RIGA - Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov visited Latvia on May 28 - 29 to open the much-anticipated Moscow Culture and Business Center and continue bilateral investment relations with the Riga city administration.
The outspoken Moscow mayor's visit coincided with the week-long Moscow Days festival in the Latvian capital, the highlight of which was the opening of the $6.8 million Moscow center in the former Railway Workers Culture House on Caka Street, just a stone's throw from the central train station.
The reconstruction and furnishing of the lavish center was financed by the Moscow city government, which wants to use the center to promote city-to-city relations between the capitals.
Luzhkov was last in Riga in November 2002, which at the time represented a thaw in Latvian-Russian relations. This time he brought along several Russian MPs and dozens of Moscow businessmen to look into possible business projects and investment opportunities in the Latvian capital.
Latvian and Russian officials also participated in a forum discussion on economic cooperation in science, industry and infrastructure development.
Speaking to reporters, Luzhkov praised cooperation between the Latvian and Russian capitals and said that relations between the two countries should be promoted.
However, there were significant obstacles remaining before establishing normal relations.
"As I see it these difficulties are mainly related to two issues - the attitude to noncitizens 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," Luzhkov 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 President Vaira Vike-Freiberga nor Prime Minister Indulis Emsis met with Luzhkov, which the latter perceived as an unnecessary cold shoulder.
"I was not set to discuss any horrible issues with him [Emsis] but just call to a dialogue on issues that are of interest for Latvia as well," the mayor told reporters on May 30.
Luzhkov stressed that after the collapse of the Soviet Union 48 million of his compatriots were left outside Russia's borders. "Russia's task is to support compatriots both morally and materially, helping them to acquire an education," he said.
When asked about his impressions of Latvia, Luzhkov said, "I am an emotional person, and I felt clearly two different polar attitudes. It was very polar, the residents of Riga, citizens and noncitizens - although I don't know what a 'noncitizen' is - and even the press was very positive to me, but the attitude of the Latvian government was opposite. I believe it can be amended gradually."