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The Baltics Get A U.S. Guarantee, Poland Speeds up Missile Defense

Plus, Armenia aims to compile a list of 1915-1916 victims and Mongolian websites get a moral scrubbing.

by Barbara Frye, Piers Lawson, Ioana Caloianu, Sarah Fluck, and Karlo Marinovic 21 March 2014

1. Biden tells Baltics U.S. will back them against Russia


Tension is mounting in the Baltics over the Crimea crisis, but as Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia look on nervously, they can at least count on U.S. support.


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden recently reassured them that Washington is “absolutely committed” to defending its allies, the Associated Press reports, adding that President Barack Obama plans to seek guarantees from NATO members to ensure their collective security.


Dalia GrybauskaitÄ—
“Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior,” Biden said after meeting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins in Vilnius 19 March.


The same day Biden was offering reassurances, a Russian diplomat expressed concern to a UN human rights body over Estonia's treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, Australia’s ABC News reports.


It is a loaded criticism, given that Russia defended its annexation of Crimea by saying it was protecting Russian speakers there.


In other signs of tension in the Baltic republics:


  • Latvia has suspended military cooperation with Russia because of developments in Ukraine, Itar-Tass reports.
  • Lithuania on 17 March accused a Russian diplomat of spying, saying he had sought access to classified information during its presidency of the European Union last year, Reuters reports
  • Latvian President Andris Berzins says he has agreed with Poland to work more closely on bilateral security, the AP reports


The Baltic countries are familiar with the kind of Russian interference seen in Crimea, ABC notes, including being coerced into signing pacts allowing military bases on their territories shortly before they were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 “via rigged elections.”


It is Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia who have been the most vocal critics of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, calling on the European Union to impose tough sanctions on Moscow, ABC notes.


“First it’s Ukraine, Moldova will be next and, finally, it can reach the Baltic states and Poland,” Grybauskaite warned last week.


2. Nervous Poland speeds up missile-defense plans


Poland plans to hasten its efforts to build a missile defense shield, following the deepening of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine, Reuters reports.


Polish Defense Ministry spokesman Jacek Sonta announced 20 March that one of four bidders to construct the system will be chosen in the next few weeks, instead of June as originally planned.


The shield, expected to be fully functional by 2022 and estimated to be worth some $13.1 billion, will be constructed in several phases, with the first involving eight sets of mid-range interceptor rockets, according to Reuters.


Later phases could see short and long-range interceptor rockets added to the system.


Poland joined NATO in 1999 and shares a 535-kilometer (332 mile) border with Ukraine. It hosts a U.S. military base, where the Pentagon deployed hundreds of troops along with a dozen fighter jets last week.


The Kremlin-backed RT says Poland has been “very vocal” about the Ukraine crisis, “boosting war fears.”


Likewise Ivan Konovalov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Conjuncture, told the Voice of Russia the deployment of the missile interceptors is “political gambling.”


The Russian Foreign Ministry has also warned that any "attempts to talk with Moscow in the language of force and threaten Russian citizens [will] lead nowhere," according to VOR.

3. Armenia compiles list of 1915-1916 victims as anniversary approaches


One year before the 100th anniversary of massacres at the hands of Ottoman Turks that most Armenians consider a genocide, the country’s National Archive has announced that it will draft a list of victims’ names based on surviving records, according to Public Radio of Armenia.


Amatuni Virabyan
Armenian National Archive head Amatuni Virabyan compared the initiative to that of a Jewish effort after World War II that “collected the names of 6 million victims and 3 million photos.”


But he said it would be impossible to provide a definitive list of Armenian casualties “as the initiative is too belated.”


Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians were driven out of present-day Turkey in 1915-1916. Some were killed outright while others wandered in the Syrian desert and elsewhere, often dying of starvation.


Armenia and Turkey have a tense relationship because of Ankara’s reluctance to apologize or treat the acts as anything other than wartime hostilities.


