• 2006-11-28
  • From wire reports

Latvian media has reported the possibility that Russian president Vladimir Putin might make a surprise visit to Riga on Wednesday in order to wish French President Jacques Chirac a happy birthday. The potential visit has many worried that the Russian President might "steal the show" of the Baltics coming to their own in NATO.

The Latvian web portal www.vdiena.lv reported on Tuesday that the information has been confirmed by several unofficial sources, saying that the final decision has not been made yet.

Several analysts and diplomats believe that "Putin would steal the NATO summit", decreasing its importance for Latvia and the whole alliance.

The Russian Embassy in Latvia declined to comment on the information.

Unofficial sources said that a possible visit is being organized by the Latvian President's Chancellery, which has instead insisted on a meeting between the Russian and Latvian presidents, but there is no reply from Moscow yet. The Russian president has already been issued his visa for entrance into Latvia.

"The situation is very complicated and we do not know how it will end," a top official, who did not want to be named reported. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga's spokeswoman Aiva Rozenberga also declined to comment to the portal.

"It is absolutely shocking," said Bruce Jackson, the director of the US Project on Transitional Democracies noting, "He will try to steal the event." Jackson also said that US diplomats would likely find this turn of events unpleasant.

Jackson speculated that Vike-Freiberga would not able to reject Chirac's eccentric wish to meet Putin here, but in a way, "the perfect event of summit will be decreased, at which Freiberga had been working for so long." "She must feel unhappy," Jackson said.

Russian political analyst Sergei Karaganov said this step would be a good one, "If he arrives, everybody will forget about what actually is happening there."

Several heads of states, including US President George W. Bush, will have left Latvia by the time Putin would arrive.

The Russian president is currently at a CIS summit in Minsk.

British daily The Guardian on Tuesday reported undisclosed sources as saying that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was scheduled to meet with Putin on Wednesday during NATO's summit in Riga.