- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2001

The furor over reports that Russia has stored nuclear weapons in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad provides a foretaste of the looming diplomatic fight over whether three Baltic nations will be invited to join NATO next year.
The Kaliningrad revelations, first reported this month by The Washington Times, have again put a spotlight on the NATO desires of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The three hope to be invited to join the 19-nation military alliance late next year, despite the fierce opposition of Moscow.
Ambassadors for the three Baltic countries, speaking yesterday at a forum organized by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said the Kaliningrad revelations only confirmed their governments' desire to see at least one Baltic nation in the group of central and East European nations expected to receive invitations to join NATO next year.
"We would be very happy to see all three nations invited in," said Ambassador Stasys Sakalauskas of Lithuania, "but at least one Baltic country on the list is essential from our point of view."
Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson said the campaign in the three Baltic countries to qualify for NATO membership had improved their security and military efficiency, but he predicted problems at home if the effort is seen as a "round tunnel" with no reward at the other end.
"If the next round of NATO enlargement happens without a Baltic dimension, that would be a disaster, and I think people should recognize that," Mr. Jurgenson said.
Moscow, which has denied having moved nuclear arms into Kaliningrad, is opposed to NATO membership for the three countries which were just 10 years ago integral parts of the Soviet Union.
"The expansion of NATO behind the former Soviet borders would create a completely new situation for Russia and Europe," Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last year. "It would have extremely serious consequences for the whole security system of the continent."
Kaliningrad's status is intricately linked to the looming NATO controversy.
The naval base, Russia's westernmost territory and a vital ice-free port, was obtained from Germany by the Soviet Union immediately after World War II. Sharing a border with Poland and separated from the rest of Russia by Lithuania and Latvia, the Maryland-sized enclave could find itself surrounded by NATO members.
Moscow in 1992 agreed to keep nuclear weapons out of the Baltics, but Russian military officials in 1998 warned they would consider going back on that pledge if NATO expanded into the Baltics.
"As with Kosovo in the Balkans, Kaliningrad will be the touchstone for the new European security order in the region," according to a study last year by the Scottish Center for International Security. "Its fate is inextricably linked to regional security."
John Hulsman, a European policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said yesterday that managing the issue of NATO and the Baltics will provide a tough, early test for the incoming Bush administration.
"The Baltics are where the rubber really hits the road," Mr. Hulsman said.
"On the one hand, you can't let the Russians have a veto over who joins the alliance, but you also don't want to rush to let people in merely to annoy the Russians."
Without committing himself to a date, Mr. Bush during the campaign said he supported NATO expansion in general and into the Baltics in particular.
And Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, said in a speech last week he was a strong champion of the Baltic nations' NATO hopes, despite the Russian opposition.
"In looking at the current Russian government, one gets the distinct impression that the Russian leadership considers Baltic independence to be a temporary phenomenon," Mr. Helms said. "That is an impression that the Russians cannot be allowed to long entertain."

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