6 December 2002, Volume 3, Number 40
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 16 to 29 November 2002.
REGIONALNATO ANNOUNCES BIGGEST EXPANSION IN ITS HISTORY AT PRAGUE SUMMIT.
NATO's 19 member states agreed to a historic expansion on 21 November, extending official invitations to seven postcommunist states at a two-day Prague summit, local and international news agencies reported. "It is a truly defining moment for the Atlantic alliance," NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said, according to AP. The trans-Atlantic alliance's first summit to take place behind the former Iron Curtain opened amid heavy security in the Czech capital and expectations that thousands of anti-NATO protesters would turn up later in the day. The 53-year-old military alliance "invited to accession talks" Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to set up NATO's second expansion into postcommunist Europe. They are expected to join in May 2004, following ratification of their accession documents by member states' and candidate countries' legislatures.
BALTIC LEADERS REJOICE AT NATO INVITATIONS.
Leaders of all three Baltic states expressed satisfaction at moving closer to their major foreign-policy goal of NATO membership when an official invitation was extended at the alliance's Prague summit on 21 November, BNS reported. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in a Latvian television interview from Prague that she had tears of joy in her eyes when Latvia was named among the seven candidates invited to join. "This is a great day for Latvia," Vike-Freiberga was quoted by AP as saying. "For us, it means the righting of the injustices of history...[and] rejoining the family of free, democratic, and independent nations." Estonian Prime Minister Siim Kallas and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus expressed their countries' hopes for contributing to European security following an invitation to NATO membership, RFE/RL reported. "We consider this invitation [to join NATO] as a serious indication of trust and we fully understand the obligations we are accepting in this context," Kallas said in Prague. "We believe that every country, no matter what its size or economic resources, can contribute substantially to the fight against contemporary threats to international security, and Estonia is committed to continuing the ongoing reforms to its national-defense system. We are ready to further develop and improve our military capabilities in the years to come." Adamkus said of his country: "Lithuania desires to become a member of a strong and effective alliance. We will make sure that our membership strengthens the alliance's capability to perform present tasks and to take on new ones."
KREMLIN CHANGES STRATEGY ON NATO EXPANSION.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Moscow on 21 November that Russia is "absolutely calm" about NATO's membership invitation to seven former Soviet-bloc countries earlier that day, ORT reported. "We are not a member of NATO or a candidate for membership, and so this is none of our business," Ivanov said. He repeated, however, the Kremlin demand that the Baltic states sign the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) before they are allowed to join the alliance. In Prague, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters following a meeting with Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda that Russia will intensify its cooperation with a reformed NATO, strana.ru reported on 21 November. "We have noted the statements by the U.S. president and other NATO-member leaders that the alliance should be transformed to face new realities and challenges," Ivanov said. He also mentioned the CFE treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that if the alliance's transformation improves security globally and in the Euro-Atlantic region, Russia will intensify its partnership with NATO. On 22 November, Igor Ivanov participated in a session of the Russia-NATO Council that discussed a cooperation plan for 2003. Afterward, he joined U.S. President George W. Bush on Air Force One for the flight to St. Petersburg, where Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
EAPC WELCOMES ANTITERRORISM ACTION PLAN.
A meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) held on 22 November -- the second and last day of the NATO summit in the Czech capital -- approved a statement expressing determination to meet the new challenges posed by a changing global environment and increase EAPC members' contribution to the struggle against international terrorism, CTK reported. The EAPC includes the current 19 NATO members and 27 states participating in the Partnership for Peace. The final communique approved by the session stated that participants welcome the Partnership Action Plan Against Terrorism designed by NATO members and consider that plan to be "a concrete expression of their desire to join forces against the terrorist menace, consistent with their national policies and capabilities," according to NATO's website (http://www.nato.int). Addressing the forum, U.S. President Bush pledged his country's support for the EAPC, saying its aims are to extend freedom and democracy and strengthen security and stability.
* Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen had a working breakfast in Prague on 22 November with Estonian Prime Minister Kallas, Latvian President Vike-Freiberga, and Lithuanian President Adamkus, BNS reported. He promised to help the three Baltic nations to prepare for NATO membership with continued military assistance.
ESTONIAPRESIDENT VISITS AUSTRIA AND ITALY.
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel held talks in Vienna on 19 November with Austrian President Thomas Klestil on future relations between Russia and Ukraine, on the one hand, and the EU and the seven countries that received invitations to join NATO later in the week in Prague, ETA reported. The main aim of Ruutel's visit was to take part in celebrations on 20 November marking the 90th birthday of Pan-European Union President Otto von Habsburg that began with a mass in St. Stephen's Cathedral and continued with a festive meeting in the Hofburg. Unlike his Lithuanian and Latvian counterparts Valdas Adamkus and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Ruutel did not attend the NATO summit, but traveled to Italy. On 21 November he received a honorary doctorate from the Second University of Naples for services and work in guiding Estonia towards the European Union. In the evening Ruutel also discussed bilateral relations with his Italian counterpart Carlo Ciampi, who accepted an invitation to visit Estonia. The next day he had a meeting with Italian Senate Chairman Marcello Pera during which, in addition to receiving congratulations for Estonia's invitation to join NATO, they talked about the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and the future of the EU.
RUSSIAN RIGHTIST LEADER APPROVES OF ESTONIA'S NATO ENTRY.
Leader of the Russian Union of Rightist Forces and Duma Deputy Boris Nemtsov delivered a speech entitled "Democratic Reforms In Russia: Myth Or Reality?" at a conference called "Putin's Russia: Partner or Rival?" in Tallinn on 23 November, ETA reported. At the event, organized by the Baltic Center of Russian Studies, Nemtsov congratulated Estonia on its invitation to join NATO and said relations between Russia and Estonia might improve with the NATO invitation because both sides might be free of their complexes. Nemtsov praised Estonia's economic reforms and asserted: "For Russia, it would be a plus to join the EU, but for liberal Estonia it is a minus.... The EU is too socialist and bureaucratic for capitalist Estonia." During his visit he also held talks with Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts, and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar.
CANADA TO REOPEN ITS PORTS TO FISHERMEN.
In talks in London on 21 and 22 November, Ain Soome, head of the Estonian Environment Ministry's fishery department, and representatives of the Canadian Fishing Administration reached an agreement under which Canada will again open its ports to Estonian fishing boats, BNS reported. Canada on 9 April closed its ports to fishing boats from Estonia because of what it called "clear evidence of violations" of shrimp-fishing quotas off its east coast (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 17 April 2002). Estonia countered that the Canadian estimates were incorrect and that it was not exceeding the quotas. Estonia has agreed to permit Canadian observers to be assigned to all of its vessels fishing in Canadian waters.
ESTONIA OFFERS U.S. MORAL SUPPORT IN EVENT OF ATTACK ON IRAQ.
The National Defense Council decided on 25 November that the country will offer the United States moral support in the event of a military action against Iraq, ETA reported. Prime Minister Siim Kallas said that his government will allow the use of Estonian airspace for such an operation, if necessary, although he expressed doubt that such a request would be made. He described as unrealistic the idea that Estonia could contribute something militarily in the event of an attack on Iraq. "We do not have available resources for that.... Our peacekeeping, mine-clearance, and logistics units are already deployed elsewhere," he said. However, Kallas pledged that if the United States turns to Estonia with a specific request for help, his country would certainly agree to fulfill that request.
DELEGATION FOR NATO-ACCESSION TALKS APPOINTED.
The cabinet authorized Foreign Minister Ojuland on 26 November to accept last week's NATO invitation to join the alliance, BNS reported. It also appointed a delegation for the accession talks that includes officials from the Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, and Finance ministries, the General Staff, and Ambassador to NATO Sulev Kannike. Foreign Ministry adviser Juri Luik, who served as defense minister in 1993-94 and 1999-2002, was appointed to head the delegation. Luik, who said he does not intend to end his membership in the opposition Pro Patria Union, said Estonia expects to sign NATO membership documents in March 2003. All 19 current NATO member states must approve Estonia for membership before the country can join the alliance.
LEADING PARTIES SPENT MUCH MORE THAN PLANNED ON LOCAL CAMPAIGNS.
Reports on spending for the October local elections submitted by political parties confirm they were the most expensive in Estonia's history, ETA reported on 20 November. Party spending was two to three times higher than in the previous local elections in 1999. The clear winners, the Center Party and the right-wing Res Publica, conducted the most expensive campaigns, spending 12.3 million kroons ($790,000) and 11.8 million kroons, respectively, although each had planned to spend only 7 million kroons. The third-place center-right Reform Party had planned expenditures of 5.2 million kroons but spent 8.75 million kroons. The Pro Patria Union and Moderates, both of whose chairmen resigned over disappointing election results, spent 5.7 and 6 million kroons, respectively. The Moderates did not exceed their planned spending, while the right-of-center Pro Patria overspent by just 400,000 kroons. The resulting debts of the Center Party, Res Publica, and the Reform Party are 2-3 million kroons, 5.6 million kroons, and 150,000 kroons, respectively.
RES PUBLICA EXPELS MEMBERS OVER COALITION WITH CENTRISTS.
Res Publica's executive board on 20 November officially expelled the six members of its Kohtla-Jarve chapter who signed a local-coalition agreement with the Center Party, BNS reported. Acting directly against the instructions of Res Publica Chairman Parts, four deputies to the Kohtla-Jarve City Council on 14 November backed the election of the Center Party's Valerii Korb as mayor. Parts had singled Korb out for criticism because of pending charges of embezzlement against Korb. On 17 November, the Res Publica board ruled that if members want to remain in the party they must end the coalition with the Center Party. The Kohtla-Jarve chapter disagreed and nominated former City Council Deputy Chairman Hans Hint, who had initiated the local coalition with the Center Party, to chair the council. It also stated that the signing of cooperation agreements is within the rights of local chapters and that the board acted unethically when it took the issue public before discussion within the party.
TWO LARGEST CITIES SIGN HIGH-TECH ACTION PLAN.
City-council representatives from Tallinn and from Estonia's second-largest city, Tartu, agreed to an information-technology (IT) action plan in Paide on 18 November, BNS reported. The cities signed an IT cooperation agreement in early October, and the plan supplements it with clear targets and concrete dates. The first priority is the introduction of services provided to citizens via the Internet. The agreement also provides for cooperation in the spheres of so-called e-services and e-elections while increasing the availability of the Internet and the security of technology in schools and municipal institutions.
* During a visit to Brussels on 27 and 28 November, President Ruutel spoke about the as-yet-unfinished chapters in the EU membership negotiations with European Economic and Social Committee President Roger Briesch, BNS reported. During a later meeting with European Commission President Romano Prodi and EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen the discussion focused primarily on issues of agriculture and the environment. Ruutel noted that the results of the referendum on EU membership would be influenced by how much the EU heeds Estonia's wishes.
