RIGA - The so-called Iron Curtain may have long since fallen, but in its place there remains a "curtain of values" between Latvian and Russian residents, President Valdis Zatlers said at a recent international forum in Brussels.
Zatlers said Russian-Latvian relations were informed by differing values, particularly when it came to perceptions of democracy in the two countries.
The president's comments followed denials by Foreign Minster Maris Riekstins that the new Latvian government had downgraded Russia's importance in the country's foreign policy.
"Our relations with Russia are being shaped in different formats in the context of both the EU and NATO and the process is definitely bilateral. Nothing has changed in this respect," said Riekstins.
"We have not downgraded Russia's importance in Latvia's foreign policy but it has to be said that we have other important foreign policy partners - both in the region among immediate neighbors, in the EU and overseas - the Americans are our strategic partners," he added.
Latvia joined the EU in 2004, 13 years after regaining its independence following the collapse of the USSR.
Speaking at the forum, "Europe 20 Years after the fall of the Iron Curtain," Zatlers said Latvia's NATO membership had been important not only in security terms, but in fostering a return to Europe.
The Latvian president also underscored the importance of learning not only from European success stories, but also from the mistakes of the past 20 years.
On March 21, the first day of the Brussels forum, Zatlers attended an informal event organized by Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius in condemnation of the crimes of totalitarian regimes.
Discussions at the three-day forum centered on the revival of Central and Eastern European nations following the fall of the Iron Curtain, the demise of the Soviet Union and what should be taken into consideration in building Europe's future and relations with Russia.
The annual event, which is organized by the German Marshall Fund, a non-government body established to promote cooperation between the U.S. and Europe, brings together influential political, business and intellectual leaders from North America and Europe to discuss challenges which face both shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
This year's focus was on economic issues, as well as foreign and security policy such as the new U.S. presidential administration, Afghanistan and the Middle East, energy policy in Europe, relations with Russia, and the neighboring regions of Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia.
The Latvian government has been an outspoken critic of Russian aggression against Georgia, saying its actions constituted a violation of international law.
Latvia's stance has caused friction with Moscow.
A scheduled visit by Zatlers to Moscow last year did not take place reportedly due to Latvia's position regarding the Russian-Georgian military conflict.
Other participants to attend the Brussels forum included Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and U.S. Senator George Voinovic.