Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 131

Lithuanian Foreign Ministry officials yesterday made available to some agencies the advance text of a note to Latvia, stating that previous Lithuanian compromise proposals to Latvia on offshore zone demarcation had lost their validity because of Latvia’s unilateral action in signing a deal with foreign companies to drill for oil in the disputed zone. The Lithuanian note is said to define the maritime border with Latvia to Lithuania’s own advantage; to declare that any third-party action in the offshore zone claimed by Lithuania is inadmissible; and to pronounce Latvia’s oil-drilling agreement with the US Amoco and the Swedish OPAB companies as null and void with respect to that zone. The Lithuanian note suggests joint prospecting for oil in the area where the two claims intersect, and expresses the hope that Latvia’s action is a temporary phenomenon that will not harm Baltic solidarity. Also yesterday, Lithuanian prime minister Adolfas Slezevicius told the country in a broadcast address that Latvia’s action was damaging Lithuanian interests. (12)

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry note follows President Algirdas Brazauskas’ public encouragement to the government two days earlier to initiate a tender for foreign firms to drill for oil with Lithuania in the disputed zone. Reciprocating Latvia’s unilateral move may be the best way to reach a compromise solution, Brazauskas said. (13)

The Latvian caretaker government’s precarious position in the new parliament may make it more difficult for it to compromise. While Brazauskas has taken the lead in calling for downplaying the issue, his action and similar moves by Latvian senior officials point to the risk that the dispute may acquire a dynamic of its own unless brought quickly under control.