* Chief negotiator with the EU Alar Streimann stated on 27 November that the new proposals by Denmark made in the previous day's negotiations on the agriculture chapter in Brussels were substantially better than earlier ones, BNS reported. He declined to give a specific figure for the size of the increase in the milk quota since the Danish offer has not yet obtained the approval of all EU member states.
* Interior Minister Ain Seppik in talks in St. Petersburg on 25 November with his Russian counterpart Boris Gryzlov spoke about the fight against illegal immigration, smuggling of narcotics, and terrorism, BNS reported. They also spoke about a cooperation protocol between the two ministries for 2003-04, possibilities to provide training for each other's experts, information exchanges, and cooperation between training institutions. Seppik noted that Russian politicians are now turning to the parties in Estonia that have real power, and are distancing themselves from the Russian parties.
* Commander of Finland's air forces Lieutenant General Jouni Pystynen held talks on 26 and 27 November in Tallinn with Estonian Defense Forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts, air forces commander Colonel Teo Kruuner, and air forces Chief of Staff Colonel Valeri Saar, BNS reported. He commended the Estonian military's progress in developing air surveillance. Pystynen visited the Amari air base, the air-sovereignty and flight-control center, as well as the air forces' staff headquarters.
* Senior border-guard officials of Estonia, Finland, and Russia discussed cooperation at a meeting in Russia's Pskov Oblast on 22 November, BNS reported. The Russian delegation was headed by Northwestern district border-guard chief General Aleksandr Golbakh, Finland's by deputy head of the border guard Rear Admiral Jaakko Smolander, and Estonia's by border-guard Chief of Staff Colonel Aare Evisalu. The meeting addressed the following issues: the situation of the border, results of the tripartite specialist working groups, and the plan for cooperation for next year.
* During a visit to Warsaw on 21 to 23 November Environment Minister Heiki Kranich discussed with his Polish counterpart Stanislaw Zelichowski the possibility of swapping fish quotas in the Baltic Sea, ETA reported. Estonia is willing to trade part of its salmon and cod quota to Poland in return for getting a higher sprat and Baltic herring quota.
* A meeting of the Center-Reform parties coalition council on 18 November expressed its opposition to a bill proposed by the Pro Patria Union which would introduce an open-ticket method in the parliamentary elections, BNS reported. This would result in ranking the candidates by the number of votes they received. The council asserted that there was little sense in amending the electoral law so shortly before the elections in March.
* The Tallinn City Court sentenced Majit Mstoyan, the head of the Estonian Kurdish Society, to two years in prison for organizing the smuggling of Kurdish refugees to Finland on 18 November, BNS reported. A Finnish citizen and five Estonians involved in the operations were also found guilty, but given suspended sentences. Finnish border guards uncovered the smuggling when they discovered eight Kurds on a yacht in Finnish waters on 8 September. The captain and a crewman of the yacht are under arrest awaiting trial in Finland.
* An extraordinary congress of the Estonian National Conservative Party in Tallinn on 16 November approved a plan to merge with the Estonian Independence Party, BNS reported. The two fringe parties are united by their opposition to the country's membership in the EU. The merger still has to be endorsed by a joint congress. The new party will be called the National Conservative Independence Party-Farmers Assembly and have a total of nearly 2,700 members.
* Vagit Alekperov, president of the Russian oil company LUKoil, will not be granted a new Estonian passport after the validity of his current one expires in mid-December, BNS reported on 22 November. The Citizenship and Migration Board made the decision after discovering that he had gained the passport illegally in 1992 by falsely claiming that his mother was an Estonian national.
* President Ruutel announced on 26 November that the elections for the next Estonian parliament will be held on 2 March 2003, ETA reported. He called on the political parties not to repeat the experience of the October local-council elections in which the dialogue between parties and the people was often reduced to a competition of advertising agencies and public-relations companies. The following day, Justice Minister Mart Rask sent to the Central Election Committee the list of 19 political parties eligible to compete in the parliamentary elections.
* The government decided on 19 November to reduce the 2003 draft state budget by 213 million kroons ($13.6 million) so that the projected budget deficit would remain at 384 million kroons, ETA reported. The budget had been initially planned based on the forecast that some 100,000 people would decide to join the second pillar of the pension system in which the government contributes twice the amount of the individual. The third and final reading of the draft budget will be on 2 December.
* Tallinna Sadam (Port of Tallinn) signed an agreement for a 40 million-euro loan with the Nordic Investment Bank in Tallinn on 28 November, ETA reported. The 10-year loan with an annual interest of 3.5 percent will be used to build a coal terminal and a new oil wharf at Muuga, the chief commercial port in Tallinn, and for repairing two quays at the South Port of Paldiski.
* According to customs statistics, in October imports totaled 10.09 billion kroons ($650 million) and exports 7.81 billion kroons, ETA reported. The 2.28 billion-kroon trade deficit was higher than the 2.25 billion-kroon deficit in September and the 1.7 billion-kroon deficit in October last year.
LATVIAPARLIAMENT APPROVES MORE CABINET MEMBERS.
The parliament approved on 21 November the nominations of three more ministers to the cabinet of Prime Minister Enders Repse, BNS reported. Dagnija Stake, the head of the Tume County Council since 1997, was named welfare minister. She is a member of the centrist Union of Greens and Farmers. Latvia's First Party (LPP) Deputy Chairman Ainars Bastisks was named special minister for family and children's affairs. Nils Muiznieks, director of the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, became state minister for social integration. The 37-year-old Muiznieks, who was born in Los Angeles and moved to Latvia in 1993, has headed the human rights center since 1996. He is not a member of any political party, but was nominated by the LPP.
