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Baltic States: Summit Ends After Emphasizing Regional Cooperation

Riga, 23 January 1998 (RFE/RL) - Leaders of the 11 member countries of the Council of Baltic Sea States today ended their meeting in the Latvian capital Riga. They discussed expanding cooperation in sharing energy, particularly linking the gas and electricity systems in the eastern and western Baltic regions. The leaders also hailed the operations of a special task force set up in 1996 to facilitate the fight against organized crime. They agreed to extend the task force's mandate until the end of the year.

Convoked to promote economic cooperation and to coordinate the fight against organized crime, the summit was attended by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and EU Commission President Jacques Santer.

The Baltic Sea countries are vitally interested in expanding links to the European Union, with Poland and Estonia recently invited to open membership negotiations.

But Chernomyrdin told the summit that any EU enlargement in the region must not be at the expense of Russia's interests. He said "it is important" that "the trade and economic interests of Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States be taken into consideration." He also said relations in the region should be based on mutual trust and cooperation and not military force.

Chernomyrdin is quoted as telling the gathering that security in the region requires "strong measures" promoting "trust and practical cooperation" rather than a "balance of military potential."

His comment on military issues was an apparent reference to the desire of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to join the NATO military alliance. Moscow says it opposes NATO membership for any former Soviet republic.

The prime ministers of the Nordic states, the three Baltic states and Poland also attended the summit.