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Baltic Report: April 28, 2002

28 April 2002, Volume 3, Number 13

This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 12-18 April 2002.
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping told his Baltic counterparts Sven Mikser (Estonia), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania) in Berlin on 15 April that Germany will not lessen its attention to the Baltic region after the NATO summit in Prague in November, BNS reported. The ministers discussed the contribution of the Baltic states in international peacekeeping operations and their role in fighting international terrorism. Scharping stressed the need to maintain pragmatic ties with Russia. The Baltic ministers visited the operation headquarters of the German army, the Bundeswehr, on 16 April.

Estonia's Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts, Latvia's Colonel Raimonds Graube, and Lithuania's Major General Jonas Kronkaitis discussed the joint Baltic defense projects BALTRON, BALTNET, and BALTBAT at a meeting on 17 April in Tallinn, BNS reported. They also reviewed the conclusions made during the Amber Workshop 2002 staff exercise, held at the Baltic Defense College in March, which will be used to draft the primary directions in trilateral cooperation. The commanders also discussed participation in peacekeeping missions in the Balkan peninsula and cooperation in NATO accession.

A group of farmers protested in front of the Estonian parliament on 16 April condemning the farm quotas that the European Commission (EC) has offered Estonia, ETA reported. They presented a statement with their demands to visiting European Parliament Chairman Pat Cox, who promised to deliver it to EC Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler in Brussels. Estonia is asking for a milk quota of 900,000 tons a year while the EC has offered only 562,633 tons. Cox heard similar complaints about inadequate quotas from Estonian President Arnold Ruutel earlier in the day. Cox said the European Parliament will allow Estonia to participate as an observer after the EU accession agreement is signed. In talks with Premier Siim Kallas he said the EU will make a favorable decision on Estonia's EU entry at the EU summit in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

Estonia's Interior Ministry officially registered the statutes of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate on 17 April, ETA reported. The church submitted a formal application for registration along with its statutes to the Ministry on 12 April and the head of its Religious Affairs Department, Ilmo Au, found the documents to be in conformity with the law. The statutes do not mention legal succession but only canonical succession so that they will have no bearing on any property disputes. In 1993, Estonia recognized the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church subordinate to Constantinople as the legal successor of the Orthodox Church that operated in Estonia before World War II. The Church subordinate to Constantinople has 59 congregations in Estonia while the Moscow subordinate Church has 32. The dispute over the Moscow-subordinate Church's registration had been often mentioned as a reason why Russia had not abolished higher tariffs on Estonian imports.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II welcomed on 18 April the official registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP) in Tallinn the previous day as the first step in solving the church's problems, BNS reported. He added that the next step will be to settle property questions. Jaan J. Leppik, a parliament deputy from the opposition Pro Patria Union, asserted that the registration was carried out by making cosmetic changes in statutes previously rejected by the authorities. The provision about the legal succession of the church -- the removal of which the previous government had set as a precondition -- had simply been transferred from Article 1 to Article 2. Leppik said that the EOCMP will start to demand back all the properties belonging to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Andres Tarand of the Moderates stated that the registration will not bring positive developments in Estonian-Russian relations.