DELEGATION FOR NATO-ACCESSION TALKS NAMED.
Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis announced on 25 November that Latvia will be the first of the seven states invited to join NATO last week to begin accession talks, BNS reported. The government met in an extraordinary meeting that day and appointed an 18-member delegation for the talks, which are to begin on 4 December. The delegation will be headed by Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, with Defense Ministry State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics as his deputy. Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete said the accession talks will open with two rounds. In the first, which will take place from December to January, Latvia will aim to reach agreement with the alliance on Latvia's "future in the common budget" and will undertake its remaining obligations set out by NATO. In the second stage, January through March, a NATO delegation will visit Latvia to determine Latvia's progress toward meeting its commitments, and Latvia will provide detailed proposals concerning the terms for meeting its obligations.
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS REPLACE EMBATTLED CHAIRMAN.
The 34th congress of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDSP) was held in Riga on 23 November, LETA reported. LSDSP Chairman Juris Bojars declared that the party's failure to overcome the 5 percent barrier in October's parliamentary elections was due to inefficiency and the "objective conditions of the political situation." Bojars spoke out against a merger of all parties with social-democratic views -- some of which include politicians who left the party in response to Bojars's leadership -- declaring that the LSDSP is the only genuine social-democratic party in Latvia. Dainis Ivans, the chairman of the Popular Front in 1988, was elected the party's new chairman, winning 373 votes, while Bojars won 169 and former Deputy Chairman Valdis Lauskis got 164. The replacement of Bojars might clear the way for mergers among the self-described social-democratic parties. The congress elected Lauskis and Viola Lazo as deputy chairmen from a list of 19 candidates
OIL TRANSIT GIVEN SLIM CHANCE FOR GROWTH.
The head of Russian LUKoil subsidiary LUKoil Baltija R, Haims Kogans, in an interview in the weekly "Kommersant Baltic" asserted that oil transit in Latvia has no perspective for growth, LETA reported on 19 November. He noted that if a 1997 proposal for the privatization of Ventspils Nafta -- whereby 33 percent would have been sold to LUKoil, 33 percent to Western investors, and 34 percent retained by the state -- had been implemented, Russia would not have built the new oil terminal at Primorsk that is now exporting oil that went through Ventspils in the past. Kogans said LUKoil exported 3 million tons of oil through Ventspils last year and intended to reduce this figure to 1.2 million tons this year, but now the figure has been reduced to just 550,000 tons. He also explained that cost considerations -- and not politics -- played a part in reducing Ventspils' role.
POLICE DETAIN SEVEN NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS.
Deputy Security Police chief Didzis Smitins announced on 21 November that police raided five locations in Riga and Daugavpils and detained seven members of Pobeda (Victory), a Latvian civic group that serves as a front for the Russian National Bolsheviks, for alleged illegal possession of explosives and weapons, BNS reported. An international arrest warrant is reportedly being prepared against Pobeda head Vladimir Linderman, who was in Russia planning to attend the trial of National Bolsheviks leader Eduard Limonov. Linderman later informed BNS in Moscow that the explosives claims are absurd and that such materials were either planted or reports of any explosives are false. Linderman is rumored to have become the leader of the National Bolsheviks after the arrest of Limonov.
TAX-AUTHORITY HEAD TEMPORARILY DISMISSED.
The cabinet unanimously decided on 26 November to place Andrejs Sonciks, director-general of the State Revenue Service, on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation into allegations by state prosecutors of inaction in recovering excise-tax debts of nearly 1 million lats ($1.7 million) owed by the Dinaz Nafta oil company, BNS reported. It appointed Sonciks's deputy, Nellija Jezdakova, as acting director-general. The cabinet also suggested that Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis should file a disciplinary case against Sonciks. Prime Minister Repse said that the chances of Sonciks regaining his post, regardless of the results of the investigation, are minimal because he considers Sonciks's work unsatisfactory. Former Finance Minister Gundars Berzins defended Sonciks, saying that all those responsible for the Dinaz Nafta tax scandal have already been discharged.
* During a reception held by Czech President Vaclav Havel for participants of the NATO summit on 21 November, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga discussed issues concerning Latvia's pending inclusion in the EU with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, LETA reported the next day. She also had about a 10-minute talk with U.S. President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. At a formal meeting, Vike-Freiberga discussed issues concerning bilateral relations and EU enlargement with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in Prague on 22 November, BNS reported. Balkenende said that the Dutch government supports the EU enlargement process and is interested in hearing the positions of candidate countries on issues related to EU integration.
* Ceremonies were held on 29 November marking the dedication of a monument to the more than 25,000 prisoners of the Riga ghetto massacred in Riga's Rumbula Forest on 30 November and 8 December 1941, LETA reported. The plaque at the monument states that they were killed by "Nazis and their local collaborators." President Vike-Freiberga declared: "This is a day of mourning for all of Latvia, for this crime was committed on our soil, and our men participated. Thousands of innocent people were brutally killed here, only because they were loyal to their ancestry, identity, and their religion."
* Foreign Minister Kalniete made working visits to France, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland on 26-29 November, BNS reported. In Paris where she had served as ambassador prior to her current position, Kalniete hosted a farewell reception for French officials and politicians. She told her Danish counterpart Per Stig Moeller in Copenhagen on 27 November that Latvia fully backs the more favorable proposals by Denmark for concluding the EU membership negotiations. Her talks in Stockholm the next day with Foreign Minister Anna Lindh touched on Latvia's cooperation with Russia, and both countries' policies toward Belarus, as well as the future of the EU. On 29 November in Helsinki Kalniete met with Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, and European Affairs State Secretary Alec Aalto.
