Vilnius, 5 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin today offered security guarantees to Baltic nations that remain neutral. Chernomyrdin told a Vilnius summit on "Good Neighborly Relations" that Russia is alarmed about the prospect of NATO expanding into former Soviet territory.
Chernomyrdin proposed a package of measures aimed at increasing communication and confidence between the Baltic capitals and authorities in Russia's Kaliningrad region.
Chernomyrdin said national security in the Baltics should be based on partnership agreements rather than what he called "bloc-based" arrangements. He said NATO's planned eastward expansion is the biggest strategic mistake since the end of the Cold War.
There was no immediate response from Baltic leaders today. All three Baltic states have applied for membership in NATO.
Also at the conference today, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka defended his government's respect for human rights, saying it is in line with European Union standards. Lukashenka also said no nation has a right to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
Lukashenka's comments come amid mounting criticism by international groups and other governments about Belarusian restrictions on civil freedoms. The humanitarian Soros Foundation closed its Minsk office two days ago because of troubles with Belarusian authorities and a controversy continues over the recent detention of Russian state television employees by Belarus.
Prior to Lukashenka's comments, Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauska opened the conference by saying that Belarus "is living through a difficult period of building and reinforcing statehood." He said these processes "should be democratic in keeping with universally recognized human rights as well as the right of assembly and press."
Delegates to today's conference were presented with a petition prepared by Lithuanian non-governmntal organizations condemning what they called "violations of human rights in Belarus." The petition was signed by Remigijus Simasius, Chairman of Lithuanian Liberal Youth, and was endorsed by several other Lithuanian, Scandanavian, Austrian, and Swiss student groups.
The two-day regional summit was organized by the presidents of Poland and Lithuania. The summit is intended to promote regional cooperation, reconciliation and European security.
The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and the prime minister of Russia are attending.
According to organizers, the main purpose of the meeting is to share experiences in overcoming hostility among neighboring states. More specifically, the summit is expected to focus on the examples of historical reconciliation between France and Germany, Germany and Poland, as well as the Lithuanian-Polish example.
Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas has said he would like to see the conference become a regular event.