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.


Volume 4 – Number 7

The Latvian National Human Rights Office Establishes Discrimination Prevention Department
While intolerance, hatred and discrimination on a large scale does not exist in Latvia, nevertheless the Latvian Parliament on November 10 expanded the scope, duties and authority of the Latvian National Human Rights Office (LNHRO) by establishing a Discrimination Prevention Department. The new Department is mandated to initiate investigations in situations and cases where discrimination occurs, investigate reported cases of discrimination, advise and counsel the victims and perpetrators of discrimination, initiate court action against perpetrators of discrimination, represent victims of discrimination in court cases, conduct research and public educational programs on discrimination and tolerance, and analyze national legislation and local ordinances for their impact on discrimination.


Financial Forum Organized to Promote Economic Cooperation Between the U.S. and Latvia
Five Latvian banks have joined forces to form a Latvian-American financial forum to encourage economic cooperation between Latvia and the U.S, to develop the Latvian financial sector, to enhance Latvia’s competitiveness in international financial markets, and to offer new business opportunity to U.S. businesses and investors. The forum is a public organization. Former Latvia’s Ambassador to U.S, Aivis Ronis, will serve as the Chairman of the organization.


Memorial to Victims of Communism Gets the Green Light
JBANC reports that a memorial in Washington, DC to honor the victims of communism received final clearance from the federal oversight body (11/03/05) and the National Capital Planning Commission. The site is located near the corner of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues NW, just off the Capitol Hill. Construction is to begin in April 2006 and is to be completed in about 10 months. The memorial will feature a democracy statue atop a stone pedestal, within a 900 square feet paved plaza. A historical marker at the site will provide background. It is estimated that over 100 million persons perished at the hands of various communist regimes in the 20th century.


Baltic Countries Agree on Strengthening Joint Airspace Control
Meeting in Parnu, Estonia (11/09/05), the Defense Ministers of the three Baltic countries agreed on setting up a joint trilateral Command and Reporting Centre (CRC) to strengthen control of the Baltic airspace. Plans for such a facility have been under consideration ever since the Baltic countries joined NATO, however, the crash of the Russian SU-27 fighter in Lithuania demonstrated the immediate need for the center. The center will be established at the existing Lithuanian facility at Karmelava. This arrangement will be in effect until the end of 2008. It was also agreed by the ministers that Estonia and Latvia are entitled to develop their own CRC capabilities and that it is up to each country to develop its own infrastructure (Est MOD 11/09/05). For the present, NATO has assumed the responsibility for patrolling and policing the Baltic airspace, 97,000 square miles. Currently, the mission is carried out by the U.S. 23rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron posted at the Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania. In December the U.S. squadron will be relieved by a Polish squadron.


Baltic Percentage of Female Members of Parliaments Above Average
In a survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the number and percentage of female deputies in parliament of 137 countries, Lithuania, with women constituting 22% of parliament membership was ranked 37, followed by Latvia with 21% ranked 44 and Estonia with 18.8% ranked 57. U.S. placed 67 with 15.2% and Russia ranked 97 with 8%. The world wide average was 16%, Europe averages 18.4%. In Europe, the Scandinavian countries with a combined average of 39.8% seem to be the most tolerant nations toward female representatives.


Lithuanian Military Water Purification Specialists Serving in Pakistan
According to Lithuania’s MOD dispatch (9/11/05), a water purification unit was deployed to Pakistan to take part in the NATO Response Force humanitarian assistance mission. Two other water purification units will be transferred to Pakistan from Afghanistan, where they served with the Lithuania-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in the province of Ghor. While in Pakistan the units will serve with the Spanish Battalion in the Bagh region. The mission is scheduled for three months, but may be extended if the situation in Pakistan requires it.


Latvia Extends Military Deployment in Iraq
On November 10, two days after the UN Security Council unanimously supported the Iraq government’s request to extend the mandate of the Multinational Force (MF) for a year, Latvia’s parliament approved, without debate, by a vote of 51 to 27, the extension of the Latvian contingent of 136 soldiers in Iraq to the end of 2006. The Latvian contingent will continue to serve with the Polish battalion. Latvian soldiers have served with the MF since May of 2003 (Lv MFA 11/11/05).


Estonia Extends Military Deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq
The Estonian government approved a bill to extend the Estonian peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan and increase the size of the contingent according to RIA Novosti (11/03/05). The bill extends the mission by two years. The 2006 budget for the Afghanistan mission will increase from $1.7 million to about $7.3 million. The government also extended the defense forces mission to Iraq until the end of 2006 (Est MFA 10/11/05). The bill states that the situation in Iraq remains unstable and it would not be conceivable to withdraw from the coalition at the present time.