* The European Parliament passed an enlargement report on candidate countries in Strasbourg on 20 November, LETA reported the next day. The report, which is advisory in nature, and does not make any commitments called for taking into account the specific situation of the Baltic states in setting farm quotas. It recommended that Latvia improve its court system, combat corruption, and harmonize public administration with EU's laws. The report recognized Latvia's successful work on the naturalization process, promoting economic development, and environmental-protection laws and called for ensuring that making Latvian the language of instruction in all secondary schools in 2004 does not affect the quality of education.
* Dutch European Affairs Minister Atzo Nicolai held talks in Riga on 20 November with Foreign Minister Kalniete, BNS reported. They discussed the latest developments in the final stage of Latvia's EU membership talks and possible Dutch assistance in solving administrative issues during the EU integration process. Kalniete expressed thanks for Dutch support in promoting Latvia for NATO and EU membership.
* Parliament Chairwoman Ingrida Udre and Armenian Ambassador to Latvia Ashot Hovakimia discussed bilateral relations as well as the integration of both countries into the EU on 19 November, BNS reported. Several exchange visits, at the parliamentarian level, as well as the visit of Armenian President Robert Kocharian to Latvia showed that cooperation was particularly active this year.
* The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on 28 November that the state of Latvia had violated the rights of Aleksandrs Lavents, the convicted former board chairman of Banka Baltija, BNS reported. Latvia's representative at the ECHR, Kristine Malinovska, said that the court believed that the Banka Baltija case was not heard by the court in due time and Lavents's trial had not been fair and objective as his right to privacy and presumption of innocence had been violated. The ECHR decision does not affect the nine-year sentence given to Lavents for malicious bankruptcy, misappropriation of depositors' money, organization of fictitious companies, and concealment of true accounting figures, but requires Latvia to pay him 15,000 euros for legal fees.
* Interior Minister Maris Gulbis on 27 November suspended Riga Central Police Department chief Igors Krasovskis from the office until an in-house probe on the hiring of aides to police officers is completed, BNS reported. Gulbis said, "Initial results of the in-house probe make me doubt if all the aides for the police officers are providing help to the police honestly and on a regular basis." The department has more than 180 aides with Krasovskis having 12.
* Former U.S. Ambassador to Austria Ronald S. Lauder held talks in Riga with Deputy Mayor Sergejs Dolgopolovs and Guntars Jirgensons, the chairman of the Riga City Council's Education, Youth Affairs, and Sports Committee, on the construction of a new Jewish school in the city, LETA reported on 21 November. The school will be built with funds from the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which supports and operates education and cultural programs for Jewish communities in 15 countries while the city of Riga will provide a plot of land and infrastructure for the school.
* The government supported on 19 November the proposal by the Finance Ministry to raise the minimum monthly wage from the current 60 lats ($98) to 70 lats from the start of the new year, BNS reported the next day. The ministry estimates that raising the minimum wage will require 3.6 million lats from the budget.
* During the cabinet meeting on 19 November Prime Minister Repse expressed concern about the projected increases in the national debt, LETA reported the next day. At the end of October the debt was 750.8 million lats ($1.22 billion). This is expected to increase to 751.8 million lats by the end of the year, 917.9 million lats at end of 2003, 1.083 billion lats for 2004, 1.25 billion lats for 2005, and 139 billion lats for 2006.
* The council of the Latvijas Gaze company (natural-gas utility) accepted on 22 November gas-supply agreements with Russia's Gazprom and Itera Latvija for the years 2003-05, BNS reported. Supply volumes are planned at the previous level or a little higher, but the price of the gas will be up to 20 percent higher. Gazprom and Itera Latvija hold a 50 percent share of Latvijas Gaze stock with Germany's Ruhrgas and E.ON Energie also being major stockholders.
* On the recommendation of Defense Minister Kristovskis, President Vike-Freiberga promoted National Armed Forces commander Colonel Raimonds Graube to the rank of brigadier general on 26 November, BNS reported.
LITHUANIAFIRST-EVER VISIT BY U.S. PRESIDENT.
President George W. Bush flew to Vilnius on 22 November following a meeting in St. Petersburg with President Vladimir Putin, ELTA reported. Bush was greeted at the airport by Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis. On 23 November, Bush was officially welcomed at the Lithuanian president's office, where he held talks with Adamkus, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas. Adamkus presented Bush with one of Lithuania's highest honors -- the Order of Vytautas the Great. The U.S. president then spoke in front of the 18th-century Vilnius Town Hall in the city's historic Old Town, congratulating Lithuania on its NATO invitation, declaring, "Our alliance has made a solemn pledge of protection, and anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America." He then had a meeting with his host Adamkus, and visiting Presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia and Arnold Ruutel of Estonia.
PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN ENCOUNTERS NEW RUSSIAN DEMANDS DURING MOSCOW VISIT.
Accompanied by five parliamentary deputies, Arturas Paulauskas made an official visit to Moscow on 17-19 November, ELTA reported. On 18 November, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the chances of Russia ratifying the Russia-Lithuania border treaty have improved and the agreement might even be approved this year. Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told Paulauskas that President Putin's opinion of Lithuania's position on Kaliningrad Oblast is absolutely positive. Putin's special envoy for the exclave, Dmitrii Rogozin, predicted that a readmission agreement will be concluded by 30 June, but also claimed that the existence of a Chechen cultural center in Vilnius "encourages illegal migration of refugees from Northern Caucasus." The next day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov informed Paulauskas that a Russian delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov will travel to Lithuania soon to discuss technical issues of communications with Kaliningrad. He stressed the need to reach a new agreement on military transit to Kaliningrad through Lithuania without identifying any current problems. Paulauskas also met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko.
