Latvia’s Foreign Ministry explained Moscow’s pressure tactics at a briefing for Western ambassadors yesterday, six days after the incident. Top ministry officials could only regret the fact that some Western news media had in the meantime reflected Moscow’s slant in their reporting. The officials expressed the hope that the partner countries in the European Union would "react properly to any Russian attempt to pressure Latvia through economic sanctions." The senior officials told the assembled ambassadors from Western European countries and the United States that a thorough investigation had determined that the police had abided by the law in dealing with the disturbance, and did not harm or arrest anyone. (BNS, March 9) In a separate statement, the Ministry reminded Moscow — as did Parliament Chairman Alfreds Cepanis — that economic sanctions would primarily hurt the local ethnic Russians, who dominate the industrial and transportation sectors that depend on trade with Russia. Cepanis dealt a blow to his own government, however, by seeming to stake an equidistant position between the Russian and the Latvian governments, after the Russian Prime Minister had publicly insulted his Latvian counterpart. (See Monitor, March 9)
Yesterday, Lithuania expressed for the first time a "serious concern" over the week-long situation. But Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas, who made the statement, deferred taking a specific position until "later." The Parliament’s First Vice-Chairman Audrius Kubilius, in a similar vein, said that the legislature’s Foreign Relations Committee is still "analyzing" the situation.
In Estonia, a government spokesman had been content to state on March 5 that Tallinn "has no evidence of human rights violations by Latvia." (BNS, March 5) It was left to the united parliamentary opposition (which holds thirty-six seats in the 100-seat chamber) to issue a statement yesterday, defending Latvia against "Russian pressure which destabilizes the Baltic Sea region." The statement pointed to the contrast between Moscow’s unwarranted anti-Latvian campaign and its simultaneous "benevolence" toward the Serbian authorities’ military onslaught on Kosovo Albanians. (BNS, March 9)
The unprecedented virulence and persistence of Moscow’s anti-Latvian campaign may be partly attributable to a perception that it is paying off by opening cracks in Baltic solidarity.