TALLINN - Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga spearheaded efforts by Baltic leaders last week to bring international attention to the three countries' relations with Russia.
At the NATO summit in Brussels on Feb. 22 Vike-Freiberga held a number of informal conversations with U.S. President George W. Bush, and mentioned historical issues between the Baltics and their eastern neighbor in her summit address.
"There were some concerns from the Baltic nations, and I look forward to carrying their message, that it's very important for President Putin to make clear why he's made some of the decisions he's made and to respect his neighbors," said Bush during a press conference in Brussels on Feb. 22.
The U.S. president met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Feb. 24 at the end of his three-day visit to Europe.
According to the National Security Council in Washington, "President Bush had productive conversations with President Putin in Bratislava, and raised the issues that he said he would."After meeting with Putin, Bush said the parties found "a lot of common ground."
According to Rockwell Schnabel, U.S. Ambassador to the EU, the president showed just how much America valued its relations with Europe by scheduling his first visit after his inauguration with the EU and meeting representatives of key institutions such as the European Commission and the European Parliament.
Schnabel, who visited Estonia from Feb. 28 to March 1, added that the United States did not hold an opinion on Baltic leaders' decisions to either attend or pass up the May 9 celebrations in Moscow.
Estonian PM Juhan Parts, who represented Estonia at the summit, commended the event, saying that President Bush and EU leaders were "working discussions in a positive atmosphere." EU leaders and the U.S. president agreed that EU-Russia relations must be further developed on the basis of common values, Parts said, and that Moscow should stop baselessly criticizing some EU member states.
"The EU is willing and prepared for constructive cooperation with Russia as a neighbor, but it expects certain gestures of good will and steps toward cooperation in return," President Vike-Freiberga told the Latvian television program Panorama.
Vike-Freiberga also called for a pan-European discussion on history during her speech at a Catholics forum in Brussels on Feb. 22, to better understand the blank pages of Europe's 20th century history.
"While Europe, after regaining its freedom at the end of the World War II, could create various social movements and freely develop intellectual thought and different trends, it knew virtually nothing about the countries left behind the Iron Curtain, and did not know anything about the history of these countries under the Soviet occupation," the Latvian president said.
According to Ahto Lobjakas, a Brussels-based Estonian journalist for Radio Free Europe, it was Latvia and Hungary who dared to step forward at the NATO summit. Both countries seized the opportunity to get their message heard by the President of the leading global power, while Estonia passed this chance up.
Estonian MP and former PM Mart Laar were, however, able to talk with Bush at the forum of European reform leaders in Bratislava on Feb.24 before the American president's meeting with Vladimir Putin.
Laar said he talked to Bush about historical matters and differences in handling the May 1945 events in the Baltics, Russia and elsewhere. According to Laar, the president said he acknowledged the issues and promised to raise them during his meeting with Putin.
These issues were on the Estonian agenda as well, thanks to President Arnold Ruutel's Independence Day speech.
In his public address, the president said that although Estonia shared the values of European people, the country was obliged to tell the world that the end of the World War II did not bring independence back to Baltic people.
"One violent power was replaced by another for half a century. However, we cannot speak of our tough fate in the form of self-commiseration or demanding sympathy from others. The country and society is strong enough to tell the truth with a straight back," said Ruutel.
The Estonian President added that rumors about fading cooperation between the three Baltic countries were false.
"Today's situation demands from the Baltic states the same resolution and support as 10-15 years ago. Just like then, today we can draw the world's attention to the fact that, unlike the majority of Europe, the year 1945 did not bring us freedom. I can confirm that the leaders of the Baltic states are aware of this responsibility," said Ruutel.
PUTIN ON MOLOTOV-RIBBENTROP PACT
During his brief stay in Slovakia, Putin said in an interview with a local media outlet that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 was a way for the Soviet Union to "ensure state interests and the security of its western borders."
The statement irritated top Lithuanian politicians, including President Valdas Adamkus who described such an approach as unacceptable to the much-condemned pact Germany and the Soviet Union signed to divide the spheres of influence in pre-war Europe.
Representatives of the Lithuanian President's Office said that Putin's statements regarding the Molotov-Ribbetrop pact might influence Adamkus' decision on whether to visit the May 9 celebrations in Moscow, dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.
According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Lithuanian-Russian relations are based on an agreement signed in 1991 that proves Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and commits to eliminating the consequences of annexation.