U.S. Officials Laud Lithuania’s Preparation for Visa-Free Regime With U.S.
Visa-free travel for Balts to the U.S is one of the top priorities in U.S.-Baltic relations. While U.S. citizens can enter Baltic countries without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, Balts must apply for a U.S. visa to enter the U.S. Baltic and U.S. officials have agreed to a set of requirements known as U.S. Visa Waiver Program Road Map. Compliance with these requirements by Balts may lead to the elimination of U.S. visa requirements. On November 8-9, Lithuania’s Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Oskaras Jusy, Consular Department Director Vaidotas Verba and Ambassador Vygaudas Usackas met with the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Cochairmen of the House Baltic Caucus Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and John Shimkus (R-IL) to discuss Lithuania’s progress in meeting the “road map” requirements. Present also were representatives of the U.S. State and Defense Departments. The discussion involved such matters as the exchange of information on lost and stolen passports, ensuring the security of travel documents, passports with implanted biometric data and other matters related to visits to the U.S. The U.S. officials praised Lithuania’s success in the implementing “Road Map” and pledged that Lithuania’s progress would be properly evaluated (Lith MFA 11/15/05).


Swedish Foundation to Focus on Baltic Sea Conservation
The Swedish branch of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports (11/02/05) that Swedish financier Bjorn Carlson donated $62.6 million to the Swedish Royal Academy of Science to fund research, establish scientific networks and implement projects to alleviate environmental problems in the heavily polluted Baltic Sea. “The Baltic Sea has suffered from heavy pollution and toxic algae and in modern time heavy ship traffic and oil transports,” said Lars Kristoferson of the WWF. “Through my donation, I expect to see concrete measures and results within 10 to 12 years, and not just investigations,” Bjorn Carlson declared.


Baltic Leaders Express Fears Over Proposed Gas Pipeline on the Baltic Seabed
The St. Petersburg Times [Rus.] reports that the three Baltic Presidents, meeting in Estonia (11/03/05) declared at a news conference that the Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline to be constructed from Russia to Germany on the Baltic seabed posed a potentially catastrophic environmental disaster to the region. They noted that the seabed is littered with tons of dumped chemical weapons and explosives. Any mistakes made during the construction or an accident during its operation could release chemicals with drastic consequences. The Baltic Presidents also called for broader EU involvement. “We must draw the attention of the EU and the Scandinavian countries to the potential threats the construction of the pipeline presents,” stated Lithuania’s President Valdas Adamkus. Estonia’s President Arnold Ruutel stressed that the EU and the Baltic countries must be closely involved in the decision process.


Russian Lawmakers Allocate Funds to Support Russian Organizations in the Baltic Countries
According to The Baltic Times (11/03/05), the lower house of the Russian parliament the Duma, approved a bill by a vote of 370 to 18 that would severely restrict the ability of Russian organizations to accept funding and donations from foreigners, and would place them under strict government scrutiny and controls. It would force foreign organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Amnesty International and Greenpeace to close their offices in Russia. At the same time, Duma also approved a bill, introduced by the pro-Kremlin United Russia political party, to allocate 500 million rubles ($17.2 million) to support the activities of Russian non-government organizations (NGOs) outside Russia. Most of the money is likely to go to the Baltic countries. The Deputy Speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin said, “We think that we have to finance social institutions not only in our country, but also abroad—in the Baltic countries….It is necessary to develop democracy in those countries.” Vladimir Ryhkov, a member of the Duma and an opponent of the bill, declared that “Over the past five years, the United Russian party has been doing everything to strangle democracy in Russia. It’s very likely that these funds will go to propagandists who will spend them on dubious PR projects including in the Baltics.”


Volume 4 – Number 6

Estonia Leads Balts in Business Competitiveness
The World’s Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) assesses the comparative strengths and weaknesses of national economies and monitors competitive conditions and effectiveness worldwide. The 2005 report ranks Estonia as number 20 in competitiveness with other economies, Lithuania was ranked 43 and Latvia 44. Finland was ranked as the world’s most competitive nation followed by the U.S. The Russian Federation placed 75th place, a drop of five points from last year. The report is prepared in collaboration with leading academics and a global network of 122 Partner Institutes and nearly 11,000 business leaders. The report examines a range of factors including the levels of judicial independence, protection of property rights, government favoritism and corruption.


