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Baltic Report: April 30, 2003

30 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 15

This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 19 to 25 April 2003.
Presidents Arnold Ruutel (Estonia), Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia), and Rolandas Paksas (Lithuania) affirmed at their annual meeting held in Tartu, Estonia, on 24 April that their countries can achieve more by continuing cooperation after they become members of the EU and NATO, BNS reported. Ruutel said that while the construction of the Via Baltica highway is proceeding successfully, the development of the stretch transiting Poland is experiencing a bottleneck and the issue should be raised at the next meeting of the Baltic and Polish presidents. Paksas invited Latvia and Estonia to be partners in the construction of a new nuclear-power plant at Ignalina, but received responses that more study is needed before a decision can be made. The presidents agreed on the need to work together to achieve the ratification of their NATO-accession treaties by current NATO members. They also agreed to cooperate in strengthening security along their eastern borders and in combating international terrorism and crime.
* The Latvian daily "Diena" wrote on 25 April that U.S. President George W. Bush had invited the foreign ministers of the seven countries invited to join NATO to meet with him in Washington, D.C., on 8 May to mark the ratification of the accession treaty by the U.S. Senate, BNS reported. The foreign ministers are also expected to have lunch with Secretary of State Colin Powell and may also meet with senators and congressmen.

Russian Ambassador to Estonia Konstantin Provalov told the faculty and students of Tartu University on 21 April that he believes Estonians are overestimating the positive effects Estonia's membership in the EU and NATO will have on Russian-Estonian relations, BNS reported the next day, citing "Postimees." He said that while Estonia's accession to those organizations will bring a new quality into the relationship, old issues, such as the situation of the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia, still have to be resolved. Provalov noted that although both countries have stated their desire to improve bilateral relations, they advocate quite different solutions to the situation. There is still a great deal of mistrust in the countries' relations and it will take time for this to disappear. He predicted that in 10-15 years relations between Estonia and Russia will be like those between Finland and Russia today. Provalov also said that Russia's imposition of double tariffs on goods imported from Estonia will likely end when Estonia joins the EU.

Russian-speaking students told a meeting of the Federation of Estonian Student Unions (EUL) on 21 April that their poor command of the Estonian language is in great part due to the low level of teaching Estonian in schools, BNS reported. Tartu University student Marianna Drozdova said the level of teaching Estonian at Russian-language high schools is very poor and that "no interest is created in learning Estonian in Russian schools." EUL officials noted that while Russian-speakers make up 35 percent of Estonia's population, they account for only 15 percent of students in institutions of higher learning, indicating that Russian-speaking students' access to higher education is insufficient. The EUL promised to present the problems expressed by the Russian-speaking students to the Education and Science Ministry.

Head of the Russian Defense Ministry Social Insurance Division Vladimir Vdovin and Estonian Social Affairs Minister Marko Pomerants signed an agreement in Tallinn on 24 April, BNS reported. The two-year agreement, which will go into effect on 1 May, provides that the 4,100 ethnic Russian ex-Soviet servicemen residing in Estonia will have the same rights to health services as people covered by Estonian health insurance. Russia agreed to pay to the Estonian Public Health Insurance Fund 497 kroons ($34.60) a month for each ex-serviceman. The figure is based on the average monthly sum the fund spends on the treatment of a patient aged 70 to 79.

The Concordia Academic Community (CAC), an organization formed by the faculty and students of the bankrupt Concordia University, and the private Audentes University signed a cooperation agreement on 23 April, BNS reported. Its aim is to allow Concordia to continue operating. The Latvian private, graduate business school Turiba's offer to invest $1 million to ensure the continued work of Concordia (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 18 April 2003) was withdrawn after the CAC evaluated all cooperation offers and selected Audentes as the best cooperation partner.
* Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev praised the efforts that Estonia has made against pirated goods in a speech at a conference on security of information in St. Petersburg on 21 April, BNS reported He noted that Russia could learn from Estonia's experience where pirated CDs disappeared from the counters of stores after a law was adopted to punish the sellers of pirated goods with a sentence of up to six years' imprisonment.
* Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland told reporters on 21 April that the EU was not going to conclude agreements for Estonia with Russia and that Estonia will have to manage to do it on its own, BNS reported. She noted that Russia will always remain an immediate neighbor of Estonia and thus the development of relations will remain a permanent priority.
* The airspace-surveillance radar on Kellavere Hill in West-Viru County was officially opened on 21 April, BNS reported. The Lockheed Martin radar is able to see flying objects within 450 kilometers and up to 30 kilometers altitude and to define the altitude, distance, and direction of the object. Russian military attache in Estonia Colonel Igor Vakulenko said that Russia was not worried about the new radar as it had known for a long time that Estonia planned to install a radar which would cover a large part of Russia's airspace.
* The enlargement working group of the European People's Party (EPP) unanimously endorsed admission of the Res Publica party as an observer member on 22 April, BNS reported. The Pro Patria Union is an associated member of EPP since 1997. Res Publica's observer-member status will apparently be finally endorsed by the EPP political bureau at the beginning of May.
* Prime Minister Juhan Parts told reporters on 22 April that the government plans draw up an almost 1 billion-kroon ($67 million) supplementary budget in May, BNS reported. He said that the greatest part of the budget would likely go toward education while asserting, "The situation of Estonian education is far from satisfactory and investments must be made to improve the study environment already this year."
* Education and Science Minister Toivo Maimets told representatives of student associations that he wants a rapid solution to the problems of student allowances, BNS reported on 21 April. The minister and the students are planning to cooperate in drafting the country's education strategy and in issues of guaranteeing the quality of higher education.
* In an interview to the daily "Paevaleht" on 22 April, former Prime Minister Mart Laar suggested that the new government should institute the post of a minister without portfolio to take care of the information-technology (IT) sphere, BNS reported. He noted that several IT projects which had been launched while he headed the government have become stuck because there was no in the government who devoted consistent attention to them.
* The Tallinn City Court acquitted on 21 April retired General Aleksander Einseln of misuse of powers in connection with illegal arms trade which occurred in 1994-95 when he was commander of the Estonian Defense Forces, BNS reported. The Security Police charged that of nearly 1,500 weapons ordered from the Finnish firm Ultramatic OY in the name of the Defense Forces General Staff, less than a hundred were sold to its employees.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 23 April sent back to parliament for revision a bill on preserving and protecting Riga's historic center, LETA and BNS reported. The aim of the bill, passed by the parliament on 16 April, was to stem excessive construction in the historic center of Riga, which is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Foreign Investors Council and the Riga City Council had asked the president not to sign the bill, arguing that the designated protected area was too large. Vike-Freiberga also noted that the bill did not offer enough information about the specific protection measures to be applied. Other critics said the bill's provision to form within three months a council with representatives of the community, government, and the Riga City Council for developing the area would create another bureaucratic obstacle to business activity.

The Corruption Prevention Bureau turned to the courts on 24 August, asking that the activities of six political parties be suspended because they violated the law by not submitting detailed financial declarations, LETA reported. The six parties are: the Renaissance of Latvia Party, Future of Latvia Party, Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Union, For Development of Liepaja party, and the National Harmony Party (TSP). The bureau requested the court suspend operations of these parties for six months and order them to submit more complete financial declarations for 2002 within two weeks. Among these parties the TSP is the only one to be represented in parliament. Its chairman, Janis Jurkans, told BNS that the request is the result of a misunderstanding, as the TSP has nothing to hide. He expressed surprise that the bureau did not call him for explanations before turning to the courts.

