RIGA - The Saeima (Latvian parliament) ratified the long awaited border treaty with Russia on May 17, completing the final obligation Latvia had for the treaty to go into effect. After two hours of emotional debate, the final vote was 70 in favor of the ratification and 25 against. Five lawmakers abstained from voting. Voting was split among both ethnic and coalition lines, with many deputies from ruling parties supporting ratification and a few voting against. The opposition was also divided, with center-left Russian deputies enthusiastically rallying behind the treaty and the center-right New Era slamming the deal.
It is now up to Russia's Parliament to ratify the treaty so that the two countries can exchange documents and the border will be official. Russian Ambassador Viktor Kalyuzny predicted that ratification of the treaty might be completed by the end of June.
According to presidential spokeswoman Aiva Rozenberga, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga expressed satisfaction with the lawmakers' decision to ratify the treaty.
"The president notes with satisfaction that the parliament today has reaffirmed the coalition's commitment to resolve the border treaty issue with Russia," Rozenberga said. "The president believes it is a step in the right direction."
She added that the president was set to sign the bill on the ratification of the treaty into law, thus furthering Latvia's long-standing foreign policy goals.
Initiators of the border treaty bill note that the signing of the document would "facilitate the solution of several issues concerning economic development." Although the existing border is functioning, settling the legal issues would help upgrade and improve its infrastructure, as well as resolve the legal problems authorities encounter at the border.
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said that ratification of the document is essential to ensure Latvia's obligations to international partners 's i.e., the European Union and NATO 's while Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks also underlined the need to ratify the treaty based on relations with Russia.
Opponents of the bill, however, still managed to prompt a heated debate. Dzintars Rasnacs, an MP from For Fatherland and Freedom, proposed to attach an explanatory declaration to the bill before the reading.
Karlis Sadurskis from New Era criticized the government for their haste in pushing the ratification without waiting for the Constitutional Court's ruling on the legitimacy of the treaty. He said the government wanted to "conclude the agreement at all costs," neglecting its legitimacy.
The Latvian Constitutional Court earlier rejected a request by New Era to suspend the ratification before the court had ruled on the treaty's legitimacy.
Boriss Cilevics, an MP from the leftist Harmony Center, and Vents Krauklis from the ruling People's Party, slammed New Era for opposing the ratification in order to get into the government and gain popularity.
Cilevics hailed the ratified agreement, which came one day before a tense EU-Russia summit. "In the current environment of bad news, some good news can be very valuable," he told The Associated Press.
"Of course, the treaty's not a panacea to our bilateral problems, but now we have a clear conscience 's to demonstrate that Latvia has done its best not to complicate relations between the European Union and Russia," he explained.
The Latvian-Russian border treaty was signed in Moscow on March 27.