Latvia Prepared for Bird Flu Outbreak
Latvia has taken all necessary measures to avoid a bird flu outbreak, according to the Food and Veterinary Services Department Director, Vinets Veldre, reports LETA (10/13). An SOP for handling bird flu cases was prepared several years ago and has been continually updated. The Service held mock exercises the last couple of years to test the instructions and familiarize the participants with the plan. This year it carried out a joint training exercise with poultry farmers on coping with the outbreak. Informative materials and instructions also have been distributed to custom checkpoints at ports and elsewhere.


Representative Kolbe: U.S. Likely to Soon Lift Visa Requirements for Lithuanian Citizens
Representative Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) on his recent trip to Lithuania told reporters (The Baltic Times 10/13) that the U.S. was likely to lift the visa requirement for Lithuanian citizens “quite soon.” A visa free regime is an important goal of all three Baltic countries. In order to accelerate the elimination of the visa requirement, Balts are taking part in the U.S. Visa Waiver Roadmap plan proposed by President George W. Bush during his visit to Slovakia this year. The plan provides for the possibility to apply the current visa waiver program to citizens of Europe who have recently become EU members. The program enables nationals of specific countries to travel to the U.S. for a 90 day stay or less without obtaining a visa. Twenty seven countries participate in the program.


Russian-German Gas Pipeline Deal Worries the Balts and the Poles
The Russian-German deal to build a $5 billion, 550 mile gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea linking Russia and Germany is provoking strong protests from Baltic and Polish leaders. They object to the project citing environmental concerns and the detrimental impacts the project would have on their economies. They also accuse Russia of using its role on the global energy market to influence decision-making in Europe. Latvia’s Foreign Minister, Artis Pabriks, told reporters that the pipeline would be a threat to the safety and the environment of the countries along the Baltic Sea coast (Lv MFA 10/6). [There is a considerable amount of unmarked munitions and mines left from WWII and the Cold War scattered on the bottom of the Baltic that constitute acute danger to the pipeline.] Mr. Pabriks also expressed his disappointment that Germany and Russia did not consult other countries in the Baltic region and the EU. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said it was unfortunate that Germany had decided to “go over the heads of Poland and the EU and make its own decision” (BBC news 9/7). Lithuania’s President Valdas Adamkus expressed similar sentiments. “It was shameful to not take into consideration a [EU’s] family member’s interests, ignore them, and strike a profitable agreement with Russia almost in secret,” he declared. The Balts and the Poles fear that Russia will use the pipeline as a tool for political blackmail by threatening price increases or by limiting, or by shutting off the supplies. (Zycie Warszawy 9/8). Just as it recently threatened Ukraine (Kim Murphy, LA Times 10/16), the Balts and Poles call the deal the Putin-Schroeder Pact, a reference to the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact. Russia supplies over two-thirds of Eastern Europe’s natural gas needs and almost half of the EU’s. European demand is expected to double in the next 30 years.


Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga Supports World Holocaust Forum
According to The Baltic Times (6/10), Latvia’s President Vaira Vike-Freiberga met with Moshe Kantor, President of the World Holocaust Forum, on his visit to Latvia and expressed Latvia’s support for the Forum and its mission. Both the President and Mr. Kantor stressed the importance of remembering and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. “Latvia is determined to remember the crimes against humanity committed by the totalitarian regimes on Latvian soil during the 20th century,” said the President. During the visit Mr. Kantor met with leaders of the country’s Jewish community and discussed plans for developing the community’s cultural and historical legacy. President Vike-Freiberga thanked the International Task Force on Holocaust Education and the European Jewish Congress and other Jewish Organizations for support


Estonians Break Ground: Online Nationwide Election
During October local elections, Estonia became the first country in the world to hold an election enabling voters nationwide to cast ballots over the Internet, reports Associated Press (10/14). Nearly 10,000, or one percent of the 1.06 million registered voters, voted online. Election officials said they had received no reports of flaws or hacking attempts. To cast an online ballot, voters need a special ID card, a $24 device that reads the card and a computer with Internet access. Some 80% of Estonian voters have the ID cards, which have been used since 2002 for online access to bank accounts and tax records. Many ID card users, however, still lack the reading device, which explains the low turnout of online voting. If the electronic voting system works well in local elections, the parliament is set to establish online voting for national elections. On line voting has been tried in other countries such has the U.S., France and Great Britain, but Estonia was first to use it in a nationwide election


Baltic Real Estate Europe’s New Hot Spot for Investment
The Wall Street Journal (10/20) reports that as competition in popular European real estate market areas intensifies, investors are turning to emerging markets such as the Baltics for potentially lucrative opportunities. The capitals—Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius—are especially attractive to investors because they offer the best quality buildings. Scandinavian investors are most active in the Baltic region because of their proximity and close trade links. The size of the Baltics makes the region a target for small to midsize business, said Peter Morris, managing director of restate firm Ober-Haus in Warsaw.


