ROAR: Russian-Latvian relations affected by reset between Moscow and Washington

Latvian President Valdis Zatlers’ visit to Russia has allegedly been postponed as the political situation in the Baltic country may change after the parliamentary elections.

The visit, scheduled for autumn, has been postponed until a later date, Russian and Latvian media say. Analysts assume that the Moscow wants to consider the political situation in Latvia after the general elections, due to take place on October 2.

Latvian business circles and their partners in Russia, as well as the Russian ambassador to Riga, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, have been promoting the visit for more than a year,” Rosbalt news agency said.

Head of the Russian presidential administration Sergey Naryshkin, who visited Riga in July, handed over the official invitation to the Latvian president “without a particular date, which made it possible to time it later,” the agency said.

The two countries’ diplomats have been preparing the official visit of the Latvian president for four years. The first invitation was extended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in 2007.

Now the decision is being made by the Russian side, Latvian Foreign Minister Aivis Ronis said. However, he added that Riga wants “the visit to take place this autumn,” the agency reported.

After the elections in Latvia, another multi-party coalition is likely to be formed in the country. Current Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’s Unity bloc looks set to take most seats. The bloc is widely supported by the large Russian-speaking minority.

The Russian leadership wants to know Zatlers’ moves after the elections, observers believe. If they prove “unacceptable” to Moscow, the visit may be indefinitely delayed.

But if Zatlers pays an official state visit to Russia, he will become the first Latvian leader to do this. He and former president Vaira VÄ«Ä·e-Freiberga have only visited Russia for Victory Day celebrations.

Speaking on Latvian television on August 11, Zatlers called for the establishment of “a new type of relations” with Russia. “We should look forward to the future, but we can do this if we are open towards each other,” Itar Tass quoted him as saying. He added the leaders of the two countries intended to sign several interstate agreements.

Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Veshnyakov believes that “the political background of relations between the two countries has recently improved.” He added that the reset of Russian-US relations has contributed to this.

It is not a secret that the US is a close and authoritative Latvian ally, and Washington’s initiative to reset relations with Russia could not be missed or ignored by Riga,” the ambassador said. Latvian politicians also notice the positive influence of the reset on the Russian-Latvian dialogue, he added.

I think Latvia increasingly understands that it should conduct its independent foreign policy and to proceed, first of all, from its own national interests,” Veshnyakov noted. “If such understanding really exists in Latvia, the winds that can change their direction in relations of big countries will not influence much the good-neighborly Latvian-Russian relations,” he noted. “The more so as I do not see now that the relations between US and Russia may deteriorate,” he noted.

It would be wrong to say that Zatlers’s visit has been postponed, Latvian political analyst Peteris Vinkelis told Regnum news agency. “The visit was scheduled for the autumn, without a particular date. Thus, you cannot delay what never existed.”

It is not a big problem that the visit may take place after the parliamentary elections, the analyst said. At the same time, the visit between the elections and appointment of the new government is also ruled out, he noted. It would look like there were “consultations with Moscow on the new cabinet, [apart from which] the president’s working schedule at such time is very difficult,” he said.

The analyst noted that the visit could happen in November or December. “The information about the forthcoming visit has emerged for the last 14 years, and particular dates have been mentioned,” he noted. “However, no date will influence Zatler’s position in making internal political decisions, he said.

Some Latvian observers said that by postponing the visit, Moscow may try to affect the results of the general elections in Latvia and the choice of the next prime minister.

During his visit to Moscow, Zatlers is expected to discuss economic issues with the Russian leadership. However, Moscow is likely to raise issues of the Russian-speaking minorities and people who do not have Latvian citizenship. The Latvian authorities have already described this topic as their internal affair, Vzglyad.ru online newspaper said.

Riga also hopes to discuss the issue of opening Russian archives, the paper said, citing the Latvian foreign minister. Ronis believes that the two countries could create a bilateral commission of historians, “which could become a very good sign.” A similar Russian-Polish commission has been working for several years, the paper noted.

Relations between Russia and Latvia stand out against the background of ties with other Baltic states, said Evgenia Voyko of the Center for Political Conjuncture. “The main reason for this is that Latvia recently went through both economic and political crises.”

This certainly “transformed Latvia’s policy toward Russia,” she told Vzglyad. “If before Riga counted on political nationalism… now we are witnessing co-operation in the trade and economic relations, in the energy sphere,” she added.

Tensions in the national issue still remain, but “they are not as acute as four years ago,” she said. And such issues “are not resolved too quickly,” she added.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT