Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 150

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on July 29 and August 3 chastised Latvia for her plan to demarcate and equip her side of the Latvian-Russian border. Moscow bases its case on the fact that the Russian-Latvian border agreement–which legalizes the border and delimits the respective territories–has not been signed. Nevertheless, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs yesterday confirmed Latvia’s resolve to begin the border work as part of efforts to qualify for admission to the European Union. The EU requires Latvia–and also Estonia and Lithuania–to establish reliable control of their eastern borders, which would become the EU’s border once the Baltic states are admitted to the organization. The EU wants to end the vulnerability of that border to contraband and illegal migration.

European Union envoys attended on the Latvian-Russian border last week for the presentation of a computerized system of border surveillance, supplied to Latvia by Siemens-Nixdorf of Germany on credit from EU countries. Latvia also unveiled a plan to build protective installations and checkpoints between now and December 2000, at a cost of $140 million. The goal is maximum border security with a minimum of border guards.

The Russian-Latvian border agreement was initialed by the two delegations in December 1997. Latvia made the concessions which Moscow had demanded: renouncing claims to Abrene district (renamed Pytalovo), annexed to the Russian Federation after the Soviet occupation of Latvia, and eliminating from the agreement a reference to the 1920 Riga peace treaty, in which Soviet Russia had recognized Latvia’s independence.

Moscow now invokes extraneous reasons for refusing to sign the border agreement. As Foreign Ministry chief spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin has just reaffirmed, Russia conditions the signing on changes to Latvia’s citizenship and language laws in favor of the Russian population and an end to Latvian references to the 1920 treaty in contexts unrelated to the border agreement. In addition, Russian government officials have hinted that Latvia’s quest to join NATO also hinders the signing of the border agreement.

The situation closely resembles Russia’s handling of the border agreement with Estonia. The Russian government has signed the border agreement only with Lithuania, but holds up the ratification process. Without actually objecting to the Baltic states’ aspiration to join the EU, Russia apparently seeks to hinder that process through manipulation of the border issue. Moscow probably hopes through these tactics to gain political leverage over the Baltic states on ethnic and political issues unrelated to borders. (BNS, Russian agencies, July 30-31, August 3-4)