Why Joe Biden mentioned Riga in particular

The fact that US President Joe Biden mentioned Riga in his speech at the Munich Security Conference ("The United States will work closely with our European Union partners and the capitals across the continent — from Rome to Riga — to meet the range of shared challenges we face") can be seen as a symbolic gesture - the Baltic states, which are the closest NATO countries to Russia, will not be forgotten and can feel safe.
25.02.2021. BLBens Latkovskis

But before we talk about how seriously Biden's gesture can be taken, we must remember an ancient truth. Politicians, like all people, can be divided by what is more important to them - what is really happening or how it looks from the sidelines? Of course, both of these sides are important to everyone, but it's about proportions. Or, more precisely, is the ability to present one's work in a way that others recognize as good. For example, Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, had major problems with this skill, and his work did not look very pleasing from the sidelines, as evidenced by his low approval rating at home and even lower evaluation outside the United States (according to the Pew Research Center, confidence in Trump ranged from 13% in Germany, 20% in France to 51% in Poland).

Biden, unlike Trump, is a politician who has carefully grown all his political capital by making sure that his work looks good and his speeches sound good. The mention of Riga is also not accidental. In this way, he makes friends in the Baltic states, because, as they say, a friend is worth more than gold and rubies.

Biden is much more aware of this simple truth than Trump, who did not do well in making friends. One would think that mentioning, say, Warsaw instead of Riga would gain more political points (the Polish community in the United States is very large and influential), but invoking Riga also had an important component of a political hint.

It is no secret that one of the global political concerns is the possibility that the Kremlin could at some point rapidly lose public support and, in this situation, initiate some foreign policy adventure to regain a strategic initiative. An external conflict has traditionally united everyone around the flag, and in 2014 this strategy allowed Putin to polish his dulled charisma. Now his charisma has begun to fade again, and analysts are anxious to see who could be the next victim of the falling rating.

Although Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan are still mentioned as the most likely possibilities, there is a version that the conflict with these former USSR republics may not have the desired effect. Something more impressive is needed. For example, to bring NATO to its knees. How to do it? Not by attacking the United States, Poland or Turkey. That would be biting off more than they can chew and they could choke on it. Another thing would be a lightning-fast armed conflict with the Baltic states, and before NATO even coordinates the response, Russia could already offer to start peace talks on almost acceptable terms (not annexation). Let's say the withdrawal of NATO's international forces from the Baltic states, with them formally still remaining in NATO.

The Western response to various challenges so far may give the Kremlin strategists the impression that the governments (not the military) of NATO member states could be shaken and be ready to compromise with Russia so that they do not have to fight the nuclear power. Such faltering and readiness to bargain with Russia would be enough to humiliate NATO in Russia's eyes and, figuratively speaking, to drive a nail in the coffin of its Article 5.

Although the probability of such a scenario is not high, it cannot be ruled out. It is clear that such a development would be highly undesirable for the United States as a major NATO country. Therefore, from time to time, Putin should be reminded that they have not forgotten about the Baltic states, so they do not start having any pipe dreams. Another question is to what extent the Kremlin will heed these hints. It is on this issue that problems may arise because political rhetoric does not seem particularly noteworthy for Putin. He perceives this as blowing smoke in the eyes of the naive. The focus is only on the actions, but so far Biden has not proved his "firm stance" by real action. Rather the opposite, but let's discuss that next time.


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