While Yerevan claims that more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the attacks, Ankara puts the number of deaths closer to 300,000.


According to members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, “More than a million were exterminated through direct killing, starvation, torture, and forced death marches. The rest of the Armenian population fled into permanent exile. Thus an ancient civilization was expunged from its homeland of 2,500 years.”


Virabyan said an Armenian commission worked on loss estimates in the years following World War I in an unsuccessful effort to get reparations.


Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation is raising funds to integrate Armenian testimonies into its collection of accounts from survivors of other genocides and ethnic cleansing, Public Radio of Armenia reports, in time for the 100th anniversary of the killings in April 2015.


4. The 774 words you can’t say on the Mongolian Internet


Guts. Terrorist. Gaylord. Anus. Douchewaffle. Words like those will get a comment banned from the Internet in Mongolia, by some accounts.


The country’s telecommunications regulator has published a list of 774 words that websites must filter out in comments sections, although the regulations don’t appear to address other types of content, the news website reports.


Websites will also be obliged to display commenters’ IP addresses, according to


The list, a combination of English, Mongolian, and Russian words, appears aimed at protecting the morals of young people, according to NewsBox, another Mongolian website.


But calls it “a tragic indictment of the absurd levels of censorship currently keeping basic Internet freedoms from the people of Mongolia.” The website notes that at latest count, only about 16 percent of people in Mongolia are online.


The U.S. State Department’s 2013 report on human rights in Mongolia notes that the telecoms regulator moved last year to establish “a national database to monitor website comments (with information supplied by the General Authority for State Registration and General Intelligence Agency). The information gathered was intended for use in identifying and charging individuals who defame, threaten, or seduce others to licentious and promiscuous sexual conduct.”


One commenter to protests that regulators say the list is unofficial, providing as evidence a link to the NewsBox account. That site, in turn, does say it is not an official list but it does report that the list was compiled and released by the telecoms regulator.


In a sign of what might be to come, commenters on were more colorful, inventing variant spellings for four-letter words and making liberal use of asterisks.


“What stupid **** sucking mother****er has come up with this ******* list. Now why in the ****ing world can I not say what the **** I want. Like I want to say corrupted **** sucking *******ing politicians?” wrote Chinghiss Khan.


5. Crimea vote has some Chinese wondering about Mongolia


As the world digests Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this week, attention in China is on another chunk of territory lost with help from Moscow after a questionable referendum.


Mongolia is highlighted on this map posted by Cui Chenghao on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.


In October 1945, the Soviet Union encouraged northern Mongolia to hold a secession referendum, Today’s Zaman notes, in a report on online chatter in China stirred up by the current crisis.


With fewer than 50,000 voters, 15 percent of “China's sovereign territory" – more than 600,000 square miles – was unceremoniously “ripped away,” a popular Chinese satirist wrote on Weibo, the country’s equivalent of Twitter, according to Today’s Zaman.


China exercised de facto control over Mongolia until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and soon afterward it fell under Soviet influence.


"Crimea has broken away from Ukraine through a referendum, and there are still some among you who applaud this? Or don't you know? In October 1945, the Soviet Union also encouraged northern Mongolia to hold a referendum?” the satirist, Cui Chenghao, wrote.


Today’s Zaman says the rhetoric has “resonated widely,” with some questioning China's current partnership with Russia, which includes joint naval exercises and frequent meetings between top leaders.


"Return Mongolia to us, and then we'll support the Crimean referendum," was among the comments Cui received.


China finds itself in a difficult position in relation to the Crimea crisis, Radio Free Asia says, fearing that backing for Russia’s moves would send the wrong signals to some of its regions fighting for independence, including Tibet.

Barbara Frye is TOL's managing editor. Piers Lawson is a TOL contributing editor. Ioana Caloianu is a TOL editorial assistant. Sarah Fluck and Karlo Marinovic are TOL editorial interns.
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