Aivars Purmalis, the chief of the State Revenue Service's (SRS) Finance Police, on 22 April submitted his resignation for personal reasons, LETA and BNS reported. SRS Director-General Karlis Ketners said he accepted the resignation with a "heavy heart" and that Purmalis will remain as his adviser. There have been other significant changes in the SRS this year. Ketners became director-general in March following the dismissal of Andrejs Sonciks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2003), and the director of the SRS's Customs Administration, Kalvis Vitolins, was demoted for a period of three years following the opening of two disciplinary cases against him. On 22 April, Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis approved the appointment of Martins Tols, the chief of the Customs Administration's customs-methodology department, as Vitolins' replacement out of a field of nine candidates.
* Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete made an official visit to the Czech Republic on 22 and 23 April, LETA reported. The first day she attended the opening of the Latvian honorary consulate in Brno and had meetings with the city's mayor, Petr Duchon ,and Brno Military Academy rector Franticek Vojkovsky. The next day she had talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Chamber of Deputies' Chairman Lubomir Zaoralek, and Senate President Petr Pithart. She received assurances that the NATO Accession Protocol would be ratified rapidly. There was also a common consensus that U.S. .involvement in issues related to European security is very important and that it is essential to maintain this trans-Atlantic link.
* A delegation from Prague headed by Mayor Pavel Bem arrived in Riga on 24 April to participate in the "Prague Days" in Riga, LETA reported. The days were a follow up to the "Riga Days" that were held in Prague in April 2001. On 25 April, Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars spoke with the delegation and assured Bem that Latvian hockey fans will behave themselves during the 2004 World Championship in Prague. Noting that the direct flight between Prague and Riga was full, Bem promised that there would be more Czech tourists visiting Latvia after both countries join the EU.
* The government decided on 22 April to approve sending two soldiers for a peacekeeping mission in Macedonia, BNS reported. The two soldiers -- an officer of the 1st Infantry Battalion and a home guard career-service soldier -- have already departed for Macedonia, where the former NATO-led peacekeeping operation has been taken over by the EU.
* The Defense Ministry has appointed Captain Commander Vladimirs Dreimanis as the country's military attache to NATO and Aivars Purins as its representative to the Latvian mission to NATO, BNS reported on 21 April. Dreimanis will also serve as Latvia's military attache to Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Purins told LETA the next day that he will be responsible for Latvian-NATO cooperation in financial matters within the military budget, civil budget, and infrastructure committees, but will only take up his duties in May.
* President Vike-Freiberga handed Peteris Vaivars an accreditation letter as the Latvian ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro on 22 April, LETA reported the next day. She noted that Latvia's relations with the country are good but at a low level, as no treaties between the two countries have yet been signed. On 22 April she also accepted the credentials from the Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Latvia Mediha Filipovic and the Mongolian Ambassador to Latvia Tugalkhuu Baasansuren.
* Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers has selected Lutheran pastor Janis Smits as his advisor for religious affairs, BNS reported on 21 April. The post was created because Prime Minister Einars Repse, unlike his predecessors, decided not to head the Spiritual Affairs Council himself but to delegate the post to Slesers. Both Slesers and Smits are members of Latvia's First Party (LPP).
* The Monument Council at the Riga City Council expressed support on 24 April for erecting a famous statue to Russian Tsar Peter I in Viesturdarzs Park near an elm tree which the tsar himself had planted, BNS reported. The bronze statue had originally been erected in 1910, but had been sunk by a German submarine when being shipped to St. Petersburg in 1915. It was recovered in 1934 by Estonian divers and restored in 2001 by Latvian businessman Yevgenii Gomberg. Opposition to erecting the statue in Riga was so great that the Riga City Council decided to donate the statue to St. Petersburg, which, however, agreed only to accept a model of the statue.
* The Constitutional Protection Bureau has granted top-level security clearance to Janis Kazocins, a retired British brigadier general who has been nominated to be the new director of the bureau, BNS reported on 25 April. The clearance was the last barrier to his appointment which the parliament is expected to approve on 8 May.
* Prime Minister Repse asked State Auditor Raits Cernajs to launch an extraordinary audit on the fixed-line telecommunications operator Lattelekom to check suspicions of intentional devaluation of the company on 25 April, BNS reported. The state owns a 51 percent share of the company. The audit was prompted by a complaint by the Latvian Communications Workers Union that the plans of Lattelekom to dismiss almost a thousand workers will reduce the value of the company.

Guenter Verheugen began a two-day visit on 24 April with a meeting with Vilnius Archbishop Cardinal Audrys Backis, ELTA reported. He discussed with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas the future of the EU after enlargement, and they agreed that the current system of a rotating EU Presidency should be maintained. Verheugen traveled to the northern city of Siauliai where he told local officials, businessmen, and residents that Lithuania had successfully overcome the two hurdles posed by Kaliningrad transit and the planned closure of the Ignalina nuclear-power plant. In an interview in "Lietuvos zinios" of 25 April, he said Lithuania should not fear domination by the large countries in the EU because 17 of the 25 countries in the expanded EU will be small countries that will be defending each others' rights. On 25 April, Verheugen traveled to Kaunas where he spoke at the conference "European Union 2004" at Kaunas Technological University and visited the Kauno Baldai furniture company. He then returned to Vilnius where he told the international conference "The EU Eastern Dimension" that EU expansion would help ensure peace, stability, and welfare not only in the EU, but also beyond its boundaries. Fulfilling an earlier promise, President Rolandas Paksas took Verheugen for a short trip in a two-seat plane during which he made spins, a loop, and other acrobatic tricks. The daily "Lietuvos rytas" reported that the flight did not go smoothly because the hatch over Verheugen's head opened when the Jak-52 plane was at a height of 1 kilometer. Paksas praised his passenger for his ability to deal with the emergency situation.

