Two Thirds of Latvia’s Population Favor NATO Membership
A public opinion survey by “Latvijas fakti” found that, 68.5 percent of Latvia’s population supported Latvia’s membership in NATO up from 66.1% in July and 63.9% in March. Twenty six percent of those polled were against membership in NATO, and 5.5% had no opinion.
U.K. to Open Labor Market to Baltic Nations
British Prime Minister Tony Blair informed the Baltic countries that Baltic citizens will have an opportunity to work in Great Britain after their countries join the EU, reports RFE/RL (12/23/02). British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said that the opening of U.K. labor market to Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian workers will benefit the country’s economy.
Baltic Countries Satisfied with EU Accession Terms
The Presidents and Prime Ministers of the three Baltic countries attending the EU summit in Copenhagen, December 12-13, were satisfied with EU accession terms, reports RFE/RL (12/23/02). Aid levels for the first three years on a per capita basis will be: Lithuania 387 euros, Latvia 348 euros and Estonia 357 euros. Aid to Lithuania includes EU expenditures for closing the nuclear power plant at Ignalina and Russian transit subsidies with the Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) region via Lithuania. The higher Estonian level is also due to country specific projects.
Baltic Americans Urge Congress to Continue Funding-Radio Free Europe
Concerned that the proposed cuts in the RFE/RL 2004 budget will eliminate RFE/RL’s broadcasts to the Baltic countries, Baltic American community leaders have urged Balts to contact Administration officials and members of Congress to ask that the cuts for the Baltic broadcast be-reinstated. “RFE Baltic broadcasts are incredibly important to help the Baltic countries develop as confident, viable democracies … The Baltic programs will be the first to be slashed. The threat to Baltic programs are real,” stated the President of the Baltic Freedom League President V. Pavlovskis. He noted that outgoing Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and nearly a third of the members of the Parliament had sent a joint letter urging the U.S. government and Congress to continue funding for RFE. “We were distressed to learn that Congress is considering a budget that will eliminate funding for the Lithuanian service of RFE…it continues to play a crucial role in our transition to a democratic society.” If Congress approves the proposed budget cuts, the Baltic broadcast would end this summer.
Lithuania’s Credit Rating Increased
International Fitch IBCA credit-rating agency announced that it is increasing Lithuania’s rating for the second time this year, ELTA reports (I /3/03). Lithuania’s rating for long term loans in local currency was increased from BBB+ to A-. The rating for long terms loans in foreign currencies was hiked from BBB- to BBB. Fitch said the increases were a result of the country’s consistent structural reforms, government commitment to maintaining a low fiscal deficit, a balanced budget, and a moderate level of foreign debt as well as a successful privatization program.
Moscow Halts Oil Exports Through Latvian Port
The Russian government, as part of an effort to gain control of the energy sectors in the former Soviet territories, has ordered state-owned Transneft to stop exporting oil through the Latvian port of Ventspils, reports RFE/RL (1/22/03) N. Redman of the Economist Intelligence Unit noted that Russia is putting political pressure on Latvia: “I think it’s quite ironic that in the year that Latvia received the NATO invitation [we] see fairly naked economic political pressure from Russia. But look at the motive here. The motive is to gain control of Ventspils Nafta and with it, the pipeline running between Russia and Latvia.” Dr. T. Kuzio reported in the Jane’s Intelligence Digest (12/20/02): “Threats to halt supplies mean that the oil refineries will either go into liquidation or share in the oil refining and transportation systems … Russia’s main targets have been oil refineries in Latvia and Lithuania.” Latvia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in a letter to EU stated that Russian action “is incompatible with Russia’s aspirations to become a member of the World Trade Organization.”
Baltic Defense Ministers Hold Talks to Enhance Baltic Contributions to NATO Missions
According to RFE/RL (I 2/23/02), at a trilateral meeting in Riga on December 10 the Defense Ministers of the three Baltic nations agreed to enhance their countries’ contributions to European security and NATO missions. The Ministers decided to instruct their respective armed forces commanders to submit plans to integrate their regional defense projects-including BALTBAT (land forces), BALTRON (naval forces), BALTDEFCOL (military education) BALNET (air space control) and BALTCCIS (command and management IT systems)-into NATO missions.
Baltic Countries Evaluate Defense Strategies
The Baltic countries must rethink defense strategies in light of being invited to join NATO, Latvia’s Defense Minister said at a recent meeting of NATO and Baltic officials in Riga, reports AFP (1/17/03). “Our policy is to rethink the. new situation,” Latvian Defense Minister G. Kristovskis told reporters. Baltic defense strategies based on concepts such as “total territorial defense,” are largely self-sufficient. But this approach could be inappropriate-if the three countries join NATO,” British General Gary Johnson told the conference on the future of Baltic militaries. “You must look for areas where you can add value,” said General Johnson.The Baltic countries already pool resources through joint military exercises and training, a joint army battalion, a joint naval squadron and a joint surveillance network. They have all contributed to NATO led peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. Lithuania has 15,000 men and women serving in the armed forces, Latvia has 5,500 while Estonia has 4, 1 00. The Baltic nations will sign NATO Accession Protocols in March later this year.
Secretary Gen. Robertson: Small Countries Could Do Their Part in Case of War with Iraq
NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson told a TV audience in Slovenia that in the case of war in Iraq, small countries can contribute to the war effort by providing special and technical units such as mountain warfare units, special weapons teams and other defense service units to the allies, reports STA (1/19/03). Specialization of the armed forces is not an alternative, but a must in the new security environment he emphasized.
Latvian and Estonian Military Prepare for ISAF Operation in Afghanistan
Latvia’s Defense Ministry has submitted a proposal to the Cabinet and Parliament to send a detachment of military medics to Afghanistan, reports the Latvian news agency LETA ((I/15/03). Latvian medical units have served in Kosovo. Estonia already has a peacekeeping unit in Afghanistan, and has sent a minesweeper unit and mine sniffing dogs to Afghanistan. The Estonian government has also allocated EUR 153,000 to the Estonian Rescue Board to extend its mine clearance operations in Afghanistan. Mine clearance specialists from the Rescue Board have been in the country since July.
U.S. Asks Lithuania to Support Possible Action in Iraq
BNS reported (1/20/03), that V. Stankevicius, Chairman of Lithuania’s Parliamentary Commission on NATO, advised the Commission that Lithuania received an invitation from the U.S. to consider the possibility of joining the action against Iraq. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. asked for permission for allied aircraft to use Lithuania’s airspace and possibly also Lithuanian airbases. In a previous interview, Defense Minister Linkevicius told BNS that Lithuanian troops could be sent to Iraq if Lithuania were invited to take part in the operation, but only with the approval of the Parliament. “Lithuanian soldiers would be ready to participate,” said Minister Linkevicius.
Latvia Ready to Assist U.S. in Case of War with Iraq
Latvia has permitted the U.S. to utilize Latvia’s airspace for U.S. military transport flights in case of an attack against Iraq, Latvian newspaper “Diena” reports (1/23/03). In an interview on Latvian State radio, Prime Minister Einars Repse stated that Latvia would stand by its NATO allies in case of strikes against Iraq. Earlier, he had ordered Defense Minister G. Kristovskis and Foreign Minister S. Kalniete to prepare contingency plans in the event the U.S. goes to war, reports BNS (1/16/03). “We were ordered to start working on possible scenarios by Latvia in support of the U.S.” the Foreign Minister told reporters. Mr. Kristovskis noted that Latvia, as an ally of the U.S. and NATO, is ready within its capabilities to support the alliance. “Latvia’s policy towards Iraq remains unchanged. Iraq must comply with the UN Security Council’s resolutions and must disarm. The international community must act vigorously in order to ensure the implementation of the resolutions, if Iraq is not ready to meet those terms,” said Foreign Minister Kalniete.