Offer of friendship gets lukewarm reaction

  • 2005-03-02
  • From wire reports
VILNIUS - President Vladimir Putin's "invitation to be friends" might have pleased Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, but it wasn't enough to alleviate bitter feelings connected with the two countries' recent history.

Putin, who visited Slovakia last week, said that Moscow's invitation for Baltic leaders to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany represented a friendly gesture toward constructive dialogue.

The foreign minister said that he appreciated the Russian president's invitation, and agreed that such a dialogue 's focusing on the future with a respect for history - should be developed.

"However, no [level of] respect for history can justify either the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, or other crimes done against a sovereign state and its people," Valionis said.

The minister further noted that Putin's "ironic reminder of the way the Latvian Red Riflemen helped to defend the Bolshevik government with their bayonets shows a certain lack of sensitivity."

"The Baltic states paid a price for Sovietization 's hundreds of thousands of lives ruined in Siberian exile or sacrificed during the struggle for independence. We cannot forget that Russia still harbors the culprits behind the Jan. 13 and Medininkai slaughters," Valionis said.

Meanwhile, during his visit to Slovakia, Putin was bold enough to suggest that there might be a different assessment of the consequences and events of World War II.

"We respect the opinion of the Baltic people who think that the end of the Second World War coincided with the tragedy of losing their national independence. I also think we should respect the position of those people who believe that the Latvian riflemen helped the Bolsheviks maintain their rule during the armed revolt against them," the Russian leader said.

Putin previously said that the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to "ensure interests and the security of its western borders."

In August 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the accompanying secret protocols, thus dividing Europe in an illicit way. These agreements allowed the Soviets to initiate the occupation of the Baltic states - which lasted for a half-century- and to set up a system of puppet governments.

Yet there still exists public debate as to whether President Valdas Adamkus should go to Moscow in celebration of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

Adamkus said on Feb. 28 that he would announce his decision next week, after having discussed it with other members of the government.

His Baltic counterparts also received invitations to the Moscow festivities. So far, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has been the only one to disclose her decision on attending the celebration.

The issue has turned into a political cat's cradle, complicated by the fact that the Soviet Union's 1945 victory over Nazi Germany led to almost 50 years of Soviet rule over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. And until all three presidents have given their final say, the intensity of the situation seems set to continue.