Russian auditors: Baltic states should share Soviet debt

  • 2004-10-06
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - The Russian audit chamber issued a report last week declaring that Russia had unsolved financial and property issues with the three Baltic states related to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its foreign debt.

According to the report, which was complied using data from the Russian Central Bank and Vneshekonombank, the Baltics' share of the former Soviet Union's debt comprises $3.06 billion. In addition, audit chamber experts suggested that reimbursement for Russia's military property in the Baltics should also be addressed.

The auditors' report has been sent to the Federal Assembly (Russia's bicameral legislature), the government, and President Vladimir Putin's administration.

Baltic politicians ridiculed the report, calling it an absurd attempt to offset the tens of billions of dollars in claims made by the three Baltic nations for the damage wrought by over 50 years of Soviet occupation.

"It is an unheard-of outrage when an aggressor demands compensation. The attempts to make such claims are absurd and will definitely not contribute to the development of a normal partnership," Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said on Oct. 1.

President Valdas Adamkus was no less vocal, saying that "one should not amuse the world with similar calculations."

He said that Lithuania could submit a larger bill for the damage caused by the Soviet occupation - a request to compensate "for ruined lives, a ruined state and material losses incurred."

"If there was a request to settle the debt, I am convinced that Lithuania could present an even bigger bill for the occupation period. I have no more comments," said Adamkus.

Estonian President Arnold Ruutel, who spoke alongside Adamkus at a press conference in Vilnius, referred to the Russian claims as "political propaganda."

He provided a powerful argument for the measure of his country's loss by explaining that, before World War II, Estonia had reached the living standards of Finland. In his opinion if the country had not been occupied, the living standard in Estonia would be roughly the same as its northern neighbor today.

"It is unfair of Russia to submit such requests to Estonia. I would say it is simply a political propaganda," Ruutel said.

In Latvia, Prime Minister Indulis Emsis said that the Audit Chamber's report was an attempt to beat Latvian MPs to the chase, since the latter had been planning to submit a damage claim for the Soviet occupation.

He said that the main goal should not be to send Russia a damage claim, but to convince the country to recognize the occupation as other states have done.

"That should be the main task, and then we would also get the political satisfaction," said Emsis.

Legally, any pecuniary claim coming out of Russia would carry dubious legal weight, experts said.

"A non-law cannot produce a law. Similar property claims for Lithuania, which had been occupied by the Soviet Union for 50 years, are absurd from the international law point of view," the president's foreign policy adviser, Edminas Bagdonas, said.

According to the Lithuanian-Russian treaty of 1991, Russia acknowledged the 1940 annexation and committed itself to eliminating the consequences. Still, in the opinion of Raimundas Lopata, director of the International Relations and Political Science Institute at Vilnius University, Russia has repeatedly attempted to question the annexation of Lithuania.

"The Audit Chamber should first apply some methodological principals and decide whether there was an annexation or not. If yes, what sort of calculations could there be?" said Lopata.

In his opinion, Lithuania has always demonstrated a consistent position on the matter, despite Russia's continuous steps to question the bilateral agreement and to intensify the tension.

"Both sides understand that this is more or less a spectacle. Russia, while escalating similar pretensions, attempts to play its game," said Lopata.

In 2000, Lithuania passed a law obligating the government to begin negotiations with Russia over receiving compensation for damages caused by the Soviet occupation - estimated at 80 billion litas (23.2 billion euros).

Russia, however, refused to discuss the matter.

Lopata believes that when passing the law, Lithuania made a political gesture that responded to Russia's doubts about the annexation of the Baltic states.

"A symbolic transferring of at least one ruble to the Bank of Lithuania would have been a sign of acknowledgment," said Lopata.

While trying to find a practical response to Russia, Emanuelis Zingeris, head of the International Commission evaluating the crimes of the Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes, suggested that Russia could establish an international historic justice commission that would aim to assess the former Soviet dictatorship and its damages for Russia and neighbouring states.

"Russia, seeking to be not only a factor of power but also a moral factor among democratic states, should form and consolidate a critical rather than apologetic attitude towards the former Soviet dictatorship. Such an assessment would make both Russia and neighbouring states safer," a statement by Zingeris read.