Latvian President Valdis Zatlers in talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) at the start of an historic official four-day visit to Russia. The future of Latvian-Russian relations depends on the wish for improvement, and political maturity of those in power, stressed Medvedev.
RIGA - Latvian President Valdis Zatlers, accompanied by a substantial delegation of politicians and businesspeople, landed in Moscow in the evening of Dec. 19 to start his official visit to Russia, reports news agency LETA. The visit included high level meetings with the Russian president and prime minister, the mayor of Moscow, business leaders and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In addition to some sight-seeing and cultural activities squeezed into his schedule, Zatlers spent much of his time discussing cross-border issues, security and economic cooperation. There were three priorities for the trip - political dialogue with Russia on various matters, the development of economic relations and strengthening the basis of intergovernmental agreements.
Zatlers, at the Latvia-Russia Business Forum on Dec. 20, spoke out for the introduction, as soon as possible, of a visa free regime between the EU and Russia. He pointed out that it would be beneficial for both entities. “Objectively speaking, two-sided readiness is necessary, but this takes time,” he said.
The question, he says, is not whether people will be able to travel without visas, but when they will be able to do so. And Latvia wants it to be as soon as possible. Zatlers also pointed out that the development of dialogue between Russia and the EU is also important to Latvia, and its progress will be a good signal for entrepreneurs.
Russia this year submitted to the EU its version of the visa free regime project.
An agreement on cooperation between Latvia and Russia on prevention and elimination of emergency situations was signed. Interior Minister Linda Murniece (Unity) signed the agreement for the Latvian side. On May 12 this year, the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers supported signing of the agreement. At that time, the Cabinet of Ministers authorized the Latvian Ambassador to Russia, Edgars Skuja, to sign an agreement on cooperation in scientific, technical, humanitarian and cultural issues during the meeting of the Latvia-Russia Intergovernmental Committee. However, the agreement was not signed since the Russian side was not ready yet.
Murniece pointed out that the aim of the agreement is to create a legal basis for the cooperation between both countries in prevention and elimination of emergency situations. “Otherwise it is difficult to provide help and support, for example, if natural disasters occur like this past summer when wildfires raged across Russia.”
Latvia currently has such agreements with Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and the work on an agreement with Azerbaijan is also in progress.
Zatlers’ official meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill can become a positive signal for Saeima deputies, who will soon be reviewing the possibility of declaring Orthodox Christmas an official holiday, said the Metropolitan of Riga and all Latvia, Alexander, in his interview to Russian news agency Regnum.
That Zatlers found time to meet with the Patriarch means that he understands the role and the importance of the Orthodox Church in Latvia’s society, and that Latvian politicians should follow his example, said the Metropolitan.
Another agreement, on cooperation in the fight against crime, especially organized crime, was signed. The agreement foresees cooperation between the authorities in both countries dealing with terrorism, illegal narcotics, drug trafficking and organized crime. Murniece pointed out that since the fight against organized crime is essential in any country, the cooperation must be set in bilateral agreements, making it more effective.
Turning to business, both governments pledged to cooperate in the tourism sector on the basis of parity and mutual benefit, according to the Latvia-Russia agreement on cooperation in the tourism sector that was signed. The agreement stipulates mutual support for tourism organizations in the development of local tourism. Both sides also plan to support their respective tourism organizations’ participation in fairs organized with support from Latvian and Russian tourism authorities.
The agreement also provides for mutual support in the exchange of statistical and other tourism information between the tourism authorities in both countries, including information exchange on laws and regulations on the tourism sector, tourism development strategies, statistical data on tourism, measures to improve competitiveness and sustainability of tourism, and others. To facilitate implementation of the agreement, a joint Latvia-Russia tourism task force will be set up to develop joint proposals and programs and supervise their implementation.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, President Zatlers commented that Russia’s tone “has changed,” connecting it to the policy of closer relations with the European Union. Zatlers mentioned that in his meeting with Medvedev, considerable time was devoted to relations with the EU and NATO, and the role Latvia plays as a member.
Bilateral relations were also delved into, and Zatlers mentioned as the main achievement the agreement on setting up a joint commission of historians to examine 20th century events about which there are differing interpretations. Medvedev had promised to personally supervise opening archives for research, and “move ahead step by step so that viewpoints are mutually understandable.”
The Latvian leader called the talks with Medvedev and the delegation “highly productive,” adding that all themes were touched upon, including the difficult ones. “The atmosphere was open and direct, without any hedging, and forthcoming from both sides,” he said.
The future of Latvian-Russian relations depends on the wish for improvement, and political maturity of those in power, said President Medvedev after his meeting with President Zatlers. The Russian leader commented that those in power must realize that it is “better to communicate, than not to communicate, better to meet than to avoid, better to come to agreement when possible, not refuse to do so.”
Medvedev called this an important day for Latvian-Russian relations because [Zatlers’] is the first such visit in history. He pointed out that this is the result of political will shown in order to deal with the difficulties to make way for new opportunities for relations, create an atmosphere of trust and develop friendly contacts between neighbors.
Much has been done so far, said Medvedev, to solidify relations, and the signing of a “large and serious number of documents” is a supplement to the many bilateral contacts. He called the economic agreements particularly important.
A meeting between Zatlers and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took place in which the two discussed economic matters, including energy, transport cooperation, trade and agriculture. Another topic discussed was finding a solution to the long truck lines that usually form on the Latvia-Russia border in December and January.
The two sides agreed that border controls must be improved immediately to solve this problem. Latvian Economy Minister Artis Kampars (Unity) also told members of the press that Putin intends to urge Russian Customs to find a solution to this problem.
During the meeting, Putin invited Latvia to participate in the Kaliningrad Nuclear Power Plant project, though this must still be evaluated from the Latvian side.
Also discussed during the meeting was the transit of NATO cargo from Latvia through Russia to Afghanistan, which is supported by Russia.
Zatlers and Putin also came to the conclusion that the work of the Latvia-Russian Intergovernmental Commission has been active, but that there is still room for more active work to be carried out.
Zatlers invited Medvedev to visit Latvia, whereupon Medvedev admitted that he has never been to Riga or Latvia, therefore it was “pleasing to receive an invitation.” When asked what would be the prerequisite for such a trip to actually occur, the Russian president responded that if communication between both countries is “as it is today, that would be enough for the visit to take place, especially because there is much to talk about and see.”
The Latvian delegation was scheduled to travel to St. Petersburg on Dec. 21, where an official welcoming ceremony was to take place. Afterwards, Zatlers was to meet with representatives of the Latvian community in St. Petersburg.
On the final day of the visit, Dec. 22, Zatlers was to address the Latvia-Russia Business Forum in St. Petersburg, to be followed by a flower laying ceremony at the Piskaryov Memorial Cemetery.
This was to be followed by a meeting and luncheon with the vice-governor of St. Petersburg, Mikhail Oseevsky, with the afternoon devoted to Zatlers getting acquainted with Russian culture, a visit to the Hermitage Museum, St.Isaac’s Cathedral, and other places of interest.