Kristiina Ojuland met with her Danish counterpart Per Stig Moller in Copenhagen on 12 April, BNS reported the next day. Moller asserted that Denmark considers completing talks with candidate countries a priority of its European Union presidency in the second half of the year. The foreign ministers also talked about bilateral relations and defense cooperation, which they considered to have been very effective. Minister for European Affairs Bertel Haarder discussed with Ojuland the chapters of energy, taxation, and other areas of negotiation that Estonia has not yet completed. Ojuland also held talks with Helle Degn, democratic development commissioner of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and Claus Larsen-Jensen, chairman of the Danish parliament's European Affairs Committee, and delivered a speech at the Institute of Foreign Policy.
* Turkish President Ahmet Necdet arrived in Tallinn on 18 April for a two-day visit, ETA reported. He told President Arnold Ruutel that Turkey will give full support to Estonia's membership in NATO.
* Parliament Chairman Toomas Savi discussed on 12 April in Prague with Czech House of Representatives speaker Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Milos Zeman, and First Deputy Defense Minister Stefan Fule Estonia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union, BNS reported. He heard expressions of support for Estonia's entry into NATO. Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Telick, who is also the Czech chief negotiator with the EU, stressed in the meeting that the chapters still remaining in the EU entry talks offer very limited scope of maneuvering.
* Economy, Transport and Communications Minister Liina Tonisson and Dutch Transport, State Works, and Water Management Minister Tineke Netelenbos signed a memorandum of reciprocal understanding on sea logistics on 15 April in Tallinn, ETA reported. Netelenbos also agreed with Environment Minister Heiki Kranich to carry out joint projects to reduce greenhouse gases.
* During a two-day visit to southeast Estonia, Russian Ambassador Konstantin Provalov expressed support for opening two more international checkpoints between Russia and Estonia, BNS reported on 15 April. The two crossings will be at Saatse-Kruppa and Meremae-Murashkino.
* The cabinet agreed on 16 April to increase this year's state budget by 400 million kroons ($22 million), ETA reported the next day. While 100 million kroons will go to increase pensions, 304 million kroons will be assigned to meet the top priorities of the ruling coalition. These include 120 million kroons to support local governments, 65 million kroons to finance lunches for elementary school children, 24 million for the police pensions, and 11 million to form a police reserve unit.
* The government endorsed on 16 April the development plan for merging public television and radio into one public broadcasting unit and sent it to the parliament for approval, ETA reported. According to the plan, the state radio and TV would be merged into a common media group, which will cover broadcasting, publishing, organization of concerts, production of audio and video recordings, and Internet business. It calls for state support of 234.4 million kroons for 2003-2005. The plan for 2003-2005 calls for increasing the length of Russian-language TV programs from the 55 hours this year to 96 hours in 2005 by increasing the time for news in Russian and developing new bilingual broadcasts.
* The cabinet decided on 16 April to support the extension of the existing language-proficiency certificates by one and a half years until 1 January 2004, BNS reported. It rejected the proposal of the Estonian United People's Party to make the certificates permanent. Education Minister Mailis Rand noted that the certificates cannot be replaced automatically because they don't give adequate information about the holder's actual level of proficiency in Estonian and the national examination center is unable to give the exams by 1 July to the 30,000 to 40,000 people who need to take a new exam.
* President Arnold Ruutel promulgated on 12 April the law, passed in March, that will ensure continuation of state-funded high school education in the Russian language after the year 2007, BNS reported.
* President Arnold Ruutel signed on 17 April the amendments to the local council election law, passed by the parliament on 27 March, which abolished local election alliances in the fall elections to local councils, ETA reported. Candidates will be allowed to run for a council seat only as individuals or members of political parties. The amendments also provide for the opportunity for electronic voting.
* The Tallinn city government decided on 17 April that it will reopen its representation office in Brussels on 13 May , BNS reported. The office had been opened in September 1999, but newly elected Mayor Juri Mois decided to close it in November. During the startup period Tallinn will have no permanent representative in Brussels, instead the city will send two to three project managers to work at the office of the representation of Western Sweden.
* The Parliament's Constitutional Committee chairman, Indrek Meelak, stated on 18 April that the Center Party opposes the proposal of Justice Minister Mart Rask to hold the referendum on joining the European Union on 2 March 2003 together with the parliament elections, ETA reported.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer began an official two-day visit to Latvia on 15 April with a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, LETA and BNS reported. He affirmed that Turkey will support the admission of all qualified candidates, including Latvia, to NATO membership at the Prague summit in November. The presidents also discussed their common goal of membership in the EU and the need to increase cooperation. Sezer invited Vike-Freiberga to make an official visit to Turkey and called on Latvia to increase tourism by opening a visa bureau in Turkey if it is not yet prepared to open an embassy. Sezer also visited the Occupation Museum and attended a dinner hosted by Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins. The next day he suggested to Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars that the capital should form a cooperation agreement with some Turkish tourism city, such as Antalya. Sezer also held talks with Prime Minister Andris Berzins and visited a 19th-century cemetery of Turkish prisoners of war in the northern Latvian town of Cesis.

In an unanimous vote on 18 April, the parliament passed a bill establishing the Corruption Prevention Bureau, LETA reported. The law will go into effect on 1 May, but the bureau is expected to begin operations only in July after its head is appointed. The law stipulates that the bureau will have the authority to prepare legislation on corruption prevention and coordination, control its implementation, probe the income declarations of officials, and hold officials culpable for violations of the Anti-Corruption Law. The bureau will be under the subordination of the cabinet of ministers and not the Ministry of Justice, as had been earlier planned. The bureau's head will serve a five-year term and can be removed by a vote of the parliament at the recommendation of the government.

