Volume 5 – Number 5

U.S. President Nominates New Ambassador to Lithuania
On April 7 The White House issued a statement that U.S. President George W. Bush nominated John A. Cloud, Jr. of Virginia, as a new ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Lithuania. J.A. Cloud, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, currently serves as Deputy Chief of Mission in Berlin, Germany.


Ambassador V. Usackas Delivered Remarks to the Virginia Military Institute Cadets
On April 6 Ambassador of Lithuania to the USA, Vygaudas Usackas delivered his remarks on the implications of the EU and NATO Expansion for European-U.S. Relations at the Virginia Military Institute. “Because of the democratic changes in Central and Eastern Europe and because of the enlargements of NATO and the EU, Europe and the transatlantic community are stronger and better equipped to handle the opportunities and challenges that we face in the XXI century,” said Lithuanian diplomat. “The enlargements of the EU and NATO are a historic step towards Europe ‘whole, free and growing in prosperity’ which also serves as an example and an inspiration to continue democratic reforms and resolve differences through peaceful means for countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and others,”- said ambassador V. Usackas.


Baltic Sea Resolution in PACE to See Light of Day
MP Gediminiad Jakavonis overcame bureaucratic obstacles at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week, pushing through a resolution he initiated over chemical weapons resting at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Jakavonis, a member of the assembly’s committee on the environment, agriculture and regional affairs, said that the assembly’s bureau supported the Lithuanian initiative to draft the resolution at a meeting in Strasbourg on April 11. Two months ago, the initiative, which focused on ecological threats to the Baltic Sea caused by WWII-era chemical weapons, was named among this year’s PACE policy priorities in the sphere of environmental protection.


Lithuania’s President Hits Back at Russia’s Policy on Energy
President Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania has called for a common European Union front in response to Russia’s willingness to use its energy supplies to secure political influence over its neighbors. Speaking to the Financial Times on the eve of an international pro-democracy conference in Vilnius, Mr. Adamkus condemned Germany for backing Russia’s controversial planned Baltic Sea gas pipeline, which will circumvent transit countries including the Baltic states, Ukraine and Poland. He said: “I believe I can understand the Russian position but I can’t understand Germany’s position. As a member of the EU, they acted without even extending the courtesy of advising the Baltic states [about their plans].” Mr. Adamkus’s comments echoed those of Polish officials including Radek Sikorski, defence minister, who earlier this week compared the Baltic pipeline deal with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – the secret German-Soviet agreement dividing up Eastern Europe signed just before the Second World War. (May 4, 2006)


Ex-Advisor: Russia fails G-8 standards
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s former economic advisor said that Russia does not meet Group of Eight standards for membership. Andrei Illarionov said Tuesday that while the G-8 is “a very important and very effective tool for making Russia a more prosperous and free nation,” Western countries will send the wrong signal if they allow Russia to curtail economic and political freedoms while remaining a member of the organization. Russia will host the next G-8 summit on energy security in St. Petersburg this July. Illarionov told an audience at the National Press Club that he does not necessarily advocate the expulsion of Russia from the G-8, but noted that “an appeasement policy has not been an effective policy — if not only for the United States and the rest of the world, but for Russia itself.” “The G-8 as a club of free, democratically advanced nations will cease to exist,” he said. (UPI – Washington April 18)


U.S. Business and Trade Mission to the Baltic States May 22 – 26, 2006
The “U.S. Business Investment and Trade Mission to the Baltic States” will start in Riga, Latvia, on Tuesday, May 23, 2006, and from May 24 through May 26 will continue in Klaipeda and Nida, Lithuania. Participants are offered an exclusive opportunity to meet business counterparts and political leadership of Klaipeda, make on-site visits to industrial sites and commercial points of interest in Lithuania, experience unique beauty of Curonian Spit and Nida, and to enjoy Lithuanian hospitality. The objective is to promote the differentiating competitive advantages for U.S. businesses to invest and trade with companies in the Baltic States. The central event of the “U.S. Business Investment and Trade Mission to the Baltic States” will take place in Riga, Latvia on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at the Radisson SAS Hotel “Daugava”.


The Kremlin Crosses out Candidates for UN SG Post
Russian diplomats and secret servicemen started actively diffusing information that tars Latvian President’s reputation, in order not to allow her appointment as the UN Secretary General. Moscow elaborated and started realizing a secret plan of discrediting the Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, reliable sources told AIA (Axis Information and Analysis). The Kremlin shows a growing discontent with regard of Washington’s alleged intention to suggest Vike-Freiberga for the UN Secretary General at the end of this year. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has a right to veto any inconvenient candidature for that position. The Russian administration, however, decided not to bring the case up to the necessity of using this right, caring of its image in the eyes of the other members of the UN General Assembly. The Kremlin has elaborated another scenario. According to a special plan which was approved at the highest level, the Russian official institutions having contact with foreigners, and first of all the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Intelligence Service, are now deploying a propaganda campaign aimed at slandering the Latvian President. As for Vike-Freiberga’s candidature, it is unacceptable for Moscow not just because of highly strained relations with Riga in such issues as the state border and the Russian minority in Latvia. The Kremlin was extremely negative concerning Vike-Freiberga’s recent speech during the Davos World Economic Forum, when she announced the necessity to reduce the authorities of the five UN Security Council permanent members, and called to view a possibility of changing the composition of this body. (AIA European Section April 10)


Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education and Training (IMET) to the Baltic Countries to be Reduced in FY 2007
The Baltic countries are scheduled to receive cuts in FMF funding from $4.55 million each in 2006 to $4 million each in 2007. $136.8 million in the FY 2007 budget for FMF will fund ongoing efforts to incorporate the most recent NATO members into NATO, support prospective NATO members and coalition partners. Major programs include $30 million to continue the defense reform in Poland while advancing professionalization, modernization and interoperability to support its coalition efforts; $15 million to further defense reform and modernization in Romania; and $15 million to promote Turkish Armed Forces modernization and strengthen its participation in the global war on terrorism. These numbers all are slight increases for these countries. IMET funding for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia is being slightly reduced ($3000 per country) to $1.185 million per country, while Russia is slated to receive $790,000 which is actually an increase over 2006 funding levels. $27.1 million in the FY 2007 budget for IMET is slated for new NATO members and key coalition partners, as well as other nations in the region to promote regional security and integration among U.S., NATO, European and Eurasian armed forces.


Cheney Lashes Out at Putin in Lithuania
Vice President Dick Cheney, in remarks that caused a stir in neighboring Russia, accused President Vladimir Putin, Thursday, of restricting the rights of citizens and said that “no legitimate interest is served” by turning energy resources into implements of blackmail. Cheney’s sharp remarks – some of the administration’s toughest language about Moscow – came two months before President Bush travels to Russia for the annual summit of industrialized democracies. “No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation,” Cheney said. “In Russia today, opponents of reform are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade,” Cheney told a conference of Eastern European leaders held in Vilnius, Lithuania, whose countries once lived under Soviet oppression, and now in Russia’s shadow. “The democratic unity of Europe ensures the peace of Europe,” he said. The Vice President stated Russia has a choice to make when it comes to reform, and said that in many areas, “from religion and the news media to advocacy groups and political parties, the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of the people.” “In these 15 years, the Baltics have shown how far nations can progress when they embrace freedom, serve the interests of their people and hold steadily to the path of reform,” he said. (AP Special Correspondent VILNIUS, Lithuania, May 4, 2006)


Volume 5 – Number 4

McCain Suggests Bush Re-Evaluating Putin
Sen. John McCain said Sunday the United States should respond harshly to Russia’s anti-democratic actions and suggested that President Bush is reconsidering his assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin. After meeting Putin for the first time in June 2001, Bush said he had been able to gain “a sense of his soul” and had found Putin to be “very straightforward and trustworthy.” McCain, R-Ariz., added: “It was early in his presidency. The president was trying to develop a good relationship with Putin …” McCain said Putin has repressed Russians and their media, supported Belarus’ authoritarian president and not cooperated with the U.S. in dealing with Iran’s suspected development of nuclear weapons. “I think that we’ve got to respond in some way,” McCain told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The glimmerings of democracy are very faint in Russia today, and so I would be very harsh.” (The Associated Press, Sunday, April 2, 2006)


Estonia named cultural capital for 2011
Estonian Culture Ministry officials have designated Tallinn to become the European Capital of Culture in 2011. Tallinn edged out three other Estonian cities – Tartu, Parnu and Rakvere – to earn the honor. The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for one year, during which it is given a chance to showcase its cultural life and development.


Lithuania wants Russia to pay $28 billion
Lithuania wants Russia to pay more than $28 billion in compensation for the “Soviet occupation,” the speaker of Lithuania’s parliament has said. Arturas Paulauskas told national radio Wednesday, “There are legal documents, our people’s will that has been expressed at a referendum, and it should be fulfilled.” Paulauskas said he has raised the issue in meetings with Russian officials “and will continue doing so in the future,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. A special committee of the parliament, after evaluating the damage caused to Lithuania by nearly 50 years of being part of the Soviet Union, determined an appropriate compensation as totaling more than $28 billion, Paulauskas said


Putin Expresses Regret for ’68 Invasion
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow bears moral responsibility for the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, part of an effort to ease anger over the past and boost relations with former Soviet satellites in Central Europe. On Tuesday, he made a similar statement in Hungary about the Soviet-led crushing of the 1956 uprising against communist rule there. Putin’s gesture contrasted with celebrations last year of the 60th anniversary of the Nazi defeat, when he celebrated the Soviet role as liberator in Europe and glossed over its brutal conduct in the ensuing decades. (Associate Press March 2)


Latvia has bang-up year in 2005
Latvia exceeded itself last year in terms of economic expansion, as gross domestic product grew 10.2 percent, the highest level since the country gained independence. The stellar growth was fostered by a 17.4 percent increase in trade, 16.2 percent in the transport and communications industry, 15.5 percent in construction and 6.3 percent in manufacturing. “I think it will be no surprise to anybody that trade is the fastest growing among Latvia’s key industries,” said Zigurds Vaikulis, head of market analysis at Parex Asset Management. “Both industry and trade showed growth in the fourth quarter of 2005, and the development of other branches of the economy has also been rapid,” said Liene Kule, a senior analyst at Hansabanka. She added that trade and construction would remain Latvia’s key industries in the future, as their growth is ensured by domestic demand. Glancing across the Baltics, Estonians also had reason to cheer. GDP there grew 10.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005, putting it on par with Latvia. Lithuania saw its economy grow 8.8 percent last year.


Estonian economy to grow 8.2 pct in 2006
The Estonian Finance Ministry expects the country’s economy to grow 8.2 pct in 2006, the BNS news agency reported. In 2007, Estonia’s gross domestic product is estimated to grow 7.7 pct. In its previous forecast issued in August 2005, the ministry said the economy is expected to keep growing at an annual rate of a little more than 7 pct over the next few years. Economic growth is backed by continued improvement in the external environment and a resulting increase in Estonian exports. Exports grew by nearly one-fifth last year, and the real growth rate of exports this year is seen to end up in the region of 13 pct. (newsdesk@afxnews.com)


EU Leaders want to boost energy dialogue with Russia
European Union leaders issued a statement in favor of stepping up the energy dialogue with Russia. “The Energy Dialogue with Russia should be revitalized and become more open and effective in support of EU energy objectives, based on our mutual inter-dependence on energy issues,” the EU leaders said in Presidency Conclusions following the summit in Brussels March 23-24. The leaders pointed to “the need for secure and predictable investment conditions for both EU and Russian companies and reciprocity in terms of access to markets and infrastructure as well as non-discriminatory third party access to pipelines in Russia.” The EU leaders also spoke in favor of ensuring “nuclear safety and environmental protection.”


Baltic Countries to Boost NATO Unit
Defense ministers from six Baltic Sea countries Tuesday agreed to strengthen military cooperation and create a combat group to work in coordination with NATO. At a meeting in Latvia, ministers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Denmark agreed to boost their cooperation and involvement with the North East Multinational Corps, a multinational NATO unit based in Stettin, Poland. “We agreed to work towards maximizing the role of the Stettin Headquarters in NATO’s 2007 Afghanistan operation,” Danish Defense Minister Soren Gade said in a statement after the meeting. In particular, the six countries need to focus on technical and administrative improvements, he added. The ministers also called for more efficient coordination between NATO and the European Union. They agreed to form an EU combat group, which would work in close coordination with NATO’s rapid reaction force. The group would be made up of soldiers from Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and would be deployed in peacekeeping missions and provide humanitarian assistance under a United Nations mandate. (BRUSSELS, March 22, UPI)


U.S. wants a new Belarus election, calls Sunday voting results invalid
The United States declared the results of the presidential election in Belarus invalid yesterday and called for a new race, even as President Alexander Lukashenko defiantly swept aside criticism and declared himself the winner of a third term. In an impassioned appearance hours after state television announced he had won nearly 83 percent of the vote, Lukashenko exuded confidence and said the outcome had “convincingly demonstrated who the Belarussians are and who is the master of our house.” Several thousand opposition demonstrators once again ignored warnings that they could be arrested or beaten and returned in the evening to a central square in Minsk to continue peaceful protests against the results. Echoing the Bush administration, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which brought 400 observers here, sharply criticized the election, noting harassment and arrests of opposition candidates, propagandistic coverage on state media and extensive irregularities in the counting of ballots. “The arbitrary abuse of state power, obviously designed to protect the incumbent president, went far beyond acceptable practice,” the report said. (NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE March 21, 2006)


U.S. Does not accept Belarus election results
The United States does not accept results of the Belarus election and believes the campaign that re-elected President Alexander Lukashenko was conducted in a “climate of fear,” the White House said on Monday. “We support the call for a new election,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. The United States had complained bitterly about events in Belarus ahead of the election. McClellan warned authorities in Belarus against “threatening or detaining those exercising their political rights in their coming days and beyond,” a reference to protests that have been reported there. “The United States does not accept the results of the election. The election campaign was conducted in a climate of fear. It included arrests and beatings and fraud,” McClellan said. (Reuter March 20, 2006)


Former Estonia Leader to Be Laid to Rest
Estonia’s first post-Soviet president, a renowned intellectual who led his nation toward the European Union and NATO, was honored Sunday at a state funeral as a man who “made and shaped history.” Baltic heads of state and international dignitaries arrived at the Estonian capital to pay last respects to Lennart Meri, who died March 14 at age 76 after a long illness. A charismatic and witty statesman, writer and filmmaker, Meri was president of this Baltic nation of 1.4 million from 1992-2001. He helped steer Estonia toward the European Union and NATO membership. As a military homage to the Estonian statesman, two NATO fighter jets that patrol the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania passed over the convoy that escorted Meri’s flag-draped casket from the church. Polish MIG-29s repeated the salute a bit later before returning to their base in Lithuania. “He was a man out of history who also made and shaped history,” said former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt. Speaking in front of his official residence, Estonian President Arnold Ruutel called Meri “an outstanding Estonian and a great European” whose passions included traveling and exploring the cultures of remote nations. After the official speeches, Meri was to be buried at Tallinn’s Forest Cemetery in a private ceremony. On Saturday, he lay in state at the Kaarli Church, where up to 15,000 people paid their last respects to their scholarly leader, a survivor of Stalin’s gulag who was known throughout the country for his dry humor and wit. (Associated Press Sunday, March 26, 2006)


Volume 5 – Number 3

Latvia’s President Tells Like It is
According to David Rennie, correspondent of The Daily Telegraph (2/2/06), a Swiss/German newspaper editor, Roger de Weck, invited the President of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, “to agree that the new EU members from east and central Europe posed a danger, as they were too pro-American in their leanings.” Here’s a part of the Presidents’ response: “…I am amazed by the speed with which Europe has forgotten that it was rescued during World War Two when the Americans entered the fight. The contribution of the trans-Atlantic link to European security is something the Europeans have long taken for granted…Throughout the years, in parts of Europe, intellectuals and even politicians were enamored with the idea of Marxism and even some thought the Soviet Union was an embodiment of what Socialism and the protection of the worker was all about. America was more realistic. America looked on us as captive nations. We were captive nations, and we are now free.” By the end of her extemporary speech, she had most of the audience “applauding wildly,” reports Mr. Rennie.


Latvia Marks Eleven Years of Naturalization
BNS (2/1/06) reports that since establishing the naturalization process in 1995, Latvia’s Naturalization Board has received a total of 112,333 applications, over 10,000 a year. Of these, 105,648 or approximately 94 percent of the applicants, including 12,367 children, were granted Latvian citizenship. Nearly 4,700 children born after 1991 to non-citizen parents have received Latvian citizenship. The Board has set up a free hotline for inquiries about naturalization and has received more than 40,000 inquiries, and published materials about Latvia’s history and constitution.


Russia and Germany, France and Great Britain Form Human Right Watch Group
Tass (2/15/06) reports that Russia and the EU countries of Germany, France and Great Britain have agreed to set up a joint working group to monitor the observance of national minority human rights. “We shall speak about Russia’s efforts to ensure human rights,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. However, at their first meeting on March 3, the group will skip the state of human rights in their own countries, and instead will check on Latvia and Estonia. The group’s other goal, according to Minister Lavrov, is to “build Europe without demarcation lines.”


History Calls Communists to Account
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) became the first international body to condemn crimes against humanity committed by communist regimes of the Soviet Union and other states, reports The Times of London (1/26/06). However, the resolution was vigorously and bitterly opposed by Russia and Western Europe’s left-wing parties, writes Times reporter Charles Bremmer. All MEPs from former European communist states except Belarus, voted for the resolution. Vladimir Socor (Eurasia Daily Monitor 1/27/06), notes that the report calls for all post-communist parties and governments in formerly communist-ruled countries to encourage the study of the historical record of communist regimes, ensure that their crimes are appropriately reflected in school textbooks, and institute national days for commemoration of the victims of communist regimes. The report recommends that the Council create a working group of experts to process information on the crimes of communist regimes. Based on documents presented to the Council, a conservative estimate of death and killings between 1917 and 1989 attributed to the Soviet Union’s communist regime is about 20 million. The number of Soviet victims for the Baltic countries is about 700,000. Dr. Vytautas Landsbergis, former President of Lithuania, is one the initiators of the PACE resolution.


The Baltic Rim – Europe’s Next Economic Hub
In its recent research publication Baltic Rim Outlook, Nordea, a leading financial services firm, notes that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are among the world’s fastest growing economies. With GDP growth up to 8 percent annually, the region could become Europe’s next economic hub in the Baltic Sea region forecasts Nordea. The four countries on the Baltic Rim have achieved remarkable progress since the early 1990’s, the report notes. But the potential is not exhausted. There is room for substantial growth. “We don’t need to go as far as Asia to talk about tiger economies—they’re on our doorstep”, observed Mika Erkkila of Nordea (Hugin Online 1/27/06).


Latvian, Lithuanian Banks See Assets Skyrocket
Assets of Lithuanian banks grew 54.7 percent last year, out performing Latvia’s growth of 39.4 percent, though Latvian banks continue to maintain the largest aggregate assets among the three Baltic states, reports The Baltic Times (2/1/06). Loans issued by Latvian banks last year rose by 58.9 percent, Lithuanian bank portfolios increased by 53.6 percent.


Forbes Foreign Capital Hospitality Index (FCHI) Gives High Marks to the Baltic Countries
According to a Forbes.com (2/6/06) study, Estonia ranks number eight out of 135 countries in terms of receptiveness, openness and qualifications of foreign capital investment. The FCHI measures indicators such as GDP growth, tax structure, regulations and international trade, along with societal factors affecting investment including competitiveness, poverty, bureaucracy, red tape, technological advancement, corruption and personal freedom. Heidi Brown notes in her article “The Baltic: Pampering Foreign Investors” Forbes.com (2/6/06) that although Latvia places 22nd on the Forbes’ list, it ranks above far-wealthier nations such as Netherlands, France and Israel. Lithuania placing 29th still “beats Belgium, the Czech Republic and Poland. Russia shares 103rd place with Sierra Leone; both are ahead of Tanzania and Pakistan. Brown notes that the Baltic countries have a median rating of 74 by Transparency International for their control of corruption while Russia “gets a depressing score of 21.”


Latvia: Willing and Ready for Peacekeeping Mission in Georgia
While attending an inter-parliamentary conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, Ingrid Udre, Speaker of Latvia’s Parliament, told journalists that Latvia is ready to assume peacekeeping duties in the South Ossetia conflict zone, if the operation is carried out under mandate by an appropriate international organization, reports The Messenger (2/8/06), Georgia’s English language newspaper. “We could take part in such an operation. Latvia already has the experience of participation in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq,” said the Speaker. The Chairman of the Georgia Parliamentary Committee on Defense, Givi Targamadze, did not rule out a possible replacement of the current Russian peacekeeping forces with peacekeeping troops from “countries friendly to Georgia, particularly from the Baltic states and Ukraine” (Tass 2/7/06).


