In a January 26 radio broadcast, Latvian president Guntis Ulmanis accused Prime Minister Guntars Krasts of "wasting the opportunity" to improve relations with Russia during last week’s Riga conference of the prime ministers of Baltic Sea countries. Ulmanis singled out Krasts’ failure to arrange a bilateral meeting with Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The substance of the meeting: to discuss specific economic projects with the Russian side and to elicit an invitation for a visit to Moscow. Ulmanis, who held a protocol meeting with the Russian and other prime ministers, said he "had the impression" that Chernomyrdin would have wanted to meet with Krasts.
Krasts responded in a press release yesterday that he and the Foreign Ministry had proposed such a meeting to Chernomyrdin well ahead of the Riga conference. However, Krasts said, the Russian side had declined to discuss specific economic issues. "Should I have submissively begged for the meeting or for an invitation to Moscow?" Krasts asked in his release. He further indicated that the Russian side had wanted the agenda to focus on problems of Russians in Latvia. (BNS, January 26-27)
Chernomyrdin’s spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov reaffirmed yesterday Moscow’s focus on two issues. First, that the "rights" of Russians in Latvia take precedence over other aspects of Russian policy. Second, that "there can not be real progress in trade and in economic and political cooperation with Latvia without resolving that priority issue." (Itar-Tass, January 27).
Also yesterday, Russia’s deputy prime minister Valery Serov and Security Council chairman Ivan Rybkin — in talks with OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Max van der Stoel in Moscow — severely criticized Estonia’s and Latvia’s treatment of their "Russian-speaking populations." (Russian agencies, January 27)
Serov is the Russian co-chairman of the Russian-Latvian economic cooperation commission, which Moscow has refused to convene over the last three years in an attempt to pressure Latvia on the ethnic and other issues. Yesterday’s statements in Moscow undermine Ulmanis’ case. The Latvian president has recently begun publicly disagreeing with the coalition government, with Krasts’ Fatherland and Freedom party, and with the Foreign Ministry concerning relations with Russia, including naturalization of Russians in Latvia. This disagreement overlaps a developing controversy over the distribution of power between the parliament and political parties on the one hand and the presidency on the other.
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