Check for occupation
Recently, the Baltic States have decided to calculate the damage caused to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during the rule of the Soviet Union over this region, and to demand compensation from the Russian Federation. UNIAN gathered expert opinions on whether Ukraine could benefit from this experience.
In early November, the justice ministers of the Baltic States signed a declaration on the need to calculate the losses caused by decades of Soviet occupation. In this document, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have expressed their intention to seek compensation from the Russian Federation, successor of the Soviet Union. "Under international law, the losses from the occupation can be claimed in the form of compensation for material damage, and as an apology," said the Estonian Justice Minister, Urmas Reinsalu.
Following the development of a uniform methodology for calculating the damage, the justice ministries are going to draft compensation claims based on the norms of international law, and to prepare all the necessary legal steps in this procedure. In addition, state agencies are going to analyze the possibility of class actions against Russia from individuals.
It’s not the first time when the ideas are voiced about the need to redress the accession of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union is not the first time heard. From time to time this issue is raised in each of the former Soviet republics. However, no complaints to Russia as the successor of the USSR have ever reached the level of international justice. This issue has never been worked through, neither in the UN, nor in other international organizations.
In addition, there is no unified action on this issue within the Baltic States. For example, the Estonian Prime Minister, Taavi Rõivas said he knew nothing of the plans of the Justice Ministry to sign such a document and. Moreover, he said he did not understand how his country could benefit from this memorandum.
No official reaction from Russia followed to the Baltic declaration. However, some politicians have commented on the situation in private. For example, State Duma deputy Mikhail Yemelyanov said that, by doing this, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are "seek to curry favor with their partners," while Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said, the Baltic states would get nothing but "the dead donkey’s ears."
An international lawyer, diplomat, former Ukraine’s representative to the UN Council on Human Rights ex- judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Volodymyr Vasylenko believes that raising the issue of compensation for the Soviet occupation is adequate and appropriate. The expert recalled that this is the way the Baltic States had long formulated this issue. They rightly believe that in 1940, the illegal occupation and the illegal overthrow of legitimate governments took place. However, in his opinion, the idea of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia has no chances of practical implementation, at least in today's environment.
"The Baltic States should offer Russia to agree to the referral to the International Court of Justice, because this court can hear a particular case only if both parties to the dispute agree to it," said the expert.
If Russia rejects such claim, thus it will show that it does not want to solve this problem in a civilized way. In other words, if Russia believes and is confident that the claims are groundless, then there should be no problem going to an independent court, which would decide who is right and who is wrong.
Political analyst Taras Chornovil also believes that the claims of the Baltic States to Russia are justified. According to him, in their domestic courts, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are actually able to calculate the damage from the Soviet occupation, by separate stages. This may be confiscation of property of individual citizens of the Baltic States, destruction of architectural monuments, arrests and deportation to Siberia. So, the local courts may issue rulings and then bring them to the legal conclusion in international courts. "Obviously, there’s no chance Russia will actually compensate anything to the Baltic States, but legally they can bring the matter to a logical conclusion," the analyst believes.
In his words, Russia can be deemed liable, as it has declared itself the legal successor of the Soviet Union and has been managing both assets, and liabilities of the former Soviet Union. Besides, Russia was never elected a new member of the UN Security Council. The USSR’s membership has been transferred onto the Russian Federation. So, Russia was "reclassified as heir," and it should, in fact, be solely responsible for all legal actions by the Soviet Union. Considering that the Baltic States can rely on power of the EU in litigation, they are quite capable of "building serious legal proceedings."
However, the experts believe that Russia will do its utmost to avoid discussions around this topic, and try once again to accuse Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in fictitious claims. "It all looks like another phase of escalation. While many continue to say that no one wants another Cold War and the warnings are groundless, but it is indeed a new round of Cold War, by all accounts,” said Oleh Bilokolos, the expert at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs organization
There are indications that Russia is unlikely to act in accordance with international law, the director of the Center for Civil Society Studies Vitaly Kulik said. "Russia has been implementing the policy of a ‘besieged fortress,’ and this is the path of ‘Northkoreazation’ of the Russian society. They exploit the idea of a "strong hand" [of the Leader] permanently, and this is all part of the Putin regime. Therefore, there are no prerequisites to assume at the moment that Russia would act in accordance with international law. Moreover, Russia recently proclaimed the primacy of national legislation over international law, so it will not take any fulfill any rulings of international courts regarding redress, compensation, reparations and other such things," said the expert.
