RIGA - On March 27 Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis met with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Fradkov in Moscow to sign a controversial and long awaited border treaty between the two countries. The ruling coalition in Latvia has expressed hope that the treaty, which was over 10 years in the making, will herald a new era for Latvian-Russian relations.
The treaty was signed after a meeting between the two prime ministers. Both parties expressed optimism that the treaty could lead to an agreement on a variety of other issues that have plagued relations between the two countries.
After the signing, Fradkov declared that the treaty "closes one of the problematic issues." He also said that the treaty could help with "solving many other questions" between the two countries.
"This holds great significance for the whole of Latvian-Russian relations," Atis Lots, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign affairs, told The Baltic Times.
Officials noted that this was only a start and there will still be much to do in smoothing relations. "First of all, I think that a very important step has been taken, but of course it is not done yet, and it will still take lots of work from both sides," Lots said.
"There will be some disagreement between our positions, that is inevitable, but what is important is that there is dialogue. The treaty paves the way for intensifying that dialogue," Lots said.
Fradkov noted a number of issues that still need to be addressed. He pointed primarily to the treatment of the Russophone population in Latvia, saying that the issue would not just disappear from Russia's agenda.
He also pointed to economic issues 's e.g., gas storage facilities and imports of Latvian sprats 's that need to be worked on.
The Russian prime minister expressed hope that the border agreement would help to foster enough trust between the countries that these things can be dealt with fairly.
Kalvitis was also enthusiastic about this treaty leading to cooperation on other issues. He pointed to improving order on the state border and lifting double taxation as issues that could be improved by the treaty.
There has not been an official border with Russia since the break up of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. The treaty created great controversy among Latvians because of a disputed territory 's known as Abrene to Latvians 's that was seized by the Soviet Union after World War II.
In the days prior to a planned signing of the border agreement in 2005, Latvia's government attached a preamble to the treaty mentioning the 1920 peace treaty between Latvia and Russia. Moscow interpreted this as a veiled attempt to redefine the border between the two countries, and the signing ceremony was called off.
The signing of the border treaty was the second significant step forward in Latvian-Russian relations in as many weeks.
A meeting between the Latvian and Russian chairmen of the intergovernmental committee on March 23 resulted in an agreement to improve cooperation between the countries. At the meeting, the chairmen signed a protocol creating a legal basis for cooperation in economic and humanitarian affairs.
"Time will show what the results of this agreement will be," Lots said.