Lithuania Rejects Iranian Protest
On February 9, Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a diplomatic note from Iran protesting the publishing of the “Danish Moslem cartoons” by a local newspaper—the Respublika. The note claimed the cartoons were insulting to Moslems and provoked “a wave of great indignation in Muslims all over the world.” The note also stated that freedom of the press should not be used as an excuse for insulting other people’s religious beliefs. In response to the charge, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement that while Lithuania respects the religious belief of every individual, it disapproves any action against the freedom of press; therefore, it rejects the charge (LitMFA 2/10/06). Ministry officials met with the staff of the State Security Department to ensure the safety of Lithuanian citizens both at home and abroad. Previously, the Ministry had issued an advisory against Lithuanians traveling to Syria and Lebanon.


Belarus Pro-Democracy Demonstrations Held in Washington DC, Belarus and Latvia
Members of the Baltic American community joined about 70 demonstrators outside the Belarus Embassy in Washington, DC on February 16 to demand free elections in Belarus and highlight the political abuses in the current presidential election campaign. Representative McCotter stopped by to address the group. The protest was organized by the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC 2/18/06). Nicholas Burns, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, has assured the Belarus pro-democracy advocates of U.S. support (The Washington Times 2/15/06). On the same day as the Washington demonstration, over 200 people gathered in the central square in the city of Minsk, Belarus to defy the ban on public rallies and to demand free presidential elections. Over 30 demonstrators were arrested, others were beaten by the Minsk police (BBC 2/16/06). In Riga, Latvia a number of organizations held a solidarity rally on February 16 to support the opposition movement in Belarus (The Baltic Times 2/16/06).


Rep. John Shimkus Introduces Resolution Supporting Democratic Elections in Belarus
Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) introduced House Resolution 673 “expressing support for the efforts of the people of Belarus to establish a full democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.” H. Res. 673 urges the Government of Belarus to conduct a free and fair presidential election on March 19, 2006. “This resolution is a testament to the people of Belarus. I want them to know that the U.S. is not going to stand idly by while they fall under the control of a dictator,” stated Shimkus. Chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Relations and cosponsor of the resolution Elton Gallegly, (R-CA) noted that “Media in Belarus is controlled by the state…Mass gatherings in public, including peaceful protests, are illegal.” Other cosponsors of the resolution include Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA), Michael Rogers (R-MI) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI). According to Interfax (2/16/06), observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have already started monitoring the presidential election campaign in Belarus.


Volume 5 – Number 2

Lithuania Wants to Postpone the Closure of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant
On January 9, 2006, Lithuania’s Economics Minister, Kestutis Dauksys, told a news conference that his government wants to “negotiate with the EU about extending the operations of the Ignalina nuclear power plant,” reports UPI (1/10/06). Closing the Chernobyl-style plant by 2009 was a condition for Lithuania’s admission to the EU. Half of the plant already has been closed. However, Lithuania fears being isolated without a source of power if the plant is closed. Lithuania imports all of its gas and most of its oil from Russia according to BBC. Dauksys said that a new plan could by completed by 2013, but he thought it would be very difficult to persuade the EU that Ignalina should remain open beyond 2009. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas noted that a new nuclear facility could be built if Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, would join the project (The St. Petersburg Times 1/10/06).


EU Urges Washington to Extend Visa-Free Travel to Baltic Countries and Other New Members
The European Union has appealed to Washington to expedite efforts to extend visa-free travel to the Baltic countries and seven other new members, according to The Baltic Times (1/19/06). According to an European Commission report, the U.S. has made no progress in signing mutual agreements on the abolition of visas with EU newcomers. The Commission, the executive arm of the EU, would like to see progress by July, when a new report is filed. Washington has admitted the need to resolve the issue. Last year the U.S. and the Baltic countries set up working groups to discuss the issue. The Baltic countries meet most of the terms required for visa-free qualifications, but the percentage of visa rejections by the U.S. continues to be too high for U.S. officials to drop visa requirements. There are no visa requirements for U.S. citizens to visit the Baltic countries. A visa-free regime is one of the top priorities for the Baltic governments.


Another Latvian Unit Joins Peacekeeping Mission in Iraq
A Latvian unit of 108 soldiers departed on January 10 for Iraq to replace a Latvian unit already serving there, according to MOD. This is the seventh Latvian army unit to participate in the international mission in Iraq since 2003. The unit will train Iraqi solders in convoy operations and security and motorized patrols. The unit will be stationed in the city of Al Kut. The city is located on river Tigris approximately 100 miles SE of Baghdad. It is a port and a market center for grain, dates and vegetables. Latvia will also send some 30 soldiers to Afghanistan this spring to take part in the PRT program to help rebuild the country. The Latvians will serve under Norwegian command in Afghanistan. In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Latvian units are currently serving in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia.


Croatia, Azerbaijan Join Lithuanian Led Mission in Afghanistan
AFT (1/5/06) reports that Croatia and Azerbaijan will join the Lithuanian led NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan this year. Croatia signed an agreement with Lithuania to send 10–12 mine clearance specialists to work with the Lithuanian PRT in Afghanistan. Azerbaijan has pledged to contribute six to eight military doctors to the team. Lithuania has also made an offer to Ukraine to join the team and is in negotiations with other European countries. Currently Danish troops and Icelandic civilian experts are serving with the Lithuanian led PRT in Ghor province alongside with 120 Lithuanian soldiers. Ghor is the largest and most inaccessible and dilapidated province in a mountainous region in central Afghanistan.


Israel Signs Tax Treaty with Latvia
On January 19, 2006, Latvia signed a treaty for prevention of double taxation with Israel. Jackie Matza of the Israel Tax Authority said that the treaty was an important stage in the progress of economic relations between the two countries, bolstering the certainty and stability required for international transactions. Like most of Israel’s tax treaties, the treaty with Latvia is based on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development model. Israel has signed a similar treaty with Lithuania (Globes1/22/06).


Proposed Latvian Restitution Law Would Return Jewish Properties
A proposed law in Latvia would return around 200 Jewish properties back to the country’s Jewish community. The Latvian government currently has possession of the properties according to Arkady Suharenko, of the Council of Latvian Jewish Communities. A 1992 law allowed for the restitution of religious property to Jewish communities. Thanks to this law, a number of historic Jewish properties were regained including Riga’s Jewish Theater and Jewish Hospital, several prayer halls and synagogues (JTA 1/22/06).


Estonia Might Introduce Euro Next Year
Estonia hopes to adopt the euro as of January 1, 2007, even if it does not meet the Maastricht inflation criteria, stated the former President of the Bank of Estonia. Last year inflation amounted to 4.1%, but it is expected to accelerate somewhat early this year. Lowering the rate of inflation is going to be slow as wages are rising fast. Lithuania with the lowest rate of inflation among the Baltic countries, 2.7%, also wants to convert to the euro next year, but is concerned about the Maastricht inflation limit. To comply with the limit, Lithuania must keep its inflation rate within 1.5% of the three best performing EU countries (The Baltic Times 1/12 and 19/06). Latvia plans to introduce the euro in 2008, but with a high inflation rate, it might not be able to do so. According to the Maastricht limit, Latvia may not exceed the limit within 2.5%. This year Latvia exceeded the index by 6% (Baltic Bsn Monitor 1/06, LETA 1/9/06). In all three countries, a major cause for the steep increases in consumer price indexes were increases in energy and food prices. In Latvia fuel prices climbed 19.4% last year.


Russia’s Ugly Show with Ukraine Is a Warning for the Balts and for Europe
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Alexei Sazonov acknowledged that politics played a role in the gas dispute with Ukraine, according to “The Los Angeles Times” (1/7/06). Most western political analysts and media concur with the Saznov’s statement. “The Voice of Germany” (1/6/06) stated: “One thing is clear. Dependency on Russian energy supplies means direct political dependency on the Kremlin. Those who issued warnings about Russia’s imperial reflexes now see themselves proven right.” Paul Belien writing in The Brussels Journal (1/4/06) writes, “It is important to stand by Ukraine and the other countries that lie between German and Russia. Rerouting Russian gas directly into Germany via the Baltic Sea, whilst bypassing Ukraine, Poland or the Baltics, should not be allowed.” Indeed, a direct Russian-German export route will make the East European countries dangerously exposed to potential Kremlin pressure. Moscow will be in a position to pursue what some experts call Russia’s “two-tiered energy policy” toward Europe: acting as a reliable supplier to the rich economies in the continent’s west while at the same time being able to arbitrarily raise fuel prices or simply cut off gas to its pesky neighbors in Europe’s east—if the Kremlin deems it politically expedient, writes Igor Torbokov in Eurasia Daily Monitor (1/21/06), Moscow’s deployment of the “energy weapon” dates from 1990, when it cut energy supplies to the Baltic countries in a futile attempt to stifle their independence movements. It was also used against the Baltic countries in 1992 in retaliation for demands that Russia remove its remaining military forces from their countries, notes Keith Smith in the “International Herald Tribune (1/17/07).


Russia to Build Natural Gas Pipeline on Top of Chemical Bomb Fields in the Baltic Sea
Newsweek International (1/23/06) reports that the proposed Russian-German deal to build a gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, running 744 miles under the Baltic sea, passes over two known chemical weapons dump areas in the Gotland and Borholm basins. Some 34,000 metric tons of captured German chemical weapons, mostly mustard gas and lewisite (both blister agents), and the nerve gas tabun were dumped in 30 yards deep water by the Russians after WWII. The gas kills everything it touches. As a result, all fishing boats in the Baltic are required to carry decontamination equipment to counter nerve gas. Environmentalists in Russia and the Baltic countries fear that construction could disturb the submerged and rusting shells and poison the sea. “It is very dangerous to build the pipeline in the Baltic,” warns Alexei Yablokov of the Russian Center for Ecology Policy. “The sea bottom is entirely covered with bombs. We should, at least, first make a map of where they are,” stated Yablokov. Large quantities of other explosives and munitions were also dumped in the Baltic Sea after WWII. No one knows where. The hazard of leaking shells probably will last tens to hundreds of years,” writes Czech scientist Jiri Matousek in a recent study of the Baltic. Baltic leaders are concerned that their two big neighbors do not care for their safety. Kremlin dismisses the objections of the Baltic and Polish people as Russophobia.


Balts Commemorate 15th Anniversary of Bloody January 1991
In January, thousands of Balts through out the world commemorated the 15th anniversary of a defining moment in recent Baltic history–the Bloody Days of January. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia declared their independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Over the next months, despite intense pressure and threats from the Kremlin, the Balts continued to press forward to freedom. Then in January 1991, Moscow ran out of patience. On January 13th Soviet Special Forces with tank support stormed the Vilnius TV tower and took the Lithuanian news service off the air, killing 14 civilians and injuring 700 people in the process. Thousands of Lithuanians took to the streets, others set barricades around public buildings to defend their newly declared independence. As word of the attack spread, 700,000 people (one third of the population) demonstrated in Riga in support of Lithuania. Expecting Soviet armed action in Latvia, protesters set up a network of barricades to deny the city to the Soviets. On January 20 the attack came; Soviet Special Forces and paratroopers seized the Interior Ministry building in Riga. Five civilians were killed. Eventually Soviet troops retreated, protesters triumphed and military rule was not imposed. Skirmishes with the Soviet government and troops continued. But Bloody January was a time when the self confidence of the Baltic people was awakened, and their will to be free was strengthened. After a failed Kremlin coup in August 1991, the Baltic countries regained their independence. (The Baltic Times, The Brussels Journal, Novosti Press, BBC).


Volume 5 – Number 1

U.S Experts to Evaluate Latvia’s Readiness for Visa-Free Regime with U.S.
(BNS 12/26) U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Maura Harty will visit Latvia to evaluate Latvia’s readiness for a visa-free regime with the U.S. The delegation is concerned in passport and of travel document security the exchange of information on lost and stolen passports, monitoring of border crossings, combating illegal immigration and human trafficking. Latvia and the U.S. agreed in May to take measures towards lifting the U.S. visa regime for Latvians traveling to the U.S. Establishing a reciprocal visa-free regime with the U.S. is a top priority of the Baltic governments. U.S. citizens already can enter Baltic countries without a visa.


NATO Summit to be Held in Riga
NATO will hold its 2006 summit next November in Riga, Latvia (The Baltic Times 12/15).The decision is “proof of Latvia’s full maturity and political weight,” stated Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. It is estimated that the cost to Latvia of the two day conference will be about $26 million. The summit is expected to focus on the transformation of NATO from its origins as a bulwark against communism to a global security player. The summit “will allow our heads of state and governments to give new momentum to the political and military transformation of the alliance,” said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.


Lithuania and Ukraine Strengthen Strategic Partnership
On December 23 Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasluk signed a joint statement on enhancing democratic values in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and supported Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration efforts, (LitMAF 12/23). Specifically, Lithuania pledged to assist Ukraine in preparation of its EU Action Plan and within the framework of the Plan to cooperate in customs regulations, combating corruption, migration and visa matters and training of Ukraine’s state employees and diplomats in Lithuania. Lithuania also agreed to support Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO and in promoting EU mission in control of the border between Ukraine and Moldovia.


Baltic Economies Take Top Three Places in EU
According to The Baltic Times (12/22), during 2005 the Baltic countries recorded the fastest growth among the 25 EU countries and are expected to continue to do so for at least the next two years. Latvia consistently outperformed its neighbors. Its GDP growth in the first three quarters topped 10%, Estonia’s GDP reached 9.1% and Lithuania came in third with 6.1 percent. The figures differ from the EU’s forecasted full year scores of 9.1 for Latvia, 8.4 for Estonia and 7.0 for Lithuania. Nevertheless, they still have the top three highest rates of growth in the EU. Commenting of the Baltic economies the German magazine Das Spiegel (12/21) wrote: “The Baltic States have set a cracking pace with their radical economic reforms. Their fervor is alarming its old school neighbors in the west.”


A Way to Thwart the Moscow-Berlin Gas Pact
Martin Helme in the Brusselsjournal.com (12/22) in an article titled “Berlin-Moscow Gas Pact Easy to Thwart…if Balts Have Guts” suggests that a way for the Balts to stop the construction of the pipe line is for Estonia to reassert its rights to the Baltic Seabed in the Gulf of Finland. According to the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, every country has the right to extend its sea border to 12 nautical miles from their shore or the uttermost island. The Gulf of Finland is so narrow (20 miles at the narrowest point) that the two countries cannot utilize their maximum 12 miles without colliding. Therefore, the border runs through the middle. In 1994, Finland and Estonia signed a treaty in which both gave up 3 miles from that middle border line to create a 6 mile wide international seaway in the gulf. This seaway leads to the Russian waters. Under the 1994 treaty, Tallinn and Helsinki can unilaterally revoke the agreement. If they do, it would make Estonia and Finland the only sovereign powers over the gulf’s seabed. As a result, Russia would not be able to construct the pipeline without the permission of Estonia or Finland.


Work Begins on Moscow-Berlin Axis Gas Pipeline
The construction of the Moscow–Berlin Gas pipeline commenced on 12/10/05 without an environmental impact analysis and without any consultation with neighboring countries along the route. The pipeline will extend about 744 miles under the Baltic Sea to Germany. The Baltic nations, Poland and Ukraine oppose the project because they fear it could compromise their energy security. The five countries are overly dependent on the Russian supply of gas, but the dependency was offset by the fact that transit routes to western Europe went through these countries. With the construction of the pipeline this leverage will be gone, and Russia will be able to charge what ever it wants. They also complain about being kept in the dark about the project. Lithuania’s President Algirdas Brazauskas told the German Bild that “during preparation of the project nobody asked our opinion not even once. Everything was done behind our backs.” There are also environmental concerns. The former Soviet Union placed thousands of sea mines and dumped tons of chemical weapons and explosives during and after World War II in the Baltic. “The launching of the construction of the pipeline is a political slap in the face of the EU. For Russia, gas is not only an economic matter but also political,” Toni Lukas head of the Estonian Pro Patria party told AFP reporter. Andrei Illarinov, President Putin’s outspoken aide, who recently resigned in protest against the President’s policies, speaking about the manipulation of Russia’s energy reserves stated that they serve not merely as an instrument of Russia’s foreign policy, but as a “weapon,” reports The New York Times (12/28).


European Union Urges Moscow to Sign Border Treaties
EU has urged Russia to sign border treaties with Estonia and Latvia, reports EU Business (11/15). “I personally raised the matter at a meeting with [Russian] presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzehemsky, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferro-Waldner said in a letter to European Parliament members. Russia pulled out of a border treaty with Estonia in June, over what it called an “untruthful preamble” that included the terms “aggression by the Soviet Union” and “illegal incorporation by the Soviet Union” of Estonia. Latvia was to sign a border treaty with Russia in May, but the Kremlin refused to sign the pact after Latvia appended a declaration saying it had been occupied by the Soviet Union. Russia perceived Latvia’s declaration as a territorial claim, although the Latvian government has repeatedly stated they do not have any territorial claims. Just recently, on December 23, Latvia’s President again reiterated the position that Latvia has no intentions to claim any part of the Abrene region [now Pytalovo] that was annexed by Russia in 1945.


Russia Calls for Curbing OSCE Election Monitors
At the opening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for curbing “out of control” OSCE election monitors as tensions mounted over their criticism of voting in former Soviet states, reports EU Business (12/5). It was the presidential vote in Kazakhstan that aroused the Ministers ire. The Russian backed candidate, Nursultan Naarbayev, won 91.01% of the votes cast. The catalogue of violations that the monitors presented included persons interfering in polling places, multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, pressure on voters, tampering with election protocols and records. “The vote failed to meet international democratic standards,” stated the monitor report.


Council of Europe Closes Its Human Rights Monitoring Post in Latvia
After a decade in operation, the Council of Europe voted on 11/23, against strong Russian opposition, to close its human rights monitoring office in Latvia, reports The Baltic Times (12/1). Vladimir Socor writing in the EDM (11/3/05) notes that the CE found that Latvia had ratified and met the requirements established by the Framework Convention [for human rights] and demonstrates a commitment to accelerate the naturalization process of its non-citizens. Furthermore, the EU has repeatedly stated that Latvia fully complies with the EU’s Copenhagen criteria, including minority rights. OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Rolf Ekeus, on an assessment visit in June stated that Latvia had made significant progress on naturalization of non-citizens. In 2005, Latvia’s Naturalization Board received nearly 19,000 applications for naturalization of which it rejected 91, most of them because of the applicant’s criminal record. Since the program began the Board has received nearly 110,000 applications.


Russian Lawmakers Pass Bill On Curbing NGOs
AFP/Interfax/AP reports that on 12/27/05 Russia’s upper house of Parliament, the Federation Council, approved by an overwhelming vote of 153 to 1, with one abstention, a controversial bill that drastically curbs the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign the bill. The bill calls for the establishment of an agency to oversee the establishing, financing and activities of NGOs. The bill was fiercely criticized by Russia’s leading human rights groups and NGOs who claim that the law will make their work in Russia very difficult, and that a number of requirements in the bill are in violation of democratic principles and international law. The bill was denounced by the EU, the U.S. Congress (HCR 312, S339), Council of Europe and a number of western and Russian human rights organizations. Critics of the law fear that it will be used to clamp down on the country’s independent and spirited NGOs—one of the last independent political forces in Russia. The agency is empowered to dissolve any NGO if its purpose or activities contradict Russia’s constitution or pose a threat to sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, and the national interests of Russia. “The law was written to destroy NGOs except those loyal to the state,” Valentina Melnikova, head of the Soldiers Mothers,” a leading human rights group told reporters. The New York Times (12/27) in an editorial on the bill wrote: “[The bill] is broad enough to make all unofficial groups permanently vulnerable to the Kremlin whims.”


Freedom House Rates the Baltic Countries as Free and Russia as Not Free
Freedom House’s 2005 comparative assessment of the status of political rights and civil liberties in 192 countries rated Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as Free while Russia was classified as Not Free. The political and civil rights categories provide numeral ratings between 1 and 7 for each country, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free. The status designation of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free is determined by a combination of political and civil liberties ratings. Estonia received 1, Latvia 1.5, Lithuania 2.0 and Russia 5.5. According to the report, countries classified as Free enjoy open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life and independent media. In Partly Free countries, political and civil rights are more limited. In Not Free countries such as Russia, Rwanda, Chad and Cambodia, civil liberties are widely and systematically denied and political rights are absent. In Russia, the report notes, the Russian government has adopted policies that will make it more difficult for the development of a genuine civil society and will impede the development of democratic political opposition.

In its press freedom survey of 2006 which tracks trends in media freedom in 194 countries, Freedom House ranks the Baltic countries as Free. According to the numerical ranking of press freedom in each of the countries, with 1 being the best, Estonia ranks 26, Latvia 27, the United States 28, and Lithuania 31. Russia with 151 was rated as Not Free and placed after Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti and other autocratic and third world countries.