PARLIAMENT RATIFIES KYOTO PROTOCOL.
By unanimous vote that included six abstentions, parliament on 19 November ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, BNS reported. President Adamkus signed the protocol at the United Nations in 1998, obliging the country to reduce its 1990-level emissions by 8 percent by 2008-12. Lithuania has substantially exceeded the requirements, according to BNS. Lithuania's greenhouse-gas emissions totaled 42 million tons in 1990, while in 2001 the figure was 16 million tons. Levels will likely increase in the future, as Lithuania fulfills EU obligations to close a nuclear reactor at Ignalina in 2005 and the second reactor in 2009. The protocol has been ratified by 95 countries, including all EU member states.
POLISH PRESIDENT VISITS VILNIUS.
Accompanied by his wife Jolanta and a large group of relatives, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski traveled to Vilnius on 23 November to celebrate the invitations to NATO given to the Baltic states and his 23rd wedding anniversary, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 25 November. He arrived in Vilnius shortly after the departure of President Bush. Together with the three Baltic presidents, Kwasniewski celebrated the NATO invitations at the Vilnius Opera and Ballet Theater. The next day at the Lithuanian president's office, he participated in the presentation of the Jerzy Giedroyc Foundation awards to four Lithuanians and Poles active in Lithuanian-Polish cooperation.
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES AGAINST CUTTING BENEFITS TO WORKING PENSIONERS.
The Constitutional Court ruled on 25 November that the amendments to the state social-insurance pension law slashing benefits to working pensioners violated the country's constitution, ELTA reported. The court concluded the amendments violated the principles of ownership immunity, the freedom to choose one's work and business, the state-guaranteed right to a pension, and the rule of law. Parliament passed the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2000), which went into effect on 1 January 2001, under the provision that working pensioners receive only the basic monthly pension of 138 litas ($34.50 at the time). Social Security and Labor Ministry Secretary Audrone Morkuniene said the court ruling will be enforced, even though the State Social Insurance Fund (SoDra) stands to lose 70 million litas ($20 million) in revenues. There were 637,000 pensioners in 2001, of whom some 67,500 were still working.
DECISION MADE FOR IMMEDIATE DISMANTLING FOLLOWING CLOSURE OF NUCLEAR REACTORS.
Lithuania's cabinet on 20 November opted for an immediate-dismantling strategy for the planned decommissioning of nuclear reactors from the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, ELTA reported. According to experts from the Economy Ministry, the approach should help avoid lingering social, economic, environmental, and financial aftereffects. The strategy calls for an uninterrupted process starting with the dismantling of the facility immediately after its shutdown, and ends with the removal of all radioactive waste from the site. The need for funds will be greatest in the period 2004-12, peaking in 2008 with expenses of some 90 million euros, and will start diminishing around 2030. The alternative, a so-called postponed-dismantling process, would provide for razing only some of the buildings and sealing the reactors, allowing them to cool for 35-100 years before the remaining work is done.
BORDER CHECKPOINT WITH BELARUS REOPENED.
World Customs Organization Secretary-General Michel Danet participated in opening ceremonies for a reconstructed border checkpoint with Belarus in the Salcininkai district on 21 November, ELTA reported. The checkpoint, whose reconstruction cost 18.9 million litas ($5.4 million), covers 54,000 square meters and has a daily capacity of 1,000 transport vehicles instead of the previous 500. It is equipped with modern veterinary and phytosanitary control posts financed in part by the EU's PHARE program. Danet called the new post a good example of how Lithuania is beginning to attend to the security of a future external EU border but also pointed out the need for Lithuania to upgrade technical facilities at all of its customs offices.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION GRANTS TRANSITION PERIOD FOR LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS.
In an unofficial meeting of negotiators in Brussels on 26 November, the European Commission agreed to grant Lithuania a transition period of seven years for the sale of farmland and forests to foreign legal entities, ELTA reported. Lithuania closed the EU's acquis communautaire chapter on the free movement of capital last year without requesting the transition period. Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU, agreed that the transition period not be applicable to farmers from EU states who have been living and cultivating land in Lithuania for at least three years. The EC also agreed to raise Lithuania's milk quota upon accession to the EU to 1.65 million tons and by an additional 58,000 tons in 2006. In addition, the average cereals-yield rate, used as a basis for calculating direct payments to such farmers, will be increased to 2.7 tons per hectare.
TWENTY-SIX PARTIES TO COMPETE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS...
The Central Election Commission announced on 18 November that 26 political parties have submitted documents to compete on 22 December for seats on local government councils, ELTA reported. The voters will elect 1,560 deputies to 60 city and regional councils. The only parties expected to compete in all the districts are from the governing coalition: the Social Democratic Party and the New Union (Social Liberals). The Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) will nominate candidates in 59 constituencies; the Lithuanian Christian Democrats in 57; the Farmers and New Democracy Union, the Lithuanian Liberal Union, and the Center Union in 55; and the Liberal Union in 54. Other parties will compete on a more modest scale, with 16 parties fielding candidates in eight or fewer contests.
...WHILE SPOTLIGHT REMAINS ON PRESIDENTIAL RACE.
