RIGA – Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was in Riga on Friday and Saturday as part of the week-long Moscow Days festival, during which he opened the much-anticipated Moscow Culture and Business Center.
The Moscow mayor was last in Riga in November 2002, which represented a thaw in Latvian-Russian relations. This time he brought along several Russian MPs and dozens of Moscow businessmen to look into business projects and investment possibilities in the Riga capital.
On Friday afternoon Latvian and Russian officials participated in a forum discussion on economic cooperation in science, industry and infrastructure development.
Later in the day Luzhkov participated in the opening of the $6.8 million Moscow Center, finance wholly by the Moscow city government, in the former railway workers' culture center on Caka Boulevard.
Speaking to reporters, Luzhkov praised cooperation between the Latvian and Russian capitals and said that relations between the two countries should be promoted.
However, obstacles to establishing normal relations remain.
"As I see it these difficulties are mainly related to two issues – the attitude to non-citizens and the right of many youths to continue learning in their native tongue. The problems will remain until these issues are solved. These issues are causing complications both in Russia and in Latvia," the Moscow mayor said.
Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars said that the biggest problem in mutual relations between Latvia and Russia was the lack of dialogue, and he hinted that the federal governments should follow the mayors' lead.
"For example, our opinion does not always coincide with Luzhkov's on various matters, but at least we try to talk," said Bojars.
Neither the president nor the prime minister met with Luzhkov, which the latter perceived as an unnecessary cold shoulder.
"I was not set to discuss any horrible issues with him but just call to a dialogue on issues which are of interest for Latvia as well," the mayor told reporters on Saturday.
When asked about his impression of Latvia, Yuri Luzhkov said, "I am a very emotional person, and I felt clearly two different polar attitudes. It was very polar – the residents of Riga, citizens and non-citizens – although I don't know what it is "non-citizens" and even the press was very positive to me, but the attitude of the Latvian government was opposite. But I believe it can be amended gradually."