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Baltics: Russia-Latvia Dispute Prompts Reactions

Prague, 9 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The recent flare-up in relations between the tiny Baltic republic of Latvia and its powerful neighbor Russia has prompted a series of immediate reactions in the region.

These reactions ranged from a strong condemnation of Russia's threats to impose punishing economic "measures" on Latvia by Estonia and Lithuania to cautious expressions of hope for a speedy resolution of the crisis by leaders of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Estonian deputy under-secretary in the Foreign Ministry, Mart Laanemai, today told RFE/RL that imposition of punitive measures by Russia "is not very constructive" in maintaining relations with Latvia. But he also expressed hope that "terrorist" acts that had recently taken place in Riga would not destabilize the country. Laanemai said that Latvia suffers an "image problem" as a result of those developments, and efforts should be made to change that.

Itar-Tass reported today that Estonian President Lennart Meri and other leaders expressed support for Riga and criticized Russia's attempt to pressure Latvia.

Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus was cited by Interfax today as saying that economic sanctions were not the right way to settle the crisis.

Vytautas Landsbergis, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, told RFE/RL in Vilnius that "the tensions which led to this crisis were created by Russian pressure on Latvia". Landsbergis said that Lithuania had experienced Russian threats in the past, and suggested that the crisis should be dealt with at "international forum."

Romualdas Ozolas, deputy chairman of the Lithuanian parliament said that the crisis appears to be used by Russia "to drive a wedge" between the Baltic states.

Ozolas went on to say that Moscow tends to use "European organizations and utilize European phraseology about human rights" to advance that effort, without so much as even discussing the particular situation of ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic states. All this states suffered until 1991 from several decades of Soviet occupation and were forced to accept a massive influx of ethnic Russians during those years. Ozolas said that, considering the political history of relations between Soviet Union/Russia and the Baltic countries, he regarded "Russia's actions as actions directed not only against Latvia, but also against the other Baltic states."

Reacting to the tension in the Latvia-Russia relations, OSCE leaders appealed for calm. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, who holds this year the OSCE chairmanship, yesterday told reporters in Warsaw that he hoped "Russia would avoid over-reacting." Geremek also said that the OSCE mission in Riga "will help in seeking a solution to this conflict, not in widening it."

Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, who is to succeed Geremek next year as OSCE chairman, said "this is a problem that can be resolved." Both ministers spoke after a an OSCE session.