense of Russian. This is affecting Russia’s influence over the commonwealth of independent states. The Russian language spanned all 15 Soviet republics during the Soviet Union. Russia is still looking for recognition of its language in these republics even after Soviet’s fall.

Language has been a contentious issue in relations between Russia and Ukraine, where some political groups have opposed the ‘Russification’ of the country. Russian significantly dominates in the east, the Crimea and the capital. Many in that Eastern Ukrainian part, low motivation and enthusiasm, never learned Ukrainian. Currently, Russia’s ‘special military operation’ that began in late February 2022, as a resultant took four autonomous region away from Ukraine. Russia maintains it was protection Russian-speaking population.

Use of Russian has been restricted in many republics despite Russian government efforts at preserving the language. At glimpse at the Soviet chart shows Russian is the official state language in Belarus, and has official or semi- official status in some ex-Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan et cetera, are very lousy towards the language.

For instance in Estonia, there are ethnic Russians (about 25 percent), Russian citizens (some seven percent) and Russian-speakers (about 30 percent of the entire population). In Latvia Russians comprise about 28 percent of the population and Russian-speakers some 32 percent. Lithuania hosts about six percent Russians.

That aside, the Russian Foreign Ministry has its own statistical figures. Nevertheless, an official statement by Russia’s Foreign Ministry reflects Moscow’s insistence that Baltics comply with international resolutions against racial and ethnic discrimination, and stop denying nationality rights to many of their ethnic Russians. Moscow is seeking help on the issue from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the statement informed.

Despite everything, the situation in the entire former Soviet region at this particular time is precarious. It is turing extremely dangerous, uncertain what next awaits would happen. Armenia and Azerbaijan are in conflicts. Russia and Ukraine destabilizing the region, while the Baltics supported by the Europe are throttling policies and measures in reaction to Russia’s actions in the region.

At the start of 2024, this mid-January, the Baltic states seek to solve ‘Russian issue’ by expelling Russian-speaking citizens, according to the latest information from Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Regrettably, statistics confirm that the state of affairs in this area still shows no signs of improvement and continues to head in a negative direction due to the collective West’s efforts,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated during her weekly briefing.

“The Baltic states are openly preparing mass deportations of Russian-speaking residents. Apparently, they anticipate that this will help finally resolve the ‘Russian issue’ and the problem, which is unprecedented for the 21st century, of mass non-citizenship in their territories. There are still violations of the rights of Russian citizens in Western countries,” the diplomat said.

According to Zakharova, Russia’s special military operation, aimed at de-nazifying and demilitarizing Ukraine and protecting the civilian population in Donbass, is being used as a pretext to justify anti-Russian sentiment, even though many Western countries were furthering this agenda for decades even before February 2022.

“It is crystal clear that the Russophobic sentiment and the West’s encouragement of the Neo-Nazi regime in Kiev have given a powerful impetus to the endeavors of Poland, the Baltic countries, Ukraine and some other countries to step up – under the pretext, as they claim, of condemning Russia’s aggression – their attacks on the monuments and memorial sites to Red Army soldiers who died liberating Europe from the Nazis,” the diplomat continued.

“In this regard, impetus has also been given to other areas of the so-called activities of these states that are mainly oriented at rewriting history and whitewashing collaboration. The authorities of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and, of course, the Kiev regime have largely succeeded in Russophobia. They are making quite energetic efforts to squeeze the Russian language out of all schools, thus curtailing the right to receive education in their own language for a vast number of those people for whom Russian is a mother tongue.” Zakharova asserted that the Russian Foreign Ministry prioritizes the protection of Russian citizens’ rights abroad.

“Obviously, the collective West’s countries that proclaimed themselves the role models of democracy have been unable to get rid of discriminatory racist approaches, and in recent years have literally incorporated them into their official policy, and that may be collaborated by the plight of Russian citizens in those countries,” she emphasized.

“We will keep monitoring the situation and documenting discriminatory manifestations in foreign countries so as to draw the attention of those countries’ leaderships, both in bilateral and multilateral forms, to such offenses and to demand that they comply with their international legal obligations regarding our compatriots,” Zakharova concluded.

Further to that above, the Minister Sergey Lavrov also highlighted at the media conference held, on 18th January 2024 , with accredited foreign media practitioners who work in the Russian Federation, aspects of the revised new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, adopted in March 2023, singled out the realities regarding the Russian language abroad. He pointed out the overwhelming evidence the extent of approach towards the Russian language, and within the framework it should be promoted. He however acknowledged challenges and threats, though. 

Russia has now assumed the chairmanship of the CIS, and consequently planned to use this opportunity to promote another innovative cultural project started 2023 under “International Russian Language Organization” established in Bishkek on the initiative of Kazakhstan and approved by members of the CIS. Participation in this organization is open to any state in the world. “We know that the Russian language is popular on all continents, and we expect that there will be many interested participants,” emphasized Lavrov at the media conference.

In its approach at all levels to CIS, Russian officials say ‘de-Russification’ policies and the forcible adoption of native languages in education, media, judicial and administrative institutions is creating cultural gaps in the former Soviet space. Present-day events in the Baltics are very serious and affect Russia’s security, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with heads of Russian municipalities. In terms of public diplomacy, he argued the spiritual and cultural closeness with Russia.

In addition, Putin had, previously on several occasions, urged the European Union to review the human rights implications of its current policy in the Baltic States, and warned against “double standards,” in his speeches. He had previously also called for compliance with the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (, the sister convention to the Language Charter (

Discrimination against Russian minorities has been discussed repeatedly by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or PACE, the OSCE, the European Parliament and even by the UN Commission on Racial Discrimination. All of them have stressed the need to make the Baltic laws commensurate with international standards and human rights provisions in the European Union.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *