Volume 6 – Number 2

Shimkus Cosponsors Visa Waiver Program Legislation

Washington, DC. Congressman John Shimkus (R, Illinois-19) is joining as the lead Republican sponsor of Visa Waiver Program legislation introduced by Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D, Illinois-5). The Visa Waiver Modernization Act of 2007 (HR 1543) is similar to Senator Voinovich’s amendment that has already passed the Senate. (March 19, 2007)

Baltic Leaders Mourn Yeltsin
Leaders in the Baltic states on Monday mourned the death of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, praising his courage in helping them regain independence from the Soviet Union. “Yeltsin was the statesman who laid the ground for Lithuania to regain independence,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been forcibly incorporated into Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga stated “Boris Yeltsin played a significant role not only in Russian history but in the history of the whole of eastern Europe.” “We are mourning along with Russia… this is a loss for Europe,” she said. (Independent on Line April 24, 2007)

NORDEA: Baltic Rim Outlook: Record-strong growth spills over into overheating
Press Release – Baltic Rim Outlook: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are among the fastest growing economies in the world. The Baltic economies are currently expanding even faster than during the previous boom year 1997. The expansion has been strong to the point of overheating and devaluation fears in Latvia. While we remain positive on the authorities’ ability to control the situation, the risk is that the current very fast expansion will end in a hard landing. The real estate market is one important factor behind the expansion. Despite the strong advances in recent years, the potential is far from exhausted yet. “We believe that the Baltic countries will continue growing faster than the EU on average in the coming years as well. (23.4.2007 Nordea Bank AB)

Resistance Growing to the Baltic Seabed Pipeline Project
The Russo-German project for a gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed is meeting with growing skepticism and resistance in the region. The Gazprom-led consortium, Nord Stream, has now unwittingly added to those concerns. It has distributed a poorly substantiated, omission-fraught information package to countries around the Baltic Sea regarding the project’s environmental, economic, and other implications for the region. The report has raised more questions than it answered about those and other aspects of the project. In the course of April, governmental institutions and NGOs from Baltic riparian countries have replied to the consortium’s report, noting its imprecision, missing facts and details, and unclear methodology. The replies, particularly from Sweden and Finland, are raising a host of technical and environmental issues. Those focus on alternative options for the pipeline route in various sectors of the sea, the project’s environmental impact, its consequences for safety of navigation, and risks posed by poorly documented dumps of World War II explosives and chemical munitions on the seabed. (Vladimir Socor April 23, 2007 The Jamestown Foundation)

EU Votes on Holocaust Denial Law
LUXEMBOURG (AP) — The three Baltic nations on Thursday demanded that major Stalinist atrocities should be included in plans for a European Union law to make incitement of racist violence and Holocaust denial a crime. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia demanded that a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers agree to make it illegal for people to publicly condone, deny or trivialize crimes against humanity committed under the Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin. “Stalinism and Nazism should be treated equally,” said Jurgita Apanaviciute, a spokeswoman for Lithuania’s delegation to the EU. The EU ministers were close to agreeing on the contentious anti-racist package after six years of negotiations on how to combat racism and hate crimes. But other EU nations were loathe to agree to the demand by the Baltic states because they do not legally recognize crimes committed under Stalin as hate crimes or equate them with the genocide perpetrated under the Nazis in Germany during World War II.(CNN 19/04/07)

Barroso: Lithuania’s Problems are Europe’s Problems
On his first visit to Lithuania, Chairman of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso during his speech at the parliament praised the country and reminded about challenges to the European Union. At the celebratory parliamentary meeting on the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome, Barroso said that he wanted people to know that Lithuania’s problems are Europe’s problems that over two decades Lithuania has become a prospering country and that within two years Vilnius will become the European cultural capital. (30/03/07 The Baltic Times)

Latvian Cabinet Approves Ratification of Border Treaty With Russia
Latvia’s government has approved and submitted to parliament a law to ratify a border treaty with Russia, the government’s press service said Tuesday. Russian and Latvian Prime Ministers Mikhail Fradkov and Aigars Kalvitis signed the border treaty in Moscow March 27, ending a drawn-out period of contention between the two post-Soviet neighbors. By signing the treaty, EU member Latvia officially recognized the post-Soviet borders with Russia, backtracking on its earlier territorial claims on a district in the neighboring Russian region of Pskov, which was part of the Baltic state before World War II. (RIA novosti April 10, 2007)

Russia Builds First Floating Nuke Station
RUSSIA has begun to build the world’s first floating nuclear power plant despite warnings from environmentalists that it risks creating a disaster. The $239 million vessel, the Lomonosov, is the first of seven plants that Moscow says will bring vital energy resources to remote Russian regions as well as potential foreign markets. It will house two 35-megawatt reactors capable of supplying a city of 200,000 people when it starts operations, in three years’ time. Environmental groups and nuclear experts fear that floating plants will be more vulnerable to accidents and terrorism than land-based stations. They point to a history of naval and nuclear accidents in Russia and the former Soviet Union, most notoriously at Chernobyl in 1986. Nils Boehmer, an expert on Russia’s nuclear industry at Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group, said that floating power plants “raised a lot of new questions because this kind of facility has never been used in the world before”. (Tony Halpin 17/04/07)

Poland, Estonia: Construction of New Nuclear Power Reactor in Lithuania Will Boost Their Energy Security
Poland and Estonia agree the construction of a new nuclear power reactor at Lithuania’s existing Ignalina plant will boost their energy security, Speaker of Poland’s parliament Marek Jurek said after Wednesday talks with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, DPA reported. “This has great meaning for the energy security of both states and is a chance for all of our states to create an enterprise which can have great economic significance,” Jurek said, referring to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland. Poland and Lithuania have also forged plans to hook up their electrical power grids in order to plug all three Baltic European Union states into the EU’s larger electrical power network. (Eurasian Secret Services Daily Review, AIA 08.04.2007)

Small Baltic Nations Play Large Role for Alliance
NATO’s growing role in the western Baltic-rim region is behind a revised Baltic Air Surveillance Network (BALTNET) agreement signed April 12 by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The agreement replaces the original 1998 pact and provides a legal basis for establishing a Control and Reporting Center (CRC) to oversee NATO fighter jets patrolling in the national airspace of the independent Baltic states. The new BALTNET will deliver a more effective airspace surveillance and control dynamic, said Jurgen Ligi, Estonia’s defense minister. “The improved BALTNET agreement shows the importance of collaboration in air surveillance and in other defense matters between the Baltic nations,” Ligi said. “Together, we can achieve more, and we are actively looking for more ways to cooperate.” The developing interoperability of BALTNET has helped the Baltic states integrate with NATO structures and facilitate the more efficient use of resources. (Gerard O’Dwyer, Helsinki defensenews.com, posted 04/23/07)

Volume 6 – Number 1

Baltic Nations Promote Democracy, National Security Advisor Says
Riga, Latvia — The Baltic nations may be small, but decades under foreign occupation have made them powerful allies dedicated to democracy and freedom, said National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. White House officials traveling with the President were struck by the Baltic leaders’ deep-felt moral commitment to promoting democracy, Hadley said. “[T]hese are also countries who are punching above their weight in both Afghanistan and Iraq,” Hadley said. (28 November 2006 by Vince Crawley USINFO Staff Writer)

Baltic Assembly Urges Russia to Ease Off Georgia
Members of the Baltic Assembly, a group of lawmakers from the three countries, passed more than a dozen documents at last week’s meeting in Vilnius, including a call for Russia to discontinue its campaign of psychological and political pressure on Georgia and a request for the Belarusian administration to respect human rights. It urged Moscow to discontinue psychological and political pressure upon Georgia. (The Baltic Times, RIGA/VILNIUS Dec. 21, 2006)

Giuliani Praises Latvia’s Democracy
Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani sees Latvia as an example of democracy and freedom, he said during the current NATO summit in Riga. After meeting with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former New York mayor told the press that the Riga NATO summit was an “excellent opportunity for the United States and other NATO members to see what Latvia is like and where it is moving.” In her conversation with Giuliani, the Latvian president reiterated Latvia’s hopes to see bigger U.S. investment inflow as well as the lifting of visa requirements for Latvian citizens traveling to the United States. (BNS Nov 28, 2006)

More Details on Visa-Waiver Plan
U.S. Officials are providing more details of the President’s proposal to broaden the Visa Waiver Program, sketching the outlines of an ambitious plan for an electronic visa-lite system, which would enable travelers to get pre-cleared against terrorism and immigration watch-lists before traveling to the United States. In remarks in Europe this week, President Bush addressed complaints from the leaders of several of the post-Soviet democracies there about the restrictive requirements for the program. Bush said officials in Estonia had been ‘straightforward and very frank’ about the issue. He said there was ‘deep concern’ that people from countries fighting alongside the U.S. military in Iraq weren’t able to travel to the United States as freely as they would like. Bush promised Tuesday to send a proposal to Congress to ‘modify’ the program, ‘to make sure that nations like Estonia qualify more quickly,’ while strengthening its security. (By Shaun Waterman – UPI Homeland and National Security Editor Dec.1)

Gates Announces Grants for Latvia, Botswana, Lithuania
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced grants totaling $17.5 million to help people in Latvia ($16.2 million), Botswana ($1.1 million), and Lithuania ($220,396) plan for or provide free information technology services and training in public libraries and reading rooms. The grants are part of the foundation’s Global Libraries initiative, which is expected to invest $328 million over seven years to support computer and Internet access in public libraries in 12 to 15 countries. Latvia will benefit from dramatic technological upgrades, as it already has made significant investments in public libraries, with 80 percent offering Internet connections and two-thirds of library staff trained in Internet use. Lithuania will receive a $220,396 grant, to be managed by the Martynas Mazvydas National Library, used to develop a plan for providing no-cost computers and Internet access in public libraries. (December 8, 2006)

