Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 181

Russia’s ambassador to Latvia, Aleksandr Udaltsev, suggested publicly yesterday that Latvia should sign a pact on the basic principles of bilateral relations with Russia. According to Udaltsev, such a pact could help “prevent collisions and conflict situations that might arise in certain cases.” The Russian ambassador traced his offer to President Boris Yeltsin’s 1997 initiative, reformulated earlier this year, for a security pact involving Russia and the Baltic states.

Udaltsev yesterday also held out the carrots of trade preferences, special visa facilities, favorable transit arrangements and unfreezing of the Russian-Latvian border agreement. All this, he suggested, would follow after the basic political treaty had been signed. Udaltsev made these statements during a ceremony on the border in the presence of President Guntis Ulmanis and Parliament Chairman Alfreds Cepanis (BNS, October 1). This context could lead to suppositions that the Russian ambassador had discussed some details of the offer with the president.

The allusion to conflict contingencies and conflict prevention seems to suggest that Moscow seeks a separate security pact with Latvia. This would be consistent with Yeltsin’s offer to “guarantee” the Baltic states’ security by treaty, on condition that they renounce the goal of joining NATO. After the Baltic states rejected the proposal, Moscow singled out Latvia for pressure as the more vulnerable of the three states. Under the transparent guise of promoting human rights, that pressure is in fact intended to soften the country for a deal on Moscow’ terms. The current goal of Russian policy is to detach Latvia from its Baltic neighbors, isolate it from the West and maneuver it into special security and economic arrangements of dependency on Russia.

Yesterday’s airing of the offer is evidently timed to Latvia’s parliamentary election scheduled for October 3. It attempts to counter the thesis that Latvia has no alternative to a Western orientation. The set of proposals, however, is not just an opportunistic, election-eve gambit. It represents Moscow’s current strategy and will almost certainly remain on the agenda, to be reiterated at intervals, punctuating bouts of crude pressure.