Book by political science professor investigates Russia’s influence in Estonia, Baltic states

Courtesy of Jennie Schulze
Courtesy of Jennie Schulze
Schulze is a political science professor who specializes in Russia and Eastern Europe. Her new book looks at the impacts of Russian minorities in the Baltic nations.

Kailey Love | Photo Editor


As talk of an aggressive, meddling Russia swirls in news reports, one Duquesne professor has taken an in-depth look at the aspects of Russia’s influence on its neighbors.

Jennie Schulze, an assistant political science professor at Duquesne, recently published her book Strategic Frames, which focuses on the effects of Russia and European institutions on minority policies, particularly those that affect Russian speakers, in Estonia and Latvia.

“I look at three policy areas. I look at citizenship policies, language policies and electoral policies from the time of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 through 2015,” she said.

Schulze, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science at Boston College and her doctorate in Political Science at George Washington University, said she had always been interested in Russian history and focused on Russian studies throughout her academic career.

This interest in Russian studies led her to read Identity in Formation by David Laitin, a current professor of political science at Stanford University, during her time in graduate school. She cites this book, which takes a look into the identity crisis of Russian speakers living in former Soviet states, as the inspiration for her doctoral thesis and interest in the Baltic states.

“Much of the literature sort of treats Eastern European countries as if they’re simply kind of targets of these great powerful forces, and it doesn’t really treat them as agents in their own right,” she said. “My book is really about giving agency to those European actors and not just treat them as targets of great power pressure.”

Schulze’s interest in Russian speakers in the country’s ‘near abroad,’ the now independent former Soviet republics, further developed after she earned a grant to travel to the Baltic states for research. She pointed to the Bronze Soldier Crisis, which occurred in Estonia shortly after she arrived in April 2007, as a turning point for her research.

Also known as the Bronze Night or the April Unrest, the crisis surrounded the decision to move a Soviet World War II era statue, known as the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn, from downtown Tallinn to the outskirts of town. While many viewed the statue as a symbol of former Soviet occupation, the Russian speakers in Estonia viewed it as the symbolization of Soviet victory over Nazism, as well as their claim to equal rights.

“It was really interesting to be there and to see that first hand. That was really a fundamental changing point in the direction I wanted my research to go, because it was a real case in point that Russia could really aggravate interethnic relations in Estonia and that there were real kin state effects there.”

Schulze defined kin states as “states that monitor the conditions, assert the rights and protect the interests of their co-nationals living in other states.”

“Russia uses the 25 million ethnic Russians stranded outside Russia’s borders after the collapse of the Soviet Union as a pretext for involvement in its ‘near abroad,’” she said.

Following the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, she said that much of the world turned to the Baltic states in fear that they may be next. Though she addresses that “Russia will always push as far as Russia can push” in its ‘near abroad,’ she does not believe their tactics are as effective in the Baltic states and that there is no immediate threat.

“We tend to paint Russian speakers with a really broad stroke when we speak about them in the West, but they’re really, really different and we need to keep that in mind … [Russian speakers in the Baltic states are] not really co-optable in the way that other Russian speakers in the ‘near abroad’ are,” she said. “Russian speakers in the Baltics are pretty loyal to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania … they don’t want to be part of Russia in any sort of way.”

Instead, her book argues that this fear of Russian meddling in their kin states actually helps to shape policies for minorities such as Russian speakers in these countries, even though the credit for these “democratizing reforms” often goes to European institutions such as the EU.

“While Europe institutions are typically credited for democratizing reforms in these states, my book shows that Russia was also crucial to passing minority policy reforms and has been the greater influence post accession,” she said.

“Russia’s actions provided important security frames which allowed policymakers to reverse decades of exclusionary citizenship policy toward Russian-speakers in Estonia in favor of more inclusionary policies. In this way, Russia, not Europe, was a democratizing frame.”

Schulze’s book is available on Amazon, or from University of Pittsburgh Press.