Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 12

The Jamestown Foundation’s latest reports and analyses on trends in Latvia have drawn comment from Latvian political leaders [see note]. The discussion is part of an internal political furor triggered by a fabricated interview with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. In the “interview” Solana made unfriendly comments about Latvia and its aspirations to join NATO. Published in the local press on January 11, the forgery was promptly denounced by Latvia’s Foreign Ministry and at NATO in Brussels (see the Monitor, January 14).

The interview was faked by the press secretary of Latvia’s Way, the main governing party. Yesterday, a week after the event, Latvia’s Way dismissed the press secretary, Mikhail Mamilov, for his action. Mamilov expressed regret, adding that he had no idea that it would “create such a furor.”

Latvia’s Foreign Ministry reaffirmed yesterday that “the course of Latvia’s foreign policy remains unchanged. It is integration with the European Union and NATO and good-neighborly relations with Russia.”

Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans, one of Latvia’s Way leaders, stated that neither Russian pressure nor blandishments would turn him or the party away from the path to the European Union (EU) and NATO, and that “Latvia and Russia are two democratic and independent countries which have to form sound relations.” Kristopans also said that he and the Finance Ministry are discussing an increase in defense spending to 1 percent of the gross domestic product. The current level, 0.9 percent, is one of Europe’s lowest—and below the outlays planned by Latvia’s predecessor government under Fatherland and Freedom.

Kristopans also said that “the quality and the essence of the research work done by the [Jamestown] Foundation is not in question, [but] its assertions are imprecise.” The prime minister maintained that “there are no divisions in Latvia’s Way. It is a very monolithic party.” His comment in the Russian press, which cite Russia-Finland relations as a desirable model for Russia-Latvia relations, “should not be considered as a doctrine,” Kristopans said. He had only meant to say that “Latvian-Russian relations must be as good as Russian-Finland relations.” “Why,” he reportedly asked, “should they be any worse?”

Finland, however, is not a candidate for NATO membership; and the board of Latvia’s Way in its response made no reference to emulating Finland. The party board stressed the goals of Latvia’s integration into the EU and NATO. It said that good-neighborly relations with Russia are also a priority, but not at the expense of EU and NATO membership–which it termed a prerequisite for stable relations with Russia. The party statement promised support for an increase in defense spending to 1 percent of GDP.

Leaders of Latvia’s People’s Party, which placed first in the recent parliamentary elections, asked Latvia’s Way and government leaders both for public explanations about the forged interview and for comments on the “Finnish model” of relations with Russia. The People’s Party chairman, former Prime Minister Andris Skele, told reporters that the Jamestown Foundation’s assessment should serve as “a serious warning” on current trends from a source which is “objective” and “not working in anybody’s political or economic interests.” People’s Party deputy Aleksandrs Kirsteins in turn commented that “the foundation has accurately assessed the situation.” Kirsteins referred to a “strong influence” on the government by business interests whose leading figures “on several occasions voiced objections to Latvia’s movement toward NATO.” People’s Party deputy Vaira Paegle, a Latvian-American who headed, until recently, a Baltic political action group in the United States, commented that “the information provided by the Jamestown Foundation should be perceived as important and reliable because the United States government too relies on research conducted by this foundation.”

The election-winner–the conservative People’s Party–has been excluded from the post-election government at the insistence of Latvia’s Way, and against the advice of both President Guntis Ulmanis and Fatherland and Freedom. The government consequently depends on the votes of left-of-center groups, such as the Social-Democratic Alliance which opposes defense outlays. But Fatherland and Freedom chairman Maris Grinblats stated yesterday that deferring to the Social-Democrats on this issue “would be too high a price to pay for keeping the government [in office].” A senior parliamentarian of Fatherland and Freedom, former justice minister Dzintars Rasnacs, questioned Jamestown’s assessment, noting that the goal of joining NATO has figured prominently in the programs of successive Latvian governments. “We don’t have to look too far to see who is interested in stopping our movement to NATO,” he observed (All statements carried by LETA and BNS, January 18).

[Note: See Latvian stories in the Monitor, December 1, 11, 14, 15, 17, 22, 1998 and January 5, 8, 14, 15, 1999; and The Fortnight in Review, October 16, 1998 and January 15, 1999.]