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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Going Out and Earning Their Pay

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After setting up and manning a kind of blockade around the Estonian Embassy for about a week, pro-Kremlin youth organizations simply packed up and left Thursday without having accomplished anything. To save a little face, they cited the fact that the Estonian ambassador had left the embassy -- the official explanation was she had gone on vacation -- as a sign of victory, but it was hard to see just what the young activists expected to accomplish by surrounding the building in the first place.

The political pointlessness was clear to the general public, which doesn't have much sympathy for the Estonian side but had a hard time understanding what the protesters were doing as well. All the activists managed to do was to make it difficult for Russians who wanted to visit relatives or do business in Estonia to get visas. It had very little if any effect on the lives of the rest of the population.

But everything that happened last week in Moscow had a real and definite meaning when it comes to the situation in Estonia itself. It's hard to see this as anything but a cheap provocation that ultimately harmed the interests of the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic states.

This is because politicians in Moscow need bad news from Estonia and Latvia. They need to show that Russians there are being oppressed and discriminated against. As such, the possibility that Russians fighting for their rights in these countries might actually be successful is a real problem for them. This would deny them one of the most important trump cards in their propaganda -- both official and unofficial -- used to popularize their image as the defenders of the rights of compatriots living outside of the country's borders.

As soon as events in Tallinn occurred that could potentially auger a radical change in the conditions for the Russian minority there, in the form of calls from moderate Estonian politicians for dialogue, Moscow began calling for reckless measures. The whole point was to make increased dialogue impossible.

To what degree this course was a conscious decision remains a question. My sense is that, as is often the case, what is involved here is a combination of calculated provocation and spontaneous malevolence. The conditions for Estonia's Russian population, and Estonians in general, are of about the same interest to Russian politicians as events taking place in other galaxies. They only focus on events in these countries for their own political purposes, which explains why their replies are so openly provocative and often clearly illegal. They react in the only way they know. If people are unable to speak coherently, they will just end up swearing at one another. If they can't come up with any other plan, they will bark and fight.

The Russian-speaking population in Estonia was also forced to bark and fight. But this was because it was the only thing the youths in Tallinn and Narva could use against the police while trying to get the press and politicians to recognize their existence and sit down with them.

But the well-paid, professional functionaries from the official youth organizations, spoiled as they are by attention from the Russian press and government, don't really have any cause to feel despair or rage. Life is sweet. But they do have to do something to justify their existence and keep the money coming in. They have shown no symptoms of real political activism other than expensive ritual meetings. They have no political program or even their own political agenda. They have nothing besides a generous budget. And all of this money goes to pay for second-rate official organizations that try to pass for civil society.

As a result, the behavior of Russian politicians generates the same acute despair felt by unemployed youths in Tallinn. Nobody has any respect for them, nobody is interested and nobody takes them seriously. And the reason for this lies not in discrimination, an economic crisis or social policy, but in their own activities.

If people are only able to take other people's money and tell lies, then it's not surprising that they are considered thieves and liars. Sure, it's unpleasant, but what can we do? If you want to improve your reputation you don't spend more money on it -- you change the way you behave.

For the Russian-speaking population in Estonia and Latvia, this is only the latest in a string of events that offers up a lesson they would be better off learning now: They can expect no real help from anyone but themselves. Official Russia is currently neither their friend nor their ally. What would you expect from a country with such disdain and indifference for its own citizens? And how can you expect Russians to pay those politicians back any other way than in kind?

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.