Strategy of hybrid war
In turn, a Ukrainian diplomat, former Consul General in Edinburgh and Istanbul, chairman of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs organization, Bohdan Yaremenko, believes that the intentions of the Baltic States to claim compensation from Russia should be assessed not so much from the point of practical benefits, but from the perspective of information war waged by the Russian Federation.
"The Russian Federation is waging hybrid war against the Baltic states, setting up networks of agents of influence out there, establishing political parties affiliated with Russia, creating a military threat, conducting maneuvers near the borders, kidnapping officials, violating airspace and sea space," said the expert.
Having become targets of the information war, the Baltic States are looking for some effective long-term strategy in response to this challenge. This will allow them to refute information attacks and even go on a certain information offensive.
"Given that the intention to claim compensation for the occupation is really a part of state policy, it will be implemented through international organizations, and will be supported by the media. Thus, it would be another way, very interesting and promising, to draw attention to the role of Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union in human rights violations in genocide in the former USSR, illegal annexation and occupation,” said Yaremenko. “That is, it binds modern problems to the problems of the past creating a certain information background in terms of the perception of Russia. Besides, this is a very good and informative event in terms of propaganda.”
As for the practical realization, the expert says it is a matter of diplomacy, since, to date, it looks unrealistic. In this regard, according to the expert, it is important to at least begin the process. "It will last as long as these countries do not achieve what they want. They wanted independence and they got it, even though it it took 50 years. Similarly, they may get compensation in 100 years, but if they are set to achieve this goal, they will get what they want. This is a good example, including, for us of how to build a state policy," he said.
Ukraine is not the Baltics?
Indeed, Ukraine needs such an example of developing a strategic state policy. However, Kyiv could hardly get full benefit from the experience of the Baltic States and demand recognition of the occupation in the 1940’s and appropriate compensation. "The fact of annexation and occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union has been clearly established. Not like some sort of "voluntary accession," as it was with western Ukraine and the Caucasus. Besides, the "accession" to the Soviet Baltic been seriously questioned around the world," said Taras Chornovil.
Moreover, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the Baltic states have formulated the attainment of independence in the form of “ending the occupation.” That is, as a fact of the restoration of independence, which was crushed in 1940 by the Soviet army. In Ukraine, the country’s independence was sealed with the Declaration of Independence. The formula the Baltic States had chosen may become an important factor in the international court.
"We, in turn, can’t clearly prove the occupation in legal terms, although we are well aware that there was a rough Soviet occupation with an incredible number of victims. Unfortunately, we have no legal framework that would give us strong foundation. Instead, there is a number of documents that allegedly justifies the so-called "voluntary unification," the creation of those parallel Soviet governments, and the like," said Chornovil.
In turn, Bohdan Yaremenko believes that Ukraine may apply to the court against Russia, demanding compensation for the Holodomor, which has been recognized as genocide against the Ukrainian people by many international organizations and foreign governments. "The occupation of Ukraine is very difficult to prove, as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was formally one of the founders of the Soviet Union. Ukraine needs to work hard to set up historical, political, and legal grounds for such claims, changing the perception of those facts. I wouldn’t forecast any success for this move, at the moment," he said.
His colleague, Oleh Bilokolos, is also skeptical: "It must be a suit initiated by the state. But what State have we had back then? Should we file a lawsuit in the name of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) or the State of Skoropadskiy?" Besides, despite adopted laws on decommunisation, the question of the Soviet past is still debatable. There is no consensus in the Ukrainian society on whether Ukrainian politicians lost the country’s independence in 1917-1920’s, or the Soviet rule should be considered as occupation.
However, experts see the prospects of another lawsuit related to the Russian occupation of foreign territories - a claim for compensation regarding the annexation of Crimea in 2014. "It all happened not so long ago, and there is no need to look up any historical data,” said Bilokolos. “We have lost Chernomorneftogaz, recreational facilities, 13 companies of Ukroboronprom, and plenty of other real estate. Why is this all not being done?"