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Baltics Tour

Our Baltics tour looks at relations between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and their former Soviet neighbour. We track tales of espionage, examine the uneasy situation of a resurgent Russia with the US-NATO alliance in question.

 

Dates: 7 - 15 September 2018

Price: from £3840.00

Single Supplement: £500.00

 





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    Tour Itinerary

    With the US-NATO alliance in question and a resurgent Russia on their doorstep the Baltic states are understandably nervous. Our Baltics tour looks at relations with their former Soviet neighbour, tracks tales of espionage and examines the uneasy situation with the region’s Russian minority. There will be meetings with senior politicians, diplomats and members of the intelligence community for their views throughout.

    We start in Estonia one of the most web-savvy nations in the world with its beautiful Old Town in Tallinn. It is one of very few NATO countries that matches the defense expenditure with GDP and is one of the most vocal opponents of Russian bellicosity.

    In Latvia we find possibly the most nervous of the Baltic nations with its large Russian minority. A visit to Daugavpils “the most Russian city in the EU” illustrates worries on both sides.

    We end in Lithuania and the capital Vilnius, one of Europe’s gems and hear experts talk about a new Cold War.

    The tour is led by Leonid Ragozin former BBC Russian correspondent with contributions from leading journalists in each state.

    Baltics Tour Details

    The  tour is now fully booked. Places still available on our tour of Putin’s Russia 

    Like all our tours the itinerary is focused on current affairs. Events on the ground may change and the final schedule may be adjusted accordingly.

    Day One: Tallinn
    Meet at 7pm for an introduction to the week ahead with Political Tours and Leonid Ragozin. Overnight Tallinn

    Day Two: Tallinn
    We tour the old city centre and explore recent Estonian history. The Danes, Germans, and Swedes have all competed for power here but Russia has dominated in the 20th century. Today Estonia is one of the most successful states in Eastern Europe and is arguably the most web-savvy. Nearly all government services are online and there’s a thriving tech sector – we get an inside look at both. At dinner we turn to defence matters; a former intelligence officer outlines the increasing fear of Russia – recent incidents include the abduction of a senior intelligence officer and frequent incursions into Estonian airspace. Overnight in Tallinn

    Day Three: Tallinn
    NATO has stationed a new brigade in the Baltics in response to Russian activity. We meet senior politicians and diplomats for their view of the threat and visit British troops stationed nearby (tbc). While Estonia remains fiercely wedded to NATO and the EU, a new prime-minister was elected in late 2016 with strong support from the country’s Russian minority. We ask supporters if there is room for an improvement in relations? Next we visit a publicly funded Russian language TV channel, newly launched as an answer to Russian propaganda.  Overnight in Riga, Latvia

    Day Four: Riga
    Latvia is possibly the most nervous of the Baltic states with a substantial Russian minority which it has reluctantly awarded citizenship. Latvian nationalists are as concerned about the “enemy within” as they are about Russians across the border. We explore these divisions over the next two days, but first we step back in time to when things were different on a visit to a Soviet era nuclear bunker, designed to house Latvia’s communist elite. In Riga we visit the mayor’s office. He is Russian and leads the main opposition party. After lunch we meet members of NATO’s Stratcom unit, which deals with countering Russian propaganda and the threat of a “hybrid war” as seen in Ukraine. At dinner journalists assess where the country is headed next. Overnight in Riga.

    Day Five: Riga to Daugavpils
    We talk to Latvian and Russian nationalists for their views; 12% of Latvia’s residents are still “non-citizens” – mostly ethnic Russians who didn’t qualify for Latvian citizenship in 1991. The current coalition has the closure of all Russian schools written into the agreement. We visit the country’s state broadcaster where Russian and Latvian journalists work side by side, how do they handle it? After lunch we leave Riga and head for Daugavpils in eastern Latvia where 80% of the city is Russian. It’s here that some Latvians fear the “Donetsk” scenario, with Russia creating a local insurgency and possible cause to intervene and “rescue its own ethnic kin”. Overnight in Daugavpils

    Day Six: Daugavpils
    We start on a hill overlooking the city where the churches of four confessions stand. While majority Russian, the city has a mind boggling mix of history and ethnicity. Marko Rothko came from here and there’s a museum in his memory in the city fortress. Daugavpils has ironically suffered from the sanctions designed to punish Russia over Ukraine – the city’s cross border trade has been hit. We visit a factory rail carriage repair plant where they blame America for their demise. The city’s mayor outlines it’s difficult situation. Interestingly this is where the US sends military cadets to learn Russian. We meet one of their instructors. Overnight in Daugavpils.

