Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday ordered the cabinet of ministers to introduce "targeted economic pressures" against Latvia — under the pretext of mass-scale violations of the human rights of Russians there. Russia will use that phrase, and not the tern "sanctions," to describe the measures, explained the Kremlin’s foreign policy coordinator Sergei Yastrzhembsky in announcing the move. Yastrzhembsky, acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and acting Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov elaborated, in separate statements, that the measures will involve immediately scaling back the transit of Russian export goods through Latvia, reducing Russian use of Latvian ports and cutting Russian oil deliveries. The transits are to be rerouted around Latvia toward other ports on the Baltic Sea. Unspecified further measures are to follow. Aleksandr Shokhin, Duma leader of the pro-government Russia is Our Home, explained that the measures are calculated "to hurt Latvia as a state," rather than Russian population in Latvia.
In Russia’s interior, the Communist governor of Kemerovo oblast, Aman Tuleev, announced that he has ordered Kemerovo railroads to slow the exports destined either for Latvia or for transit through that country.
In a televised appearance from Riga, prominent businessman Raitis Bullitis — active in transit trade — told the country that Russia would not be able to implement the sanctions in the near term. Russia, he said, has few Baltic export outlets and would itself lose revenue as a result. Also yesterday, officials of Russian oil companies announced — entirely outside the context of Latvia — that Russia is reducing oil exports in general due to the low prices currently prevailing on the international market. In sum, the sanctions — by whatever name — seem for the moment mainly declarative. They do, however, reflect a brutal policy designed to bully not just Latvia but all the Baltic states.
The intimidation worked on the Saimnieks party, which yesterday quit Latvia’s coalition government, blaming Prime Minister Guntars Krasts’ Fatherland and Freedom party for the situation. Saimnieks, the single-largest parliamentary party with twenty seats in the chamber, held five ministries in the cabinet, including the Internal Affairs Ministry, headed by Saimnieks leader Ziedonis Cevers and responsible for public order. Some Saimnieks statements yesterday suggested that the party has decided to bring down the government. (BNS, Latvian Radio, Russian and Western agencies, April 8)
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