Accompanied by Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, and a group of businessmen, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga flew to Slovenia on 16 April where she held talks with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, LETA reported. The next day she began her official two-day visit with a welcoming ceremony hosted by President Milan Kucan, after which they talked about their countries' efforts to join NATO and the EU. Kristovskis and Slovenian counterpart Anton Grizold held talks and noted that, even though they have similar populations, Slovenia's army has 47,000 soldiers while Latvia's armed forces, including the National Guard, total 20,000. The ministers signed a defense cooperation agreement. Riekstins and Slovenian Finance Ministry State Secretary Darko Koncan signed an agreement on preventing double taxation. Vike-Freiberga also met with Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek, National Assembly President Borut Pahor, and Ljubljana Mayor Viktorija Potocnik and gave an address at the Slovenian Institute of Foreign Policy. On 18 April the president visited the famous caves of Postojnska Jama and spoke briefly at the Bled International School of Administration.

Swedish Foreign Ministry State Secretary Sven Eric Soder traveled to Riga on 16 April to present a draft strategy prepared by Sweden on cooperation with Latvia in 2002-2004, BNS reported. The strategy covers cooperation projects concerning the environment, health care, social security, judicial affairs, and security that are aimed at promoting the implementation of EU requirements. Among the environmental projects are the construction of wastewater-treatment plants in Riga, Liepaja, Daugavpils, and Jurmala. Sweden will also help Latvia develop a new social insurance system and provide training for judges. Latvian officials suggested new cooperation elements in such fields as information technology and support for e-commerce. The draft document, supplemented with Latvian comments, could be adopted by the Swedish parliament in a month.
* Prime Minister Andris Berzins held talks in Brussels on 18 April with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, LETA reported. Verheugen praised Latvia for the progress it was making in the EU membership talks. Berzins expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed EU agricultural production quotas noting that the years which had been used for setting do not represent the current situation.
* Defense Ministry State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics, during a working visit to Poland on 15 April, discussed cooperation plans and signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with his Polish colleagues, BNS reported. The two countries are planning 32 activities this year, including exchange of specialists in personnel management, environmental, and geodesy issues. The agreement also provides for studies of representatives of Latvia's naval forces at Poland's Naval Force Academy this year.
* Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov told Foreign Ministry Deputy State Secretary Martins Virsis, presidential aide for foreign affairs Andrejs Pildegovics, and Latvian Ambassador to Russia Normans Penke of Russia's negative attitude toward NATO enlargement -- especially of the Baltic countries -- in Moscow on 12 April, LETA reported. Gusarov expressed no opposition to Latvia's EU membership, but noted that the "still existing concern of Russia" about the situation of its citizens in Latvia must be resolved.
* Representatives from the National Border Guard, Fire, and Rescue Service as well as the Citizenship and Migration Board held talks on 12 April with a visiting delegation from the Swedish Foreign Ministry concerning border control, migration, asylum-seekers, and rescue operations, BNS reported.
* OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus stated on 12 April that even though the European Court of Human Rights verdict in the Podkolzina case stated that Latvia has the right to set its own criteria for parliament candidates, he urged changing Latvia's elections law by abolishing the requirement that candidates to the parliament and local councils must have the highest level of Latvian language proficiency, BNS reported.
* The action committee for organizing the ice hockey world championship in Riga in 2006, headed by Prime Minister Andris Berzins, selected on 15 April the project of the U.S. company "IMS Studio 6" for the construction of a multifunctional sports complex in Riga, LETA reported. It includes an arena seating 18,000 spectators, various halls, restaurants, a hotel, and swimming pool and is projected to cost nearly $400 million.
* Parliament Deputy Valdis Birkavs and Minister for State Administrative Reform Janis Krumins held a meeting with Microsoft head Bill Gates in Seattle on 18 April and invited him to visit Latvia, LETA reported. They discussed the development of Latvia's e-government project and problems concerning Internet technology.
* The Public Services Regulatory Committee decided on 16 April to reject the repeated request by Latvijas Gaze (LG), the gas utility, to raise rates, stating that the additional submitted information was insufficient to justify the increase, BNS reported. LG asked for an increase of 20 percent in household gas rates and of 7.8-10.3 percent for industrial consumers. The committee charged that LG used much higher gas purchase price forecasts than actually exist in calculating the gas rates.
* The Central Statistical Bureau announced on 12 April that in January-February import of goods totaled 329 million lats ($527 million), an increase of 9.8 percent compared to the same period in 2001 while exports totaled 202 million or 4.2 percent more, LETA reported.
* Twelve well-known Latvians released an announcement on 12 April about the planned formation of a new political force to be called Latvia's Freedom Party, LETA reported. Among the founders are the former chairman of the Democratic Party Saimnieks (Master), Ziedonis Cevers, Latvian Economics Institute Director Raita Karnite, and former State Police Narcotics Bureau Chief Vilnis Kipens. The founding congress of the party is scheduled for 25 May. The number of party members is estimated at a little over 200, the legally required minimum for a political party. The founders of the party back liberal values in the hope of motivating people for an active and responsible lifestyle, but note that liberalism without social guarantees cannot enhance confidence in the state and its rulers.
* Lutheran Reverend Eriks Jekabsons told LETA on 13 April that the future Christian party which will hold its founding congress on 25 May will be called Latvia's First Party. He said that the party, which already has more than a thousand supporters, would be a centrist party based on Christian values which will stand for capitalism, free markets, and supporting businessmen while also caring for the poor, pensioners, and orphans.