The media is devoting considerably more attention to Lithuania's looming presidential election, which will also be held on 22 December. On 17 November, the Central Election Commission reported that 17 candidates have each gathered the 20,000 voter signatures necessary for their candidacies to proceed, according to ELTA. In recent polls, presidential favorites include incumbent President Adamkus; parliamentary Chairman Paulauskas, who is also chairman of the New Union (Social Liberals); and former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, who is chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party. Under Lithuanian law, the president must relinquish party ties once elected.
* After a meeting with President Adamkus in Vilnius on 29 November also attended by Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov, Russian President Putin's envoy on Kaliningrad and State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin said that there were no political problems related to Kaliningrad transit via Lithuania, but only a few minor issues of "technical character," BNS reported. Rogozin noted that the issue of the ratification of the state border agreement is inseparable from the issue of Kaliningrad transit and that his committee will submit the agreement to the Duma for discussion on 19 December.
* Reacting to the statement of visiting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov that "visa-free transit by train" for Russian citizens to and from Kaliningrad Oblast can be taken for granted, President Adamkus declared in an interview on Lithuanian Radio on 27 November that Lithuania will make an independent decision on transit travel through its territory from 1 January 2003, BNS reported. He said that Razov's statement was deliberately misleading since the recent EU-Russian agreement on Kaliningrad transit did not mention retaining the visa-free regime. Adamkus mentioned that a recent letter from Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen affirmed that Lithuania will join the Schengen zone with the first group of countries.
* Foreign Ministry Secretary Darius Jurgelevicius and Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Herasimenka signed an agreement in Minsk on 26 November on travel of nationals of both countries which will become effective from 1 January 2003, ELTA reported. The agreement was needed because Lithuania is canceling the previous 1994 travel agreement as part of its commitments for gaining EU membership. The new agreement lists all entry, exit, border-crossing, and transit conditions; allows the granting of free-of-charge visas to children under 16, nationals above 70, and those traveling under cultural-exchange programs; and a 30 percent rebate of visa fees to residents of border areas.
* Denmark. the current holder of the EU presidency, proposed in Brussels on 26 November that the EU should grant an additional 75 million euros above the previously promised 210 million euros in 2004-06 for decommissioning the nuclear-power plant at Ignalina, ELTA reported. Denmark also proposed that the EU give Lithuania 113 million euros to help improve its border protection and border services, purchase necessary equipment, and train personnel for the future EU borders with Belarus and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast.
* At the meeting of a joint Dutch-Lithuanian transport committee in Vilnius on 20 November, the visiting Dutch government delegation suggested brokering talks on railway-cargo-transportation tariffs between Russian and Lithuanian transport institutions, ELTA reported. The Dutch have provided financial aid for an e-data exchange project for the Port of Klaipeda and for the expansion of telecommunications business for the Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai railway company.
* A delegation from the parliament including deputies from three parties attended the 48th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA) in Istanbul on 15-19 November, BNS reported. The PA adopted a resolution calling for Lithuania to be admitted to the Schengen visa-free space along with the first wave of new entrants. The resolution was also amended to include the point that all decisions on Kaliningrad transit must be adopted by all three parties concerned -- the European Union, Lithuania, and Russia. The session also recommended that seven countries -- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- be invited to membership talks with NATO.
* President Adamkus refused to sign the bill of the public procurement law on 17 November because it will become effective only after Lithuania joins the European Union and sent it back to the parliament with the recommendation that the law should go into effect on 1 March 2003, ELTA reported the next day.
* President Adamkus held talks on 19 November with Social Security and Labor Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute and the director of the Lithuanian Citizens Genocide and Resistance Center, Dalia Kuodyte, on how to amend the state pensions law to eliminate the ambiguity that allows former workers of the Soviet occupation's repressive structures to receive state pensions, BNS reported. The parliament had passed such amendments several years ago, but the Constitutional Court ruled in June that the signing and promulgation of the amendments had not been carried out legally. On 24 October, the head of the State Social Insurance Fund (SoDra), Darius Prevelis, just before he resigned signed a decree restoring the payment of the pensions to these former Soviet security officers.
* At its meeting in Vilnius on 19 November, the board of Mazeikiai Oil approved the company's 2003 budget, which foresees significant, but undisclosed losses, ELTA reported. Russian oil concern Yukos Vice President Mikhail Brudno said after the meeting that the losses in 2003 will be about half of this year and that the company should become profitable in a few years. Yukos has a 53.7 percent share of Mazeikiai Oil and the government a 40.66 percent share.
* Representatives of the Defense Ministry and Lithuanian Navy participated in ceremonies at the coastal town of Nida on 27 November at which the Swedish armed forces donated a PS-239 radar which will greatly increase both air- and sea-surveillance capabilities, BNS reported. Sweden has pledged also to equip the Klaipeda and Palanga sea-surveillance stations with similar radars in the next two years.
* Forty volunteer servicemen arrived in Afghanistan on 19 November to participate in the U.S. led antiterrorist Operation Enduring Freedom, ELTA reported. They will be stationed at the Bagram Air Base, some 50 kilometers from Kabul, instead of the previously planned deployment to Kandahar.
END NOTEHARD WORK EARNS A NATO INVITATION
By Saulius Girnius
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are the only former Soviet-occupied republics that received an invitation to join NATO at the Prague summit in November. The distinction is not surprising for they were the only states that successfully established and retained their independence between the two world wars. The U.S. and many other Western countries, moreover, never recognized their illegal annexation by the USSR in 1940.