Baltic Countries in Top Third of the Least Corrupt Nations List, Russia Bottom Third
In its annual study of the corruption in government and business, Berlin based Transparency International ranked Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the top third of countries least corrupted, out of 159 countries. The countries are ranked on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the least corrupt. On the world wide scale, Estonia with 6.4 points placed 27th, Lithuania with 4.8 moved into 44th place and Latvia with 4.2 points came in 51st. Russia with 2.4 points fell into 126th place, the same as Niger and Sierra-Leone. U.S. ranked 17th. Iceland with 9.7 points topped the world list. Nearly half of the surveyed nations scored less than three points. The report credits Estonia with making “noteworthy improvement” from previous years and considers it as one of the least corrupt members of the EU. Latvia, on the other hand, placed second from the bottom with Poland being on the bottom on the EU list. All three Baltic countries showed improvement from last year. In the last six years Latvia has improved the most, from 2.1 to 4.2, Lithuania from 4.1 to 4.8, Estonia from 5.7 to 6.4. The study is based on 16 different polls from 10 institutions, including Freedom House, and The Economist Intelligence Unit.


Lithuania Completes Investigation on Russian Military Plane Crash in Lithuania
Lithuania has completed a three-week investigation into the Russian SU-27 jet fighter’s intrusion and crash in Lithuania. On September 15, the aircraft flew for about 20 minutes over Lithuania continuously changing altitude and direction, until it crashed about 120 miles inside the border. The pilot ejected. The investigating commission, in which Russia participated, concluded that the incursion of the SU fighter and crash was caused by “technical, organizational and human actions” (Lit Emb Wsh 10/14). The report laid to rest the hypothesis that the plane was on an intelligence mission to test NATO air defenses. The plane’s pilot has been released, and the wreckage will be returned to Russia. Lithuanian officials claim that the top secret device used by Russian pilots to identify friendly and enemy aircraft has been found in the wreckage (The Moscow Times 10/5). Russians dismiss the claim. They maintain that the device is designed to self-destruct when the pilot ejects or the plane crashes. Writing in EDM (10/14), Vladimir Socor concludes that NATO air defense systems require urgent reorganization and improvements. He points out that the incident exposed surveillance gaps, and technical and organizational flaws, and that the radars used by Balts are obsolete, and in need of replacement by three-dimensional radars. He recommends that NATO assume greater responsibility for deploying adequate radar.


Representative John Shimkus (IL-19) Addresses Latvia’s Parliament (Saeima)
Congressman John Shimkus (IL) Cochairman of the House Baltic Caucus, recently participated in a Congressional delegation to Lithuania, Ukraine and Austria. At the request of House Speaker Hastert, Mr. Shimkus made a side trip to Latvia where he addressed the Saeima. This is the first time in the history of the Saeima that a non-head of state or non-Parliamentary leader was invited to do so. In his speech, Mr. Shimkus urged Latvia to keep its troops in Iraq. “If we give up defending freedom in Iraq, then we will abandon millions of Iraqis who are working hard to bring Iraq into the community of nations,” said the Congressman. Baltic officials thanked Mr. Shimkus and Congress for passing HCR 128 condemning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 and urging Russia to acknowledge the crimes it committed against the Baltic people. They also expressed support for US missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The delegation was led by Rep. Jim Kolbe (AZ), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. Other members of the delegation included Rep. Martin Sabo (MN), John Carter (TX), James Moran (VA) and Dennis Rehberg (MT). The purpose of the visit was to review U.S. foreign assistance programs in Lithuania, Ukraine and Austria. In Lithuania, the group met with Lithuanian officials and Belarus opposition leaders. The Congressmen noted the rapid economic progress of Lithuania and thanked the government for its contribution to advance democracy in Ukraine and Belarus (Lv MFA 10/12-13, Copley News Service 10/13).


