Russia makes further attempts to sour relations

  • 2004-11-25
  • From wire reports
MOSCOW/RIGA - The Kremlin and Russian lawmakers made several statements this week that appeared custom-designed to keep the chill in Russian-Baltic relations on the eve of the EU-Russian summit.

The State Duma (Russia's lower house of parliament) unanimously passed a statement on Nov. 23 claiming that Soviet forces liberated the Baltics.

"A strategic offensive of Soviet forces ended on Nov. 24, 1944, in the Baltics, as a result of which the grouping of fascist German forces was crushed in the Baltic countries," the statement, which collected 364 votes for and none against, read. "Our losses in this totaled more than 200,000 lives and the heroism of those people may not be forgotten or brought to disgrace."

Russian lawmakers expressed their indignation at the "so-called Baltic legionaries of SS forces, which were declared criminal at the Nuremburg tribunal, [and] are today being honored in the Baltic countries." They also claimed that Soviet army veterans were being persecuted in the three countries.

"All this testifies that some political forces are substantially committing acts of moral vandalism against the memory of Nazi victims, by which they irrefutably appoint to themselves the role of marginalized European politicians," the document went on to say.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov said that Russia would raise the issue of minority rights in the Baltics during this week's EU-Russia summit. "Russia expects nothing more from the Estonian and Latvian governments than observation of the EU and OSCE recommendations concerning the rights of Russian-speakers in those countries," Chizhov told the Estonian daily Postimees.

In reference to many European officials who defend the Baltics' record on minority rights, Chizhov said, "If such a situation is called observation of the Copenhagen criteria, there is something wrong with the Copenhagen criteria."

Finally, Sergei Karaganov, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said this week that the unsigned border treaties between Russia and two Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia, has now become an issue between the EU and Russia, since the countries joined the bloc in May.

"This is no longer an issue for Russia and Latvia, or say Russia and Estonia. Now it should be looked at in the context of EU-Russia negotiations," said Karaganov, who is also the Russian foreign and defense council presidium chairman and considered an influential political scientist.

However, he would not make any predictions as to when Russia could actually sign the border treaties and admitted that Russia's foreign policy had become "tougher" in recent years.

"It is not aggressive, but it is tougher. And there are reasons for this," said Karaganov, adding that he believes the Baltic states joined the EU without knowing what to expect. "One thing is clear, the first thing you will take over is the union's bureaucracy," he told journalists. "Of course, adding up all the pluses and minuses, it's clearly more beneficial for you," he added.

For his part, Chizhov said on Nov. 22 that he believed the signing and ratification of the border treaty with Latvia currently depended on the country itself and that the issue could move ahead only after the Baltic state changed its attitude toward the ethnic Russian minority.

In May Putin promised the EU that Russia would promote ratification of the border treaties with Estonia and Latvia. The Duma, which is dominated by the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party, has not ratified the treaty, arguing that minority rights were being violated in the Baltic states. Political analysts believe that the unsigned border treaties with Latvia and Estonia are just another tool used by Russia for imposing pressure on the Baltics and, as of lately, the EU.

Baltic and European politicians were quick to react to the developments, decrying the statements as evidence that "nothing has changed" in Russia.

"This is a sign of what is taking place in Russia," said historian and former Prime Minister Mart Laar.

Commenting the Duma statement, Tunne Kelam, a member of the European Parliament from the right-wing Pro Patria Union, said, "Without explaining the recent past in principle, and without Russia coming to the understanding that the communist dictatorship was as anti-human as the Nazi regime, we cannot peacefully declare that the atrocities of Nazi or communist terrorists will never reoccur."

In a moral boost for Estonia and Latvia, Hero de Boer, charge d'affaires of the Dutch EU presidency in Moscow, said on Nov. 23 that the two countries met the Copenhagen human rights criteria. He explained to Russian journalists that if they hadn't met these criteria they wouldn't have been given EU membership.