RIGA - Latvia enjoyed a moment of historical euphoria this week as it hosted the NATO summit, as clear an indication as any that it has oriented itself fully to the West and away from Russia. But word that French President Jacques Chirac had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Riga during the summit slightly upset the mood. According to media reports on Nov. 28, the opening day of the NATO summit, Chirac had invited Putin to Riga in celebration of the French President's 74th birthday on Nov. 29.
Yet in the end, the controversial invitation fell through.
Shortly after Chirac's invitation hit the press, Putin's first deputy spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed that although the meeting had been considered, all parties involved had failed to finalize the plans.
"The possibility of the Russian president's brief unofficial visit to Riga was indeed considered," Peskov said. "Unofficial events involving the presidents of France, Latvia and Russia were planned during it."
"Unfortunately, we failed to finalize organization matters pertaining to such a meeting, as there was no way to add this meeting to the schedules of all presidents," he said.
Reports of Chirac's invitation first surfaced late on Nov. 28.
"President Putin has said he would like to come and see the president to pass on his best wishes," Chirac's chancellery said in a statement. "Since [Chirac] is in Riga to participate in the NATO summit, Russia proposed having a tripartite dinner at the end of the summit, hosted by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga."
At the time, Latvian officials declined to comment on Putin's possible arrival. The International Herald Tribune said Latvian law authorities had not been informed about the visit.
The British daily The Guardian on Nov. 28 reported that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was scheduled to meet Putin on Nov. 29 but did not mention its source.
A visit by Putin to Riga during the NATO summit surely would have been awkward, considering the high volume of criticism leveled against Russia during the week.
During the Riga summit's opening dinner on Nov. 27, Richard Lugar, a Republican Senator from Indiana, called Russia's recent decision to cut off oil to Georgia as an "attack."
"I understand that adopting energy security as a mission is a major advancement from NATO's origins," Lugar said. "We are used to thinking in terms of conventional warfare between nations, but energy could become the weapon of choice for those who possess it."