Volume 4 – Number 5

Baltic American Freedom League to Hold Awards Banquet
LV-MFA, 9/23/05—At the meeting of the EU and US foreign ministers in New York, Latvia’s Foreign Minister, Artis Pabriks, recommended that the EU and the US adopt a common policy with regard to Belarus to encourage the development of democratic processes in the country. He emphasized that if western countries follow common principles and policies on this issue, there will be a far greater impact on Belarus government and society, thus a greater chance to realize democratic reforms in Belarus. On October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed the Belarus Democracy Act calling for an immediate end to the government of Belarus’ persistent assault on the democracy and human rights and pledged continued U.S. support to local defenders of liberty. The EU has declared that the promotion of democracy in Belarus is a priority of EU. Baltic American Freedom League to Hold Awards Banquet The Baltic American Freedom League will hold its annual awards banquet on Saturday, October 29, at the Latvian Community Center, 1955 Riverside Drive in Los Angeles, just off the I-5 freeway at Stadium Way near Dodger Stadium. The annual awards banquet is held to honor and recognize persons who have made outstanding contributions to the security, stability and democracy of the Baltic countries. The guest speaker will be the State Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Defense, Edgars Rinkevics. Mr. Rinkevics has served in various capacities with the Ministry of Defense for ten years. He has held the position of State Secretary since 1997. Secretary Rinkevics holds an MA degree in Political Science from the University of Latvia and is a graduate of the U.S. National Defense University. He has received numerous awards for his work with the Ministry, the most recent being the Medal for Advancing Latvia’s membership in NATO. Participating in the ceremony with Mr. Rinkevics will be Latvia’s Assistant Military Attache in Washington, First Lieutenant Karlis Lidaks. The program also includes a piano recital by the world renown Lithuanian pianist Rudolfas Budginas. Mr. Budginas is the recipient of numerous awards including first prize in the International Liszt Piano Competition, Vitols International Piano Competition and the prestigious Yamaha of Europe award. Admission is $45; a discounted price of $25 is available for full time students under the age of 18. Schedule for the evening: No Host Reception – 6:00 PM Dinner – 7:00 PM Program – 8:00 PM Reservations Required. For additional information, seating arrangements and to make reservations please contact one of the following persons by phone: Nemyra Enck (310) 231-0018 Maryte Sepikas (818) 782-1248 Vija Turjanis (661) 549-5201 or Heino Nurmberg (760) 775-9160. By E-mail contact Valdis Pavlovskis at ValdisP@aol.com. Please make your reservations by OCTOBER 24, 2005.


Latvia’s Foreign Minister Advocates a Common EU and US Policy on Belarus
LV-MFA, 9/23/05—At the meeting of the EU and US foreign ministers in New York, Latvia’s Foreign Minister, Artis Pabriks, recommended that the EU and the US adopt a common policy with regard to Belarus to encourage the development of democratic processes in the country. He emphasized that if western countries follow common principles and policies on this issue, there will be a far greater impact on Belarus government and society, thus a greater chance to realize democratic reforms in Belarus. On October 2004, the U.S. Congress passed the Belarus Democracy Act calling for an immediate end to the government of Belarus’ persistent assault on the democracy and human rights and pledged continued U.S. support to local defenders of liberty. The EU has declared that the promotion of democracy in Belarus is a priority of EU.


Lithuania Will Not Recall Its Troops from Iraq
LIT-Pub-Radio, 8/30/05– Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas stated that the “new EU and NATO member” [Lithuania] is not considering recalling its troops from Iraq. “The question of recalling our troops from Iraq was not discussed and is not on the agenda for debate,” Brazauskas said in an interview aired on Lithuanian public radio. Some 100 troops are currently deployed in Iraq, while another 100 participate in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, where Baltic soldiers serve on reconstruction teams in the Ghor province. The number of Lithuanian troops in Afghanistan is set to rise to 130 by the end of 2005.


Israeli President Visits Baltic Countries
BNS, DPA,9/20-22/05– In the first ever visit to the Baltic countries by an Israeli President, Moshe Kastsav, met with his Baltic counterparts, visited holocaust sites and praised Balts for their efforts to fight anti-Semitism. President Kastav warned that anti-Semitism was rising in Europe. In the Baltics, however, the phenomenon was marginal or nearly nonexistent, he said. The President laid the corner stone for Estonia’s first new synagogue since WWII and visited a Holocaust site with President Arnold Ruutel. While in Riga, Kastsav praised the state’s Holocaust education program and commemorated the death of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who passed away earlier that day in Vienna. During his visit to Lithuania, Lithuania’s President Adamkus stated that Lithuania paid a lot of attention to the memory of Holocaust victims and expressed the need to educate the younger generation about the Holocaust.


