Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 97

Taking Russian President Boris Yeltsin at his word, Latvia is redoubling efforts to obtain an invitation for President Guntis Ulmanis to visit Russia. As soon as Yeltsin had made that offer on May 15 during the G-8 summit in Birmingham, Ulmanis directed the Latvian Foreign Ministry to begin consultations with its Russian counterpart about the arrangements and the date for a presidential visit to Russia. “The political tensions between Russia and Latvia necessitate an intensive political dialogue,” Ulmanis reaffirmed in a communique. However, Russia’s Foreign Ministry replied yesterday that it must withhold a response for the time being because it had only learned about Yeltsin’s offer “from press reports.” Kremlin foreign policy coordinator Sergei Yastrzhembsky relegated such a visit to an unspecified “future.” (BNS, May 18 and 19)

As anticipated (see the Monitor, May 18), Yeltsin’s offer is likely to have been one of those improvisations that have come to characterize his international conduct and which his officials must subsequently explain away. Riga has since 1995 sought an invitation for Ulmanis to visit Russia. Aside from the main goal of talks with Yeltsin, Ulmanis also seeks a visit to Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk territory where tens of thousands of Latvians, including the Ulmanis family, had been deported, many of them never to return.

Following Yeltsin’s ostensible overture to Latvia, the Lithuanian parliament chairman Vytautas Landsbergis commented that Moscow can at any time shift the brunt of pressure from Latvia onto Estonia or Lithuania (Radio Vilnius, May 18). Yeltsin had in fact warned, in a little-noticed aside in Birmingham, that Moscow’s “problems with Estonia are more complicated” than those with Latvia. (Russian agencies, May 15). All three countries are located within the “red line” that Yeltsin unilaterally drew in Birmingham against NATO’s enlargement in the Baltic region. (The Guardian cited by BNS, May 15)