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Russia/Latvia: Ministers Prepare To Sign Joint Trade, Policy Accords

Moscow, 27 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Latvian Communications Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs indicated today that Russia and Latvia might be prepared to sign a number of important agreements in August during a scheduled meeting of their joint government commission. But he warned that such plans "had not come true" in the past.

Gorbunovs, who co-chairs the commission, met today in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Aleksandr Blokhin to discuss economic and political cooperation between the two countries. The two officials were also due to work out a time schedule for drawing up what Gorbunovs called "priority" agreements on pension payments and customs as well as a general trade agreement.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Gorbunovs was asked about recent statements by Russian parliamentarian Andrei Nikolaev that -- should the Baltic states join NATO -- Moscow plans to divert the flow of goods now going through Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Gorbunovs said such "relapses" in relations are inevitable.

"Methods using economic pressure -- I think that such relapses will certainly happen. [But] a positive effect of signing [economic] agreements is that we will use economic levers less and less, and to the contrary -- politics should contribute to economic cooperation."

Russia is one of Latvia's main economic partners. Transport of Russian goods, especially energy products, accounts for 80 percent of overall transit revenues in Latvia.

The two countries' relations have been tense in recent years both because of the NATO issue and because of accusations by Moscow that Latvia is discriminating against its Russian-speaking population.

But Gorbunovs said that last month's meeting in Austria between the Russian and Latvian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, had given bilateral cooperation what he called "an impulse."