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The Baltic Sea

Baltic RegionDespite joining the European Union and NATO in 2004, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania remain connected to Russia in a variety of ways, including rail gauge, oil and gas pipelines, and energy grid infrastructure. Before the 2014 crisis in relations, their economies were also heavily dependent on Russia's, and subsequently hit hard by the agricultural sanctions / countersanctions war between Russia and the West. Even though Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have now been part of the European Union for close to 15 years, they remain stuck with an electrical power transmission system connecting them to Russia.

The Baltic states are part of the Soviet-era BRELL energy ring linking Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and remain dependent on the system despite repeated pledges to exit and join the European grid with grant support from the EU's 'Connecting Europe' fund. Russia could not even cut off its capacity, at least not to Estonia, since the country is largely energy self-sufficient. The Baltic countries may face a 'hybrid threat' from Russia via the electricity grid if Moscow withdrawals from the BRELL ring in the 2020s, when Kaliningrad becomes more energy independent. The Russian exclave is currently building a nuclear power plant which is expected to come online in the mid-2020s.

Baltic SeaThe Baltic is relatively small, shallow, almost closed sea basin, hydrologically favorable for the operation of submarines. The shallow Baltic Sea is called "flooded meadows" by the Germans. The Baltic has often been called the northern Mediterranean. In some sense it played the same part, in the ages before the discovery of America, of connecting the peoples that dwelt on its shores, at any rate in trade. The commercial activity and importance of the Hansa in the later Middle Ages can scarcely be overstated, though its leagues embraced many towns outside the Baltic. Climate was of course unfavorable; trade is carried on at great disadvantage in a sea ice-bound during nearly half the year, and is liable to be mulcted by the necessity of passing through a very narrow entrance, easily commanded from the shore, if it extends outside.

It is convenient to treat together all the lands from which rivers drain into the Baltic, and to include that portion of the north German plain which abuts on the North Sea. Of the geography of the lands north of the Baltic little need be said from the historical point of view. The great Scandinavian peninsula, which separates the Baltic from the northern ocean, has always, since history began, been inhabited by a branch of the Teutonic race. There is no evidence that these Scandinavian peoples were strongly differentiated from the other Teutons by anything except geographical opportunities. In fact, their most marked characteristic, aptitude for the sea, was shared by the Frisians and others along the North Sea about, and west of, the entrance to the Baltic.

In the earlier Middle Ages the time was not come for nations on the large scale; and it was natural that in Scandinavia, as elsewhere, small kingdoms should be established, and that there should be hostilities between them. There, as earlier in England, these hostilities were mixed up with conflict between Christianity and the dying heathenism. There, as in England, a tendency to union showed itself—union even actually accomplished for a short time, but broken to pieces again. Antagonisms due to many causes overcame geography, and what might have proved a very powerful nation was never consolidated. Scandinavia, with its complete command of the mouth of the Baltic, and consequent control over the Baltic trade, might well have become a great power, in spite of climatic drawbacks. Denmark, indeed, went some way towards it, retaining territories north of the straits, and keeping supremacy over Norway. But the Danish princes acquired German lands, which really weakened them by entangling them in German politics, and the persistent hostility of Sweden proved fatal.

Baltic Sea Land CoverThe Baltic, by far the most important sea in the north of 19th century Europe, was touched by a larger number of states than the Black Sea; on whose shores Russia and Turkey alone held dominion — unless, indeed, the Caucasian tribes could be said to possess any of the coast-line. The Baltic provinces belonged — some to Russia, some to Prussia, others to Sweden, others again to Denmark, while two of the minor German states touched this sea at the south-west corner. Taken as a whole, the Baltic is strangely shaped, affording many more nooks and corners, headlands, deep bays, narrow straits, isles and islets, than the Black Sea; and its contiguity to England renders its geographical characteristics especially interesting in time of war.

