A high speed rail project has been proposed to connect Riga with Moscow. Rail Baltica, the railway upgrade that would connect the Baltics with Western Europe, is still on the drawing board. Facing limited funds Prime Minister Dombrovskis calls for an economic analysis to be done to decide which way to go.
It seems that Transport Minister Uldis Augulis is ready with one. He says the Moscow connection should be built, because during New Years weekends the trains from Russia to Riga are full. This is his analysis. One week. Oh yeah – he adds that Moscow’s hosting the FIFA World Cup 2018 (a one-time event) will add to the traffic. Then he says Europeans traveling to Russia could fly to Riga, then take the train to Moscow, rather than fly direct, though this would probably be cheaper and faster. Do these comments reflect the quality of people in our government? How they make decisions? Will there be transparency when the decision to build is actually made?
This also reflects Latvia’s recent shift to the East. Looking east makes sense, as long as closer ties are selective and of mutual interest between Russia and Latvia and the EU. Better relations are needed in terms of transit, trade, tourism, based on respect.
The future for Latvia is to the West, the EU, though. At issue is development, and in economic terms, Western companies offer modern management skills and business practices, leading edge production, products and technologies and efficiencies, what won’t be found in Russia, with its inherent corruption, very low-value-added primary resource-based economy, lack of rule of law. Out of 196 countries evaluated in a recent report, Russia comes out as 10th riskiest as a place to do business.
Closer ties to a country with these kinds of values and practices won’t help Latvia develop or compete at the international level. Russia doesn’t even appear to be interested in cleaning up its act. Until it does, Latvia needs to keep its horse hitched to the EU wagon.