NATO Regards Estonia’s Reform Schedule as Realistic
NATO’s Political Committee announced on 2/20 that the plans for reforming Estonia’s defense forces presented by Estonia in Brussels are realistic, according to BNS (2/21/03). The plan affirmed Estonia’s commitment to allocate 2 percent of GDP for defense and to assign one infantry battalion, one-mine hunting ship and one staff ship at the disposal of the alliance by the end of 2005, while also taking part in international peacekeeping operations with military police and mine clearing units.
Estonian Component of the Baltic Reconnaissance Unit Begins Tour of Duty in Kosovo
The Estonian component of the Baltic Reconnaissance Squadron BALTSQN-7 peacekeeping unit began a six months tour of duty in Kosovo on February 20, replacing a Latvian unit that had been there since September 2002, BNS reported. The 98 member Estonian unit is serving as part of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) stationed near Mitrovica. The unit underwent months long pre-mission training in Denmark with Danish instructors. In addition to the reconnaissance squadron, the Estonians have 22 troops serving with the multipurpose military police unit in Phrishtina, Kosovo.
Moscow Tells Latvians They Have No Choice, but to Give Up Ventspils Oil Export Facility
Michael Lelyveld (RFE/RL 2/12/03) reports that after months of pressure, Russia has declared that it is pursuing a takeover strategy for Latvia’s oil port of Ventspils, openly telling officials that their only choice now is to give in and sell the facility to Russian pipeline monopoly Tansneft. The Interfax news agency quoted an official of the oil company as telling the Latvians “Oil can flow only from Russia.” Lelyveld notes that this is the starkest statement yet of Russia’s plan to choke off the Ventspils oil export facility by unilaterally halting oil shipments through the port until it gives in. Lelyveld also observes how little notice the Russian bully tactics have drawn among Western countries. The war on terror and a looming potential U.S. campaign in Iraq have seized the world’s attention, while Russia is seen as a cooperating partner and oil exporter instead of the fearsome regional presence that it once was, writes Lelyveld. Latvia has appealed to the European Commission seeking relief from Russian pressure, but so far, European countries seem not willing to interfere.
Holocaust Observance in Estonia
On January 27th Estonia marked the first official Holocaust Day established by the Estonian government, reports RFE/RL (2/10 /03). The Holocaust Day is part of Estonia’s effort to educate the population about the Holocaust and to develop an integrated society. The Ministry of Education asked schools to develop special programs for the day and to include in the observance victims of other groups, besides Jews, persecuted for ethnic, racial, religious and political reasons.
“History, Tragedy, Revival” Exhibit on the Latvian Jewish Community
A traveling exhibit entitled “History, Tragedy and Revival” on the Jewish community in Latvia opened from 2/4—2/28/03 in the city of Ludza in eastern Latvia (Latv MFA 2/4/03). The exhibit was organized by Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Museum of Jews in Latvia and the Institute of the History of Latvia. The exhibition tells the history of the Latvian Jewish community from the 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century, World War II and the Holocaust. The exhibit also covers the Latvian government’s policy with respect to research and remembrance of the Holocaust. The exhibition was first held at the University of Latvia as part of an international seminar organized on the Holocaust.
Crime Rate Down in the Baltic Countries
Fewer crimes were reported in the Baltic countries in 2002 than the previous year according to government data. Lithuania experienced the greatest decrease in crime rate—8.4% with 72,646 cases reported. Estonia registered an 8.2% drop with 53,293 crimes reported and Latvia came in third with a drop of 3.4% percent with 49,329 cases.
OSCE Skips Estonian Parliamentary Elections
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did not send any observers to the March 2 parliamentary elections in Estonia. The OSCE’s decision was based on findings that Estonia has met all of the necessary prerequisites for conducting democratic elections and has conducted past elections in accordance with international law and obligations, according to Estonia’s Foreign Ministry (Est MFA PR 2/27/03).
European Commission Finds Baltic Countries Making Excellent Progress on Accession to EU
At the conclusion of the accession negotiations in Copenhagen and the finalization of the Treaty of Accession on February 19, the European Commission issued a statement noting that the Baltic countries as well as the other eight candidate states were making excellent progress in meeting the requirements for membership, and that the Commission was confident the candidates would succeed in carrying out the necessary reforms in line with their commitments (EstMF 2/27/03). The timetable calls for signing of the Treaty of Accession in Athens on April 16, 2003.
Baltic American Freedom League Endorses Vilnius Ten Statement
The Los Angeles based Baltic American Freedom League at its annual membership meeting adopted a resolution supporting full disarmament of Iraq as required by UN Resolution 1441, noting that Secretary of State Colin Powell presented compelling evidence on February 5 of Iraq’s noncompliance with Resolution 1141. The Baltic American group expressed solidarity with the U.S. position and called for the UN Security Council to take appropriate action against Iraq (www.BAFL.com). “Some people never get the word. French, German and Belgian waffling on Saddam Hussein is reminiscent of European kowtowing to Adolph Hitler in the thirties,” said the League’s President Valdis Pavlovskis.
President George W. Bush: Latvia Can Count on U.S. Support
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga met with U.S. President George W. Bush on February 17 despite the cancellation of a President’s Day event at which he had invited her to speak. President Bush thanked Latvia for supporting his position on the need to disarm Iraq and confirmed that Latvia can rely on U.S. support and cooperation in the future (RFE/RL BSR 3/4/03). He said he was sure the U.S. Congress will ratify the NATO accession agreements of the 10 new members in the spring. President Vike-Freiberga noted that she comes from a country that has lived under oppressive dictatorships and knows that you cannot bargain or give in to people like Saddam. She also met with Secretary of State Colin Powell who also thanked her for Latvia’s support regarding the Iraq conflict.
Senate Passes SCR 2502 Expressing Appreciation to Baltic Nations and Other European Allies
SCR 43 introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) praises the Baltic nations and Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom for their support of U.N. Resolution 1441. “We thank this European majority for standing with us,” said Senator McCain (McCain.senate.gov 2/11/03). “Today, we are proud to stand with the vast majority of Europe, and proud that the vast majority of Europe stands with us,” commented Senator Lieberman. The resolution was unanimously passed by the Senate as SRC 2502 on February 13, and is now before the House International Relations Committee.
Statement of Vilnius Ten Nations
In response to the presentation by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. regarding Iraq’s production of weapons of mass destruction, the Foreign Ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia issued a strong statement of support for U.N. Resolution 1441 and U.S. actions re: Iraq (AP 2/5/03). Observing that when values shared by free people are threatened by despots, it is the responsibility of democratic governments to stand together and eliminate the threat, declared the foreign ministers. The statement calls on the UN Security Council to take necessary and appropriate actions in response to the clear and present danger posed by Hussein regime.
Baltic Countries to Stand with United States
French President Jacques Chirac’s biting attack on Eastern European nations will not stop Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from backing the United States hard-line stance on Iraq, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in an interview with the Washington Times, by David R. Sands (2/21/03). Ten East European countries, known as the Vilnius Ten drafted a joint statement backing the U.S. line against Saddam, a response that infuriated French and German officials. “I don’t think we can find security by hiding away in a hidy-hole. In our history, we have learned that our only chance for real security is standing with our allies and hoping they will stand by us,” said Latvia’s President in response to President Chirac’s hysterical outburst. “I do not want war…but I believe we must pick a side. And I believe it is the side where the United States is,” declared Estonia’s Prime Minister Siim Kalas (RFE/RL 2/18/03). The Vilnius Ten are Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.