Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for relations with the European Union, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, warned on April 28 that Russia would not consent after all to sign the Border Agreement with Latvia on May 10 in Moscow. As an excuse, Yastrzhembsky cited the Latvian government’s April 26 decision to issue, in parallel with the agreement’s signing, an interpretative declaration (Interfax, April 28). The declaration is meant to underscore the legal continuity of the Latvian state during the Soviet occupation period, with specific reference to the Latvia-Russia Peace Treaty of 1920 in which Soviet Russia had recognized Latvia’s state independence and borders.
The bilateral Border Agreement was initialed in 1997 after the Latvian government had accepted both of Moscow’s demands. First, it agreed to recognize the currently existing border as inviolable, despite the fact that pre-occupation Latvia’s Abrene district now finds itself within the borders of the Russian Federation as a result of an unlawful transfer of territory during the occupation era. Second, the Latvian side agreed to drop a reference to the 1920 Treaty from the text of the Border Agreement. Fully satisfied with the agreement’s text, Russia nevertheless refused to sign it from 1997 to date, miscalculating that the absence of a border agreement with Russia would complicate Latvia’s efforts to join NATO and the European Union. With Latvia’s 2004 accession to both of those institutions, the Latvia-Russia border became a part of the EU’s borders.
Latvia’s decision to issue an interpretative declaration in parallel with the agreement’s signing conforms to a standard international practice. The Latvian government published the declaration’s text on April 29 in response to Moscow’s warnings, and as a confirmation of its intention to sign the border agreement with Russia without impairing the legal continuity of the Latvian state. To ensure that the state-continuity principle remains intact, the interpretative declaration asserts that the Border Agreement in no way affects the legal rights of the Latvian state and its citizens under the 1920 Latvia-Russia Peace Treaty and the [1990-reinstated] Latvian constitution pursuant to international law. Interpreting the border as a de facto demarcation line, the declaration asserts that the Border Agreement is intended to ensure and facilitate cooperation “in the interests of both countries and their residents, as well as in the mutual interests of the European Union and the Russian Federation” (BNS, April 30).
The interpretative declaration became necessary and indeed unavoidable after Moscow had ruled out any reference to the 1920 Treaty and to Latvia’s state continuity from the text of the Border Agreement. In any case, a Latvian declaration on state continuity does not challenge the existing border, the inviolability of which is unambiguously confirmed by the Border Agreement itself. Moreover, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis and other officials have announced that Latvia has no objection to Russia issuing an interpretative declaration of its own. (BNS, April 26, 29). In a government-approved statement accompanying the release of the interpretative declaration, Kalvitis reaffirms that the latter does not imply any territorial claims and that Latvia will respect the border as defined by the agreement, which Latvia is ready to sign. However, as Kalvitis points out, Latvia’s Constitution does not allow the government to sign the Border Agreement without making this “unilateral declaration;” and Russia’s unwillingness to acknowledge the fact of the occupation “does not allow us to ignore our Constitution and history, which can not be annulled or changed by decisions of the government” (BNS, April 30).
A further accompanying statement by Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “reiterates that Latvia has no territorial claims to the Russian Federation” (BNS, April 29). The Minister, Artis Pabriks underscored this fact again in his April 28-29 addresses to conferences in Copenhagen and Riga on Baltic-Russia history and on the Hitler-Stalin pact. The Latvian government is keen to sign the Border Agreement as planned on May 10 during the EU-Russia summit in Moscow, and has authorized Pabriks to sign.