Kremlin debates grievances before an EU audience

  • 2004-09-29
  • From wire reports
MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the European Union, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, criticized Estonia and Latvia for their policy concerning ethnic Russians during hearings in the Duma [Russia's parliament] Sept. 28 on whether to ratify extension of the Russia-EU partnership treaty to the union's 10 new members.

Yastrzhembsky also cited a second major Baltic-related concern to Duma deputies 's namely transit to and from the Kaliningrad exclave 's and suggested that the Duma reserve the right to monitor it.

The hearing was attended by ambassadors of the 25 EU member states, representatives of the European Parliament, Kremlin officials and authorities from the Kaliningrad, Pskov and Leningrad regions.

Despite the criticism, Yastrzhembsky said the protocol "was an unqualified success scored by both sides that showed we can work out compromises." On the other hand, it has become clear over the past six months that not all of the protocol's commitments were being honored, he said.

"Two issues worry us most: cargo transit across Lithuania to the Kaliningrad region and the plight of the Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia," Yastrzhembsky said. "The conditions of cargo transit to and from Kaliningrad across Lithuania have obviously deteriorated. The [Russian] president has told the prime minister and foreign minister to resolve this issue as a first priority."

He highlighted the slow naturalization process of ethnic Russians and other minorities in Estonia and Latvia, noting that only some 10,000 noncitizens were naturalized in Latvia and 3,000 in Estonia annually.

The president's envoy added that, as both Estonia and Latvia are EU members, responsibility for solving the problem lay within the hands of the union.

"We are ready to meet Estonia and Latvia halfway on this subject, but we want to see positive decisions from these countries," Yastrzhembsky said. Russia is not trying "to secure any special rights or standards for Russian speakers. What it wants is the abolition of double standards or legislation different from that of Latvia's and Estonia's native population," he added.

Konstantin Kossachev, chairman of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, told journalists on Sept. 27 that the Russia-EU protocol currently was in effect on a temporary basis, and that its six-month lifespan ends on Oct. 27.

He said that the Russian government has not yet submitted the protocol for ratification but is expected to do so in the near future.

The EU and Russia agreed to extend their Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to the 10 new members on April 27 this year when EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed the corresponding documents.

The expansion resulted in, among other things, a lifting of the double import duties applied by Russia to Estonian goods over the past decade.