Juozas Bernatonis submitted his letter of resignation to Prime Minister Brazauskas on 25 April, BNS reported. Bernatonis's decision came as a result of a report issued by a parliamentary ad hoc commission two days earlier that stated that Bernatonis unlawfully suspended Police Commissioner-General Vytautas Grigaravicius on 9 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003) and the charges that Grigaravicius unlawfully collected information about high-ranking officials were groundless. The commission's report made void the apparent settlement of the dispute between the two officials that was reached several days earlier. The cabinet had threatened at that time to fire both officials if they did not settle their differences. Brazauskas said that he would submit the resignation and his choice of a replacement to President Paksas on 28 April.

Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and presidential envoy for Kaliningrad Dmitrii Rogozin told President Vladimir Putin on 23 April that Moscow's negotiations with the European Union and Lithuania over access to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad following Lithuania's entry into the EU are "practically complete," RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). The new rules, which will be incorporated into the Schengen agreement governing border crossings, call for a simplified transit document to be issued to Russians for a term of three years. Barring last-minute snags, the procedure, which will allow Russians a 24-hour period in which to travel through Lithuania, is expected to go into effect on 1 July. At a meeting in Moscow, Foreign Ministers Igor Ivanov and Antanas Valionis hailed the new arrangement as a first in international practice, with Ivanov quipping that the countries should "patent" it. Valionis said his government has made several concessions, dropping its refusal to have consular workers handle transit procedures aboard trains and shortening the amount of time needed for issuing the transit document to 24 hours.

Foreign Minister Valionis also said in Moscow on 23 April that Lithuania is willing to sign the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), as soon as the original signatories have ratified the treaty, Interfax reported. Some NATO members, however, are refusing to ratify the treaty to protest Moscow's failure to comply with its commitments to close its military bases in Georgia and Moldova. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov last November expressed the hope that all three Baltic states will sign the CFE Treaty before they are formally accepted as NATO members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002).

Patrick Cox began a two-day visit to Lithuania on 22 April with a meeting with President Paksas, who thanked him for fulfilling his pledge to visit the country and campaign for the passage of Lithuania's referendum on EU membership, ELTA reported. Cox then went to parliament, where he delivered a speech in which he mentioned the benefits his native Ireland received from joining the EU and urged Lithuania to take the same step. Accompanied by parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and European Commission delegation head in Lithuania Michael Graham, he then traveled to the eastern city of Utena, where he met with representatives of the local administration, business, media, farmers, and NGOs, and attended a youth concert. On 23 April Cox met with Prime Minister Brazauskas and toured Vilnius's Old Town before flying to Warsaw.

Linas Linkevicius held talks in Yerevan on 21-23 April with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian, Interfax and Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian said the Baltic states' experience in implementing reform should serve as both an example and a source of information for Armenia, Interfax reported. Markarian advocated expanding cooperation between the two countries in the spheres of tourism, agriculture, and industry. Linkevicius told journalists on 23 April that Armenian military officers will begin a course of training at the Baltic Military College in November 2003, and that 15 Lithuanian officers will participate in the NATO-sponsored maneuvers to be held in Armenia in June.

