RIGA - Russian President Vladimir Putin answered questions from Latvia's ethnic Russians on Sept. 27 during a nationwide televised question-and-answer show that has become an integral part of the presidential repertoire.
Though it was Putin's fourth such telebridge, it was the first time that Latvia was included on the list of spots for fielding questions. But to participate, those interested had to head to the roof of the Moscow cultural center, since the Riga City Council had prohibited the conference from being held in the Old Town, citing security concerns.
Telebridge organizers had planned to use Livu Square as a gathering point for those who wanted to fire off a question at the Russian president, but civic leaders were concerned about security since the 11.00 a.m. broadcast could have interfered with the visit of Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin.
Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks called the teleconference Moscow's "political ploy."
The Russian Embassy blasted the ban on holding the conference downtown. "The attempt of Riga municipal authorities to restrict the Russian president's contacts with his compatriots in Latvia is just another unfriendly step," the embassy said in a statement.
The First Baltic Channel reportedly filed a petition to broadcast the event, but the petition was eventually turned down. The First Baltic Channel has been broadcasting since 2000, carrying programs from the Russian television station ORT, the former channel of exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky.
Concerns were also raised that the questions put to Putin would not be a random sampling, but orchestrated.
Last year, Putin used a telebridge to communicate with Ukrainians, others have taken place as New Year's eve addresses; this however was the first time a camera was placed in Riga.
The telebridge took place days after legislation was introduced that would grant citizenship to a number of noncitizens. The legislation, which was submitted by the left-wing For Human Rights in a United Latvia, will be voted on in Parliament and is unlikely to pass.
Latvia in Putin's words
"The problem of Russian schools and the Russian language is characteristic not only for Latvia and the Baltic states. I wouldn't demonize the position of Latvian officials on this issue."
"We [Putin and Vaira Vike-Freiberga] had a good conversation. Ms. Vike-Freiberga understands many problems, including those of the Russian-speaking population."
"It's a shame that Riga city officials refused to go ahead with the live feed from one of Riga's streetsâ€¦ It seemed to me that events such as these should bring together those who live in Latvia, regardless of ethnic or linguistic identity."