Prague, March 21 (RFE/RL) -- Latvia's foreign minister said today
in Prague that his country's first priority in foreign affairs is to
maintain a balance between its relations with Russia and its
relations with the West.
Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said that Latvia can survive
economically without Russia or without the European Union. But, in
his words, "We can only be an economic tiger if we use our
possibility to be in the middle."
Birkavs told a press conference at Radio Free Europe's Prague
headquarters that Latvia can take significant advantage of its
strategic economic position between Russia and the West. He added:
"Russia wants us to use these advantages."
Latvia's foreign trade six years ago was 100 percent with the Soviet
Union, Birkavs noted. He said that its commerce now with Russia is 20
percent of its foreign trade total. He said that in terms of capital
investment in joint ventures, Russia is the second largest foreign
presence in Latvia. He said a question remains whether Russia will
seek to use its economic importance in Latvia as a political tool.
Birkavs, a former prime minister of Latvia, now is deputy prime
minister as well as foreign minister. He is in the Czech Republic for
a meeting of foreign ministers from Central Europe and U.S. Secretary
of State Warren Christopher.