President Bush Calls for Peaceful Resolution of Russia’s Neighborhood Conflicts
Preceding the first NATO summit on former Soviet territory president George Bush has offered to help with Russia’s neighborhood conflicts resolution, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday. Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said he had discussed with President Bush in Tallinn the question of support for ex-Soviet countries, such as Georgia and Ukraine. Those countries have chosen the way to democracy and freedom, like Estonia, and would not bow to pressure from any of their neighbors Ilves told at a press conference. President Bush offered help to resolve the conflict peacefully. “Precisely what we ought to do is help resolve the conflict and use our diplomats to convince people there is a better way forward than through violence. We haven’t seen violence yet,” he told the news conference. President Bush thanked countries such as Estonia for helping other nations to transit to democracy. “I appreciate the fact that you’re training leaders from Georgia to Moldova to the Ukraine,” President Bush told Ilves. (MOS News 11/28/06)

Eastern Europe’s Stars – The Dynamic Duo
Europe’s Booming Baltic Corner – Doubling your living standards every six years would seem a breakneck pace of growth even in East Asia and unheard of in Europe. But two Baltic countries, Estonia and Latvia, are growing at 11.6% and 10.9% respectively. The pair’s growth is an exceptional product of good luck and good policies. Both countries are stable, business-friendly and cheap, and lie close to large, rich markets. They have flat taxes, cleanish government, balanced budgets (Estonia has no net foreign debt), and stable currencies pegged to the euro. Foreigners like all of this: Estonia is Europe’s biggest recipient per head of foreign investment. (The Economist, December 16th, 2006)

Baltic States in EU Energy Tie-Up
Lithuania and Poland have signed an agreement committing them to linking their power grids, thereby deepening EU-Baltic integration. The so-called “energy bridge” will be the second to connect the Baltic states to the wider EU electricity network. The first such link – between Estonia and Finland – was opened on Monday. Baltic leaders are hailing the new connections as historically significant, as they reduce their countries’ dependence on Russia. The opening of an undersea cable between Estonia and Finland on Monday was hailed by the Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, as an energy window to Europe, which meant the country’s energy security was no longer closely tied to its past. He said the cable was just the beginning of integrating the Baltic countries more closely into the EU’s energy network. The planned “energy bridge” linking the Lithuanian and Polish electricity networks is not expected to be completed until 2010. (Laura Sheeter BBC News, 12/8/06)

The New Threat to Europe
This year began with a European energy crisis caused by Russia’s cutoff of gas supplies to Ukraine, where a democratic government not to the liking of Vladimir Putin had taken power. Because Russian gas passes through Ukraine on its way to Western Europe, the pressure also dropped in Paris and Vienna and Rome — and Europeans suddenly realized they were dependent for electricity and warmth on an autocracy that was prepared to use energy as a tool of imperialism. It looks like the year will end the same way. Georgia and Azerbaijan are scrambling to find gas supplies by Jan. 1 to make up for Russian cutbacks or to avoid a huge and predatory price increase. He’s (German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier) proposing that the NATO alliance formally adopt “energy security” as one of its central missions. NATO, he told a German Marshall Fund conference alongside the recent NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, is “used to thinking in terms of conventional warfare between nations. But energy could become the weapon of choice for those who possess it.” That sounds daunting at a time when NATO has its hands full trying to fight a war in Afghanistan. But the energy threat goes to the alliance’s historic purpose: defending democratic Europe from attack by the autocratic and belligerent power on its Eastern frontier. And, as Lugar (Richard G. Lugar, U.S. Senator) pointed out: “The use of energy as an overt weapon is not a theoretical threat of the future. It is happening now.” (Washington Post Jackson Diehl, December 26, 2006)

Power Politics – An Assertive Russia Will Flex Its Energy Muscles
New power struggle between an increasingly assertive Russia (rich in oil and gas) and a weak-willed West will start in earnest in 2007. The big battleground will be energy. Poland and its allies in the Baltic countries will try to diversify their energy supplies, by agreeing to build a new nuclear power station at Ignalina in Lithuania, hooking up their electricity networks and accelerating their plans for a terminal on Poland’s northern coast to import liquefied natural gas. But Russia will find this little obstacle. Its cash-rich energy firms will step up their purchases of downstream firms in Europe.

Russia will develop its energy muscles in 2007. But it will flex them selectively. The Kremlin is keen to be seen as a reliable partner, playing by market rules. Those customers that pay on time will receive prompt deliveries. But countries and companies that challenge Russian energy hegemony will face short shrift. Two decades after the Kremlin started beating the retreat from the Soviet empire, a new hegemony, based on pipelines rather than tanks, is advancing—and shows every sign of proving durable. (Economist.com UK Dec 29th, 2006)

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.