Politicians criticize Jurkans-Putin meeting

  • 2002-09-26

Chairman of the left-wing For Human Rights party Janis Jurkans met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Sept. 21, and both men said they had laid the groundwork for improving relations between Riga and Moscow.

But politicians in Latvia called the meeting a last-minute attempt by Jurkans to win more votes among Latvia's ethnic Russian minority.

Jurkans said the meeting with Putin, which had not been cleared with the Latvian Foreign Ministry, was part of an attempt to improve relations between the two countries, which have been strained since Latvia regained independence in 1991.

Putin said it showed that "in Latvia, there are political players that are tuned toward renewing relations to the fullest extent," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Jurkans was invited to Russia by the State Duma's International Affairs Committee.

In Latvia, the trip was widely criticized as an attempt to win over apathetic voters among Latvia's large ethnic Russian community, the main constituents for Jurkans' For Human Rights party.

But Dmitry Rogozhin, chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said Putin wanted to speak with Jurkans about the condition of Latvia's Russian speakers, who make up more than 30 percent of the country's 2.4 million people.

Moscow has long accused Latvia of violating minority rights by enforcing a strict language law and discriminating against ethnic Russians.

The Russian president is concerned about the violations of rights of Russians living outside Russia and in Latvia, he said, adding that Russian relations with Latvia are worse than those with Lithuania and Estonia.

Jurkans said Putin is "superbly informed about the situation in Latvia."

For Human Rights garners about 12 percent support in most public opinion polls ahead of Latvia's Oct. 5 election. The party has said it hopes to win at least 20 seats in the 100-seat Parliament and join the next government.

Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins said Jurkans was not in Moscow as an official Latvian representative and added that Putin spoke with a politician who "does not represent the majority of Latvian citizens."

Former Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said the move was an attempt by Jurkans to convince his voters that "Russia is with you."

Latvia, Birkavs said, has two choices: join the EU and NATO or stay outside and become "a satellite of Russia."