The Skager Rack, is the mouth of the Baltic — the only place at which the waters of this sea, and of the rivers Neva, Diina, Niemen, Vistula, Oder, ifcc, can escape to the ocean. The Skager Rack is a broad strait, extending nearly east and west for about 150 miles. At its inner or eastern end begins another strait, called the Kattegat, of about equal length, but extending north and south. The Skager Rack is bounded on the north by Norway, and on the south by Denmark; while the Kattegat has Sweden on the east, and Denmark on the west. The Kattegat communicates on the south with the Baltic by three narrow straits—the Sound, the Great Belt, and the Little Belt. The ' Sound dues,' frequently a subject of diplomacy and discontent, are an impost collected by Denmark upon all ships engaged in the Baltic trade, on their passage past Elsineur or HelsiugiJr in the Sound. The Sound, between Sweden and the Danish island of Zealand, is the chief passage for ships ; although use can also be made of the Great Belt, between Zealand and Funen ; and of the Little Belt, between Funen and Schlesvig.

Once within the intricate entrance to the Baltic, the waters extend nearly in a north-east direction, but not without many deviations. At the northern end is the Gulf of Bothnia; on the cast, those of Finland and Livonia. In one direction, from Tornea to Stettin, a line of 900 miles can be drawn, nearly north and south, with scarcely any interruption from land. The Gulf of Bothnia runs 400 miles north of the main body of the Baltic, with a width varying from 30 to 100 miles ; while the Gulf of Finland stretches 280 miles eastward, with a width varying from 40 to 70 miles. The Gulf of Livonia is much smaller than either of the others. All the rain that falls on one-fifth of the area of Europe flows into the Baltic through the medium of numerous rivers, five of which have just been named. Nevertheless, the Baltic is among the shallowest of large seas, owing in part to the quantity of mud brought down by the numerous rivers ; this mud cannot find an outlet into the German Ocean, and hence the Baltic is yearly becoming more and more silted up. The navigation by a large fleet is difficult and dangerous, owing to this as well as to other causes. If, practically rather than geographically, we consider Copenhagen to mark the beginning, and St Petersburg the end of the Baltic, the serpentine ship-route from the one to the other would be about 800 miles in length.

Russian domination on the shores of the Baltic is comparatively of modern growth. Peter the Great's first port was Archangel. How he and his successors struggled until they obtained ports in the Black Sea, has been narrated ; but this was not all. The Muscovites desired to obtain access to the Baltic, to share in the commerce and influence of that region : a reasonable wish, if carried into effect by no unfair means. Russia had, or professed to have, a slight claim to Livonia, a province on the eastern side of the gulf of the same name ; the claim was indeed loosely founded, but it served as an incentive to Peter's ambition.

There were also two provinces, Ingria and Carelia, which Sweden had won from the Muscovites in former wars, and which Peter yearned to regain. In the contest which followed, the great generalship of Charles XII. prevented Peter from reaping many advantages ; but still Russia succeeded in planting a foot on the shores of the Baltic; and the city of St Petersburg, built near the confluence of the Neva with tho sea, gradually rose into distinction as the representative of Russian dominion in those parts.

The great event for Russia, having regard to her power in the north, was the acquisition of Finland. At various times during the eighteenth century, strips of country bordering on the Baltic came under the sway of the czars ; but it was reserved for the nineteenth century to witness the rise of Muscovite rule on the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia. The Fins inhabited the northern parts of Europe earlier, as is supposed, than the Slavonians of Russia, or the Scandinavians of Sweden and Norway. There is no record of a king of Finland having ever existed; the Fins were a wandering rude race, who fell under the rule of their more organised neighbours. Hence the Muscovites subjected the Fins as far as the White Sea and the Frozen Ocean; the Norwegians obtained control in Finmavk; while the Swedes took possession of the Finnish provinces adjacent to the Baltic.

Six hundred yeare elapsed since Lapmark, Finmark, and Finland, were thus conquered by the three states just named. When the Treaty of Tilsit was signed between Alexander and Napoleon, in 1807, the two emperors treated the map of Europe as a toy, which they might cut up and partition at pleasure. Constantinople was saved from the clutches of Alexander, only because Napoleon deemed the treasure too precious to be thus appropriated. Poland, Prussia, and the several states of Germany, all came under the remodelling influence of the two emperors.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:04:30 ZULU