Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 71

While expecting Russia to come to terms with its recent history and their irreversible independence, the three Baltic states are initiating efforts to improve relations with Russia on the practical level. Moscow seems to grasp this opportunity for improving the atmosphere in the run-up to the April 22 Vilnius meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the NATO-Russia Council, and the May 9-10 Moscow meetings of Russian, U.S., and European Union leaders. Russia seems willing to suspend the bullying of Baltic states for the duration. For their part, the three Baltic states seek permanent normalization of relations with Russia.

On April 8-10, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antanas Valionis, paid an impromptu working visit to Moscow. There he conferred with Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Transport Minister Igor Levitin, who co-chairs (with Valionis) a largely dormant Russia-Lithuania intergovernmental cooperation commission. The Russian side refrained from criticizing Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus’ decision to stay away from the May 9 anniversary celebrations in Moscow of the Soviet victory in the Second World War. Lavrov, who had recently equated Lithuania’s anti-Soviet resistance fighters with terrorists, now called for “pragmatism” in relations. For its part, the Lithuanian side decided to forgo its intention to seek the recall of Russian ambassador Boris Tsepov, who had twice recently calumniated Lithuania in grotesque terms in the press.

In his post-visit briefing in Vilnius, Valionis reported that the visit had achieved the goal of alleviating tensions. He recommended to parliament and public opinion to postpone any demands for compensation from Russia for occupation-era damages. Valionis argued that presenting such demands at this time would only increase tensions without bringing results, and would interfere with the resolution of more urgent practical issues. The Lithuanian parliament had in 2000 passed a law empowering a commission to calculate the occupation damages to the Lithuanian people, and requiring the government to seek compensation from Russia.

On April 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for relations with the European Union, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, headed a delegation to Riga, on what looked like a fact-finding visit regarding the situation of Russians in Latvia. The country’s Naturalization Board reported on this occasion that the number of Russians seeking Latvian citizenship had increased to over 16,000 in 2004, compared to an average of 10,000 in the preceding years; and that the number seems likely in 2005 to top the 2004 mark. The increase is mainly attributable to Latvia’s accession to the EU, which renders Latvian citizenship attractive to many local Russians who wish to travel to Western countries. More than 400,000 have chosen not to apply for Latvian citizenship. That figure will almost certainly decline steadily in the years ahead.

Latvia’s Public Integration Ministry announced on the same occasion that the government and parliament are moving to ratify the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, albeit with the same conditions and reservations as those of Estonia. Those terms are designed to promote integration, rather than a bi-national society as Moscow policymakers intend for Latvia and Estonia.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks discussed with Yastrzhembsky the date and place for signing the long-awaited border treaty. Russia and Latvia initialed the treaty in 1998, but Russia has refused to sign it ever since, trying to extract Latvian concessions on unrelated issues in return for Moscow’s signature. Most recently, Moscow wanted a declaration on bilateral relations to be signed at the same time with the border treaty. The Russian draft of that declaration contains some terms that could expose Latvia to Russian pressures in the future, however. Pabriks termed the meeting with Yastrzhembsky “one of the most fruitful bilateral meetings in recent years” and called for the Russia-Latvia intergovernmental cooperation commission to meet. That body, created in 1997, has never met because Moscow did not want to signal an improvement in bilateral relations. As with the unsigned border treaty, Moscow miscalculated that such unresolved issues would delay Latvia’s admission to NATO and the EU.

Estonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rein Lang, announced on April 5 that his country would demonstrate flexibility on the issue of compensation for occupation-era damages, if Russia recognizes the fact of the occupation. And, on April 11, an assembly of delegates from more than 50 Russian-language secondary schools in Estonia called on the country’s government and parliament to accelerate, and properly finance, the transition from Russian-language to Estonian-language education, particularly in science courses, in the interest of improving the graduates’ competitiveness on the job market.

(BNS, ELTA, April 5-11)