Let there be no more doubt about how badly Russia is still smarting from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990-1991. Anyone still questioning the power of Russian grievance need only take heed of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, which is currently reviewing the legality of the 1991 decision by the USSR State Council to recognize the independence of the Baltic republics - Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia - and their exit from the Soviet Union.
The pro-Putin United Russia party, which dominates the State Duma (Russia's parliament) as much as it controls Russian political discourse, submitted the inquiry to the country's main supervisory authority. According to United Russia lawmakers, the Soviet State Council was an unconstitutional body at that time, so its recognition of Baltic independence should have no legal value. The State Council, a Soviet ruling body created in the chaos of 1991, officially recognized the independence of three Baltic states in September that year - a decision many Russians regard today as leading to the irreversible breakup of the Soviet Union.
According to Interfax, a Russian news agency, a source familiar with the situation said the prosecutor's answer to the deputies most likely "will be the same as a recent analogous request about Crimea. Legally, the decision to recognize the independence of the Baltic States is defective due to the fact that it was taken by an unconstitutional body." On June 27, the Prosecutor General's Office deemed illegal the decision to transfer Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. Moscow already offered the same claim as legal justification for its annexation of the region in 2014. In February 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, then-first secretary of the Communist Party, officially transferred the Crimean peninsula to the administration of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Khrushchev's motivations included gaining the political support of Ukrainian communists in the power struggle for the country's top leadership post - a post that he received in 1957.
While Moscow may regard Crimea's recent forced return to Russia as a fait accompli, many questions remain about prosecutor general's eventual decision on the Baltics. Today, Baltic states are part of NATO and the European Union, and attempting to exercise any kind of "punishment" against them, or shifting the dialogue in favor of their eventual return to direct Russian influence, would entail moves fraught with consequences. Even if today NATO appears weak and indecisive in the face of Russian actions in Eastern Ukraine, any aggressive maneuver against Baltic nations would cross a red line. While we are likely seeing mere political posturing meant to satisfy domestic audiences, this latest step is alarming, given the enormous economic and military disparity between Russia and her small Baltic neighbors.
Any legal justification for Russian moves against the Baltics is also tenuous at best, since the entity that granted the Baltics their exit - the Soviet Union - ceased to exist in 1991. Russia's assumption now of the legal mantle of a vanished state raises questions about other former Soviet republics that departed the Union that year - will their independence also be legally questioned down the line?