    Day Seven: Vilnius
    We leave Daugavpils for the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. We stop in Moletai, the new focal point for Baltic states and their role in the holocaust during the Second World War. At lunch in Vilnius we meet members of the new coalition government which was elected to office in late 2016 on the back of a populist anti-corruption campaign: Fiercely anti Russian it’s promising to increase defence expenditure, but it is also concerned about the emigration of young people to Western Europe. We visit Vilnius University, the oldest in the Baltics and meet with students: With some of the lowest wages in Europe what will keep them from leaving Lithuania? Lastly there’s time off to explore; Vilnius is home to the largest Baroque city in Europe and is reputed to have some of the continent’s best nightlife. Overnight in Vilnius

    Day Eight: Vilnius
    We head outside of the city to a nearby army barracks. Conscription was reintroduced in 2014, and 4000 civilians a year are also receiving military training. Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to its south. Over lunch defence strategists assess the changing international climate; uncertainty has increased since Brexit; the UK was a strong voice against Russia within the EU; and now Donald Trump’s election threatens to undermine NATO. After lunch there is time off to explore the city before our farewell dinner where we review the tour. Overnight in Vilnius

    Day Nine: Vilnius
    Tour Ends. Departures after breakfast.

    What our customer’s say

    “Political Tours gets me into corners I wouldn’t otherwise find, be it Karadzic’s watering hole in Belgrade, a courtroom in Pristina to witness an appeal hearing, the lounge in the home of an Italian settler in the West Bank or, this time, coffee with Luis Clerge, a mate of Che’s.” GH has travelled to Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel & Palestine, and Cuba with Political Tours.

    “The tour was fascinating and eye opening — a different reality than news coverage.” AF – Russia Tour 2016.

    “A really excellent trip – my head is still whirling with all I absorbed and I haven’t stopped talking about it since I got back.” RD – Russia Tour 2016

    If you would like to book a tour please click here to fill in our booking form. Or call us on 0843 289 2349 or email us at [email protected] to find out more.

    Essential Information

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    Further Reading

    We have an extensive list of books, here are a few to begin with. Please let us know if you would like the full list of recommended reading.

    Baltic Lenin: A journey into Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania's Soviet past Paperback – Keith Ruffles

    The fall of the Soviet Union marked a new era of independence for the Baltic states. But what remains of the former Soviet Union in this tiny corner of northeastern Europe?

    With humor and compassion, travel writer Keith Ruffles tells his story of visiting the little-known countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. On his quest, he discovers how Soviet rule impacted the infrastructures, environments, and cultures of these areas. Travel highlights include the medieval capital of Tallinn, Lithuania’s baroque-style capital of Vilnius, the Estonian island of Saaremaa, and the cities of Narva and Nida, which border Russia. Along the way, Ruffles meets quirky characters—from academics to alcoholics—and truly discovers what life is like in the region today. Perhaps, most importantly, he discovers the legacy of the Soviet Union. What does it mean for the future of this region, as tensions reminiscent of the Cold War increase between Russia and the West?

    The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia - Angus Roxburgh

    Drawing on dozens of exclusive interviews in Russia, where he worked for a time as a Kremlin insider advising Putin on press relations, as well as in the US and Europe, Roxburgh also argues that the West threw away chances to bring Russia in from the cold, by failing to understand its fears and aspirations following the collapse of communism.

    Change or Decay: Russia's Dilemma and the West's Response - Lilia Shevtsova, Andrew Wood

    In a series of lively and candid conversations, Lilia Shevtsova and Andrew Wood discuss how the Russia of Putin and Medvedev emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union and the trajectory of Russia's relations with the West.

    The Baltic Nations and Europe: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century - John Hiden, Patrick Salmon

    Of all the Soviet Union's subject nationalities, the three Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, were the most determined and best organised in seizing the opportunities created by glasnost and perestroika to win freedom from Moscow's grip.

    At the time of first publication, in 1991, the final section of the book was speculative. Now for this revised edition, the authors have provided a new final chapter which brings the story up to date -- and the three republics to political independence again.

    The Dogs of Riga - Henning Mankell

    Swedish detective Kurt Wallander travels from Ystad to Latvia on the shadowy trail of a grisly murder in this second book, steeped in Baltic ambiance.