The Baltic Countries Experience Vigorous Economic Growth During Second Quarter (Q2) in 2005
BNS, 9/8/05– Estonia’s economy expanded by an astounding 10% in the second quarter of the year compared to the same period last year. This is the largest increase since the second quarter in 2000. The increase was largely due to exports, consumption and investments. Rute Eier, analyst of Eesti Uhispank, said that all preconditions for continuation of the trend were in place for the second half of the year. Lithuania’s GDP recorded a vigorous growth of 8% in Q2 and it rose by 6.4% during the first half of 2005. Latvia’s GDP in the second quarter surged by 11.6% and 6.4% for the first half of this year (ELTA 9/8/05).


Estonia to Provide Foreign Aid to Ukraine, Moldova and Egypt
EST-MFA, 9/15/05– On September 15, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the implementation of a 1,149,298 KR ($91,000) development assistance program for Ukraine, Moldova and Egypt. Ukraine will receive two grants, one to assist strengthening democratic the process of local governments in the Kulikovka region, the other to the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to train private entrepreneurs on EU membership requirements. Moldova will receive funding to bring Moldova’s laws and regulations in compliance with EU standards. In Egypt assistance will go to develop information and communications technology in the Fayoum region.


World Bank Ranks Baltic Countries Top Among Countries with Favorable Business Climate
EST-MFA, 9/12/05– In its 2005 survey on supportive business climate in 155 counties, the World Banked ranked Lithuania number 15, Estonia 16 and Latvia 27. The survey ranks the countries on their success in creating a simple and favorable environment for business. It comprises both tax policy and labor market regulations. Eleven of the world’s competitive countries are members of the EU. Denmark ranks 8, Great Britain 9, Ireland 11, Finland 13 and Sweden 14. The top three countries are respectively, New Zealand, Singapore and the U.S. The Baltic countries were specially noted in the report, as all three were among the 30 most competitive countries even though they launched their economic/business reforms only ten years ago.


Iron Curtain a Tourist Attraction
The Times (9/18/05) reports that under a scheme suggested by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and funded by the EU, the Iron Curtain is to be turned into a 4,340 mile tourist trail for walkers and cyclists. The trail is to preserve the memory of Europe’s past and celebrate the continent’s reunification. The path will stretch from the coast of the Arctic Sea and lead along Finland’s border with Russia, along the coast of the Baltic countries and Poland to Germany. It will continue along the Austrian border with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary and along the Danube to the Black Sea. Twelve countries already have pledged support for the idea and agreed to co-finance the project.


Lukoil and ConocoPhillips Consider Acquiring Major Stake in Lithuania’s Oil Sector
RIA Novosti, 9/29/05– Russia’s largest crude oil producer, Lukoil and American ConocoPhillips have set up a joint group to acquire new assets in Russia and abroad. The group will look into the possibility of purchasing a major stake in Mazeikiai Nafta. Mazeikiai assets include a refinery, the Butinge maritime terminal for crude oil and the Birzai pipeline. Lukoil which owns over 100 gas stations in Lithuania, proposes to link West Siberian oil deposits to the Mazeikiai refinery and to European consumers. Since the 1990’s, it has tried twice to gain control of the Lithuanian company. The Lithuanian government has set stringent qualifications for investors in the oil complex, requiring any Russian strategic investor to team up with a reputable Western company.


Russian-German Gas Pipeline Concerns Baltic Leaders
The signing of a pact by President Putin and Chancellor Schroeder for construction of a natural gas pipeline from Russia directly to Germany along the Baltic seabed has raised concerns among Baltic and EU leaders, reports BNS (9/15/05). The project undermines the EU supply diversification strategy; slows the EU’s common foreign and security policy; and demonstratively ignores the long-standing concerns of the Baltic countries and Poland. The four countries had proposed an overland pipeline through their territories. The overland line would cost about 30% less to build, and is better suited for containing the impact of accidents. The undersea project “openly lacks economic gains, it is clear that it was a political decision,” stated Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia. She added that Germany “apparently thought that it could make a decision with Russia all by itself without considering the fact that such a major energy project will affect many EU member states.” Environmentalists have noted possible danger to the pipeline from chemical weapons and mines at the bottom of the Baltic Sea dumped during and after WWII. Germany also ignored the Council of Baltic Sea Countries’ guideline on energy cooperation and ecological protection.


U.S. Pilots Take Over NATO Air Mission in the Baