Ministry issues draft on relations with Russia

  • 2005-02-16
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - The Foreign Ministry delivered the latest gesture in its game of one-upmanship with Russia, inviting the latter's foreign ministry to Latvia in March or April to sign a border agreement. Previously showing signs to ink a much-maligned deal, should Russia fail to send its emissaries to Riga, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga might have an opportunity to back out of visiting Moscow.

In addition, on Feb. 11 the Foreign Ministry published a draft declaration on bilateral relations with Russia in the Latvijas Avize daily. The move signifies a strong pull for Latvia in what has become an increasingly bitter political tug-of-war that, beyond a border deal, includes minority rights, Victory Day celebrations and a book on 20th century history (see interview on Page 18).

The declaration refers to the 1920 peace treaty and proposes to regard the treaty, under which Russia renounces any territorial claims against the Baltic state, as binding and valid.

The part bound to spark controversy, however, is the draft's proposal to denounce the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of Aug. 23, 1939 and its secret protocols, which pulled the Baltic states into Soviet power.

"This pact had severe consequences for Latvia 's occupations by mutually hostile powers and de facto loss of statehood," a ministry representative said in defense of the proposed draft.

Publication of the draft created the first ripple in what promises to become a wave of response.

As recently as Feb. 10, Foreign Minster Artis Pabriks requested that a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, be arranged to immediately discuss a possible border-treaty signing, the daily Diena reported. After informing all EU foreign ministers and Luxembourg - the state currently holding the EU presidency - about the draft, Pabriks amassed a political army in support of his efforts to have the border agreement signed as soon as possible.

"It is the EU's wish that the Latvian-Russian border treaty be signed 's more so because the treaty has been prepared," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said during his recent visit to Riga.

In the meantime, the ministry is waiting for an answer on the invitation to Riga. "Our minister is still waiting for an answer from Moscow," ministry spokesman Rets Plesums said.

Latvia has also called on Russia to hold political consultations in the capital between Feb. 24 and March 4, to discuss economic and social cooperation between the two countries and to begin work on an intergovernmental commission.

Pabriks was clear in pointing out that the interstate declaration was in no way linked to the pending Latvian-Russian border treaty, nor other bilateral topics. "This is a separate thing," he said. "The first two issues [signing the interstate agreement and work on the intergovernmental commission] could be more or less done immediately."

Plesums echoed this point, saying, "We have to divide Lavrov's invitation to Riga from the ministry's declaration of cooperation. We don't see the two as being together. Our border agreement is already ready to go, while work on the declaration could take longer."

Amid all of this commotion, a spotlight has fallen on Vike-Freiberga after her agreement to attend the May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow added coal to an issue steaming with controversy. Previously rejecting that the declaration would contain a reference to the 1920 peace treaty, the president is now refusing to comment on the draft, her spokeswoman said.

Those who have criticized Vike-Freiberga for her choice are now on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what effect recent political moves will have on the president.

According to Pabriks, the Baltic state is aware that Russia is not ready to discuss history and the occupation of Latvia. "We understand that some things are still considered taboo by the Russian side, and they are not ready to debate them," he said, adding that he expected a response from Russia that would "allow me to sit down in discussion and solve issues that can be solved."