Russian customs officials unexpectedly reintroduced on 15 April the requirement that all Lithuanian cargo-hauling trucks traveling through Russia have a police escort, BNS reported. Russia had established the requirement in January after alleging that Lithuanian truckers engaged in contraband trade causing damages of more than $3.5 million to the Russian economy. After the Lithuanian National Motor Carriers Association (LINAVA) agreed to discuss compensation, Russian officials agreed to lift the convoy requirements until 1 May. LINAVA President Algimantas Kondrusevicius said that he does not understand why Russia resumed the convoy requirements before the agreed date, especially as Russia and Belarus have received more than $180,000 and $526,000 in compensation payments, respectively.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer told Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius on 17 April that his country will support the admission of Lithuania to the alliance at the NATO Prague summit in November, ELTA reported. Adamkus called for greater military cooperation between their countries and invited Turkey to follow the example of another NATO member, Italy, by holding military exercises in Lithuania. Sezer also met with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and held talks with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis. The two presidents are scheduled to speak at a Turkish-Lithuanian business forum on 18 April, while Sezer will also meet with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and address a parliament session.

By a vote of 77 to 36 with seven abstentions, the parliament on 16 April rejected suggestions offered by President Valdas Adamkus when he vetoed amendments to the government law earlier in the month, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Thus, the original amendments -- which reduce the number of politically appointed deputy ministers to one for each ministry and establish new posts of state secretary and ministry secretary -- will go into effect. The parliament's opposition supported the proposals of Adamkus to eliminate political appointees as deputy ministers even though its leaders also asserted that the amendments could be further improved.

Antanas Valionis, in his capacity as the chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, visited Armenia on 12-14 April, BNS reported. On 12 April he held talks with parliament Chairman Armen Khachatrian, Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian, and leaders of law-enforcement institutions. The next day President Robert Kocharian discussed Armenia's position regarding the mediation effort to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and briefed Valionis on the government's progress in conforming to the requirements of Armenia's CE membership. Valionis commended Kocharian for making "considerable progress" in implementing those conditions. Kocharian is expected to visit Lithuania in June.

Vanda Vaitiekiene, the head of the general agriculture survey division at the Statistics Department, stated on 12 April that due to a lack of funds Lithuania would not carry out its obligation to conduct a general survey of its agricultural sector this year, BNS reported. Lithuania had pledged to make the survey in completing the Statistics chapter in its membership negotiations with the European Union in May 2000. The survey will cost about 21 million litas ($5.3 million), which the government has not allocated. Vaitiekiene said that a limited test survey would be conducted in three regions in June. It would gather information on the number of farms, their size, land use, crop rotation, number of farm workers, the amount of time they spend working, farm animals, equipment, and farm buildings. Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU Petras Austrevicius noted that the survey is necessary for administering aid to the agricultural sector from the EU and should be carried out in 2003.

Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told the Lithuanian-Russian business conference Partnership 2002 on 18 April that the two countries have not exhausted all possibilities to expand bilateral trade and economic ties, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. He specifically mentioned that the Russian Duma has not yet ratified the agreement on the protection of investments and the avoidance of double taxation which Lithuania's parliament ratified in 1997. Brazauskas expressed regret that the talks on the so-called "2K" project to unify railway tariffs on traffic to Kaliningrad and Klaipeda have bogged down and said he is surprised that Russian companies have not made any investments in the port of Klaipeda, which could be used for increasing their transit trade. He also mentioned that while Russia was in fourth place among Lithuania's export destinations last year, it was in second place in the first two months of this year. Russia continues to be the greatest source of Lithuanian imports. Aleksandr Baburin, the head of the Food Resource Department of the Moscow government, noted that Lithuanian products accounted for some 10 percent of total imports to Moscow.
* Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas had a brief meeting with his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman in Vilnius on 17 April, ELTA reported. He affirmed that the Czech Republic will support Lithuania's entry into NATO. Zeman arrived from a three-day visit to Russia and quickly departed for Minsk, which he visited not as Czech premier but as a member of a Socialist International delegation.
* The executive director of the Vilnius International Commission for Investigation of Nazi and Soviet Occupation Crimes, Ronaldas Racinskas, and Avner Shalev, the head of Yad Vashem, one of the world's leading Holocaust investigation institutions, signed a cooperation agreement in Jerusalem on 14 April. Yad Vashem agreed to hold a joint conference in Israel before the end of this year and to assist the preparation of the international conference on the Holocaust in Lithuania in Vilnius this fall.
* Lithuania and Russia have agreed on fish catch quotas in their territorial waters in the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon, BNS reported on 15 April. Russia has set the cod quota in its territorial waters for Lithuanian fishing vessels at 300 tons, while Lithuania has authorized Russian fishers to catch 3,000 tons of sprat and 600 tons of Baltic herring.
* A group of 18 parliament deputies from various parties established a contact group with the 13th Belarusian Supreme Soviet, which President Alyaksandr Lukashenka disbanded, and other opposition democratic forces on 16 April, BNS reported. The deputies' decision was in part prompted by hearings in the parliament the previous week on human rights violations in Belarus.
* Agriculture Minister Jeronimas Kraujelis told the joint conference of the Baltic Assembly, Nordic Council, and Benelux Interparliamentary Assembly in Vilnius on 12 April that the key objective of the country's agricultural sector is building "a competitive modern economy," ELTA reported. He said harmonization of national and EU legislation already led to the drafting of more than 600 national laws and that more than 200 agriculture-related laws will be drafted in 2002-2003.
* Ambassador to the United States Vygaudas Usackas made presentations on European security and the need for NATO enlargement at the Council on Foreign Relations of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Institute of Foreign Affairs of Tulsa University on 15 April, BNS reported. He also held talks with the president of Williams International, Randy Bernard, on his company's recent discussions with the Russian oil firm Yukos on the purchase of shares in the Mazeikiai oil enterprise.
* Parliament deputies Klemensas Rimselis, of the Liberal party, and Social Liberal Algimantas Indriunas proposed on 12 April that the parliament statutes should be supplemented by the requirement that the support of at least 10 deputies would be needed to propose draft legislation or amendments, BNS reported. This is intended to reduce the time the parliament spends discussing questionable bills.
* The international rating agency Standard & Poor's announced on 17 April that it had assigned the city of Vilnius a credit rating of BBB- for long-term borrowing in foreign currency and BBB+ for borrowings in national currency, ELTA reported. This first credit rating obtained by Vilnius is the same as the rating given to Lithuania and may help gain greater investments for the city.
* The director of the State Food and Veterinary Service, Kazimieras Lukauskas, stated on 12 April that the EU had lifted its ban on Lithuanian enterprises to export pork and pork products, ELTA reported. The easing followed a good assessment given by EU experts to the pig sector and strict veterinary animal health control in Lithuania. Lukauskas predicted that by 2004 some 147 meat firms would be in compliance with EU quality norms.
* A total of 4.69 million tons of freight were handled at the Klaipeda port in the first quarter of the year, a 13.45 percent increase from the same period a year ago, BNS reported on 12 April. Excluding fuel oil and other oil products, the freight in the quarter was 2.85 million tons, or only a 0.38 percent year-on-year increase.