Rolandas Paksas began a two-day working visit to Estonia on 23 April with talks with his Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel, ELTA reported. He proposed that Baltic politicians, intellectuals, and experts prepare a study on the impact of the cooperation among the three Baltic states on the region's development and define strategic priorities and prospects for the coming decade. Paksas mentioned the need to further develop the Via Baltica and Rail Baltica transportation projects, as well as to unite the Lithuanian and Polish electricity-transmission networks. Prime Minister Juhan Parts asked Paksas about Lithuania's preparations for its EU-membership referendum in May and discussed increasing bilateral trade. Parliament speaker Ene Ergma noted that the two countries are in a totally new situation after their signing of the EU Treaty of Accession and that it is necessary to decide how to best present their common interests.
* Co-Chairmen Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Russian Transportation Minister Sergei Frank led the meeting of the Lithuanian-Russian governmental commission in Moscow on 22 April, BNS reported. This was only the third meeting of the commission since its establishment in 1995. The meeting covered a wide range of issues but with particular focus on Kaliningrad Oblast. It agreed on the faster implementation of the project 2K (Klaipeda-Kaliningrad) with proposals on the harmonization of tariffs for transit to the ports to be prepared by 1 July. Lithuania offered to share its experience in waste-water treatment to reduce the pollution from Kaliningrad pulp and paper mills in the Nemunas River. The two sides also agreed to promote cooperation in the field of gas, power, and oil industry, the avoidance of double taxation on capital, and introduction of an investment-protection mechanism.
* Commander of NATO Joint Headquarters Northeast Lieutenant General Jan Scharling and head of Military Cooperation Division of the Staff Colonel Hans Joachim Gerber met with Lithuanian Armed Forces Commander Major General Jonas Kronkaitis and Deputy Defense Minister Jonas Gecas on 22 April, BNS reported. Kronkaitis presented the amended reform plan for the Lithuanian armed forces in two stages -- the first until 2008 and the second until 2014. The Danish officers visited the Motorized Infantry Battalion of Lithuanian Grand Duke Algirdas in Rukla and the Regional Airspace Observation Center in Karmelava on 23 April. Scharling also gave a lecture at the Military Academy and held talks with parliament National Security and Defense Committee Chairman Alvydas Sadeckas.
* The Lithuanian Statistics Department and the Russian State Statistics Committee signed a three-year cooperation agreement in Vilnius on 23 April, BNS reported. The two parties intend to cooperate in introducing modern data-collection and -processing methods, implement jointly specific cooperation programs, and exchange statistical publications.
* The Finance Ministry announced on 24 April that in the first quarter of 2003 national budget revenues totaled 2.5 billion litas ($780 million) or 2.2 percent less than planned, BNS reported. Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite said that the decline in budget revenues was due to the depreciation of the U.S. dollar against the litas, a decreased tax base, and the falling prices for imported goods.
* The parliament by a vote of 75 to 28 overrode the first veto of President Paksas of amendments to the charity and relief law on 22 April, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Paksas had refused to sign the bill on 11 April (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 April 2003) arguing that the amendments were nontransparent and may create grounds for corruption and misuse, particularly by state-owned companies.
* The cabinet of Prime Minister Brazauskas approved on 23 April a bill that would reduce the planned number of servicemen in the armed forces from the current 22,000 to 17,000 in 2008, BNS reported. The number of senior officers would. however, be increased, with the limits on the maximum number of generals and admirals rising from four to seven, colonels and sea captains from 30 to 40, lieutenant colonels and commanders from 105 to 130, and majors and lieutenant commanders from 300 to 350. The changes appear to be the result of political pressure by former Soviet military officers.
* The parliament ratified on 22 April the Protocol for Prevention, Suppression, and Sanctioning of Trafficking in Human Beings, which is a protocol to the United Nations Convention against International Organized Crime, BNS reported. The parliament ratified the convention in March 2002. The protocol defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion. The signers of the protocol are obliged to establish criminal responsibility for trafficking in persons.
* Deputies of the ruling coalition (Social Democrats and Social Liberals) adopted a resolution on 22 April giving a positive assessment to the performance of the government of Prime Minister Brazauskas in 2002, BNS reported. Alternative resolutions proposed by the Conservatives and the Joint and Liberal faction were rejected. The Conservatives proposed that the 2002 performance report made by Brazauskas should be returned to the government for improvement by also including the negative aspects of the government's work. Joint and Liberal faction Chairman Eligijus Masiulis noted that the government "does not tackle the problems of poverty eradication and creating new jobs" and its budget and administration policy is directed towards "creating a state for officials."
* Two vice presidents of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) informed officials of the State Property Fund on 25 April that the airline had decided not to participate in the privatization of Lietuvos Avialinijos (Lithuanian Airlines, LAL), ELTA reported. As SAS was the only remaining bidder for the 34 percent stake being offered, the privatization effort was suspended. One of the SAS officials noted that the company's decision was not related to the LAL sell-off procedures and SAS wanted to maintain cooperation with Lithuania and was ready to consider future operations in the region.
* Former President Valdas Adamkus and Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis had a breakfast meeting on 24 April at which they discussed the possible consolidation of center-right forces, BNS reported. The parliamentary statute stipulates that the head of a faction embracing more than half of the opposition members or a coalition of such factions is named the opposition leader and is entitled to additional rights such as participating and voting at meetings of the parliament board. As there are some 60 parliament deputies in the opposition, the 24-member Joint and Liberal faction and the nine-member Conservatives faction could join forces to elect the opposition leader.
* President Paksas told the French news agency AFP on 21 April that Lithuania should reach a decision on whether to build another nuclear-power plant at Ignalina in 2005 when the first reactor of the current plant has to be closed, BNS reported. He said that personally he was in favor of Lithuania remaining a nuclear state and building a new plant at Ignalina would be economical since much of the necessary infrastructure already exists there. Paksas admitted that Lithuania alone lacked the funds for building a new plant, but hoped that Latvia and Estonia would agree to finance a joint project to which funds promised by the EU for the social needs of current workers at the plant could be added.