By their efforts to regain their independence, the Baltic states played an important role in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991. After reestablishing foreign relations with the Western democracies, they wanted to make sure that their statehood would not be lost again in the near future, and made NATO membership one of their major foreign-policy goals. This was clearly impossible when some 130,000 Soviet (whose jurisdiction Russia officially took over on 28 January 1992) troops remained on their territory.
Lithuanians' concern for the threat posed by the foreign troops was demonstrated by the results of the referendum held on the question of their removal on 14 June 1992. The results were clear: of the 78.5 percent of eligible voters who participated in the vote, 91 percent agreed that the Russian troops should depart unconditionally by the end of 1992 and that the Russian government, as the successor to the Soviet Union, pay suitable compensations for the damage that had been inflicted on Lithuania since 1940.
Backed by this vote as well as Western pressure, Russia fulfilled an agreement to withdraw its troops from Lithuania by 31 August 1993. It was more reluctant to leave Estonia and Latvia for two reasons. Russia wanted to obtain better conditions for the much larger Russian minorities remaining in the countries and to maintain what they considered to be two strategic military objects: a submarine-training base in Paldiski, Estonia, and a large radar complex in Skrunda, Latvia. Russia finally agreed to take out its troops by 31 August 1994. Latvia, however, agreed to allow the Skrunda site to function four more years with an additional 18 months for its dismantlement while Estonia permitted Russia to use the Paldiski base another 14 months.
Although Russian troops were no longer stationed in Lithuania, their military presence remained as Lithuania was in no position to refuse Russian requests in 1993 to allow the transit of military personnel and equipment being withdrawn from Eastern Europe. A transit agreement requiring 12 days' advance notice for shipments as well as numerous other regulations was signed in November 1993. In January 1995 Lithuania and Russia signed another agreement by which these regulations were applied for future military transit to and from Kaliningrad Oblast.
Realizing that their interwar policy of neutrality had failed to ensure security against Russia, the Baltic states considered membership in NATO as the best guarantee for retaining their independence, but did not place great hopes on its swift implementation since their military capabilities were small and Russia vigorously opposed NATO enlargement. The U.S. and European countries made no promises as they had to take into consideration the position of Russia, which did not want to even consider the possibility of any Western military presence in what it called its "near abroad." The Baltic states, however, believed that they should become an integral part of Europe again and made membership in NATO and the European Union their primary foreign-policy objectives. They also did not neglect military reform and development of their defense forces while initiating bold diplomatic moves.
Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas sent a formal request on 4 January 1994 to NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner to obtain NATO membership. This was supplemented on 27 January 1994 when Lithuania became the second country (after Romania) to file an application to join the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. Estonia and Latvia followed Lithuania's example in both cases later that year. Even before this time there was cooperation between NATO and the Baltic states such as the participation of two Lithuanian frigates in the NATO Baltic exercise BALTOPS '93 in June 1993. Estonia and Latvia began to participate in these annual exercises two years later.
To show their ability and willingness to cooperate both among themselves and with the armed forces of other European countries, the commanders of the Baltic armed forces agreed in Tallinn on 20 November 1993 to establish the Baltic peacekeeping battalion (BALTBAT).
With substantial Scandinavian and U.S. assistance, BALTBAT was formed with its main training base located at Adazi, Latvia. Units of all three countries have been serving in UN peacekeeping missions in the Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova). This participation also provided NATO with a reason to supply them with arms and additional training. To prepare for the missions, Lithuanian troops were sent to peacekeeping exercises in Poland in 1994 and the Cooperative Spirit '94 exercises in the Netherlands.
In August 1995, in the first military exercise held jointly by the American military and a former Soviet republic, 10 U.S. officers trained 150 Lithuanian soldiers in peacekeeping duties at the Rukla base. Soldiers from the three Baltic states also participated in the Cooperative Nugget '95 exercises in Fort Polk, Louisiana. Numerous Baltic officers have also attended courses and received further military training in various European countries and the major U.S. military academies. Other successful efforts of Baltic military cooperation include the creation of the naval squadron BALTRON, the regional airspace-surveillance network BALTNET, and the Baltic Defense College in Tartu, Estonia.
Political momentum for a further enlargement of NATO became evident with Russia's tacit acceptance of the entry of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into NATO in 1999. In May 2000 the foreign ministers of nine East European countries -- Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- met in Vilnius and adopted a joint resolution calling on NATO to invite all of them for membership, pledging to cooperate together to achieve this goal. The countries became known as the "Vilnius Nine," later renamed the "Vilnius 10" when Croatia joined the initiative.
Another favorable signal for Baltic membership in NATO was the holding of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius on 27-29 May 2001 with 300 delegates from the 19 NATO member states and 16 of the 17 PfP countries participating. Russia decided not to attend saying the action could be misinterpreted as Russian approval of NATO expansion. The assembly passed a declaration, which called on NATO "to issue no later than during its summit meeting in 2002 invitations to NATO accession negotiations to any European democracy that seeks membership in the alliance and that has met the criteria for NATO membership as established in the alliance's 1995 Study on NATO Enlargement." The Baltic states have fulfilled these criteria and have raised their defense expenditures to 2 percent or nearly 2 percent of GDP. The greater cooperation with Russia after the international terrorist attacks in September 2001 also appears to have reduced its opposition to Baltic membership in NATO.
Having gained in Prague their hard-earned invitations to join NATO, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania still have much work to do before they are admitted as members of the defense alliance. Military reform must be completed and they must fulfill their pledges to NATO, and the diplomatic offensive must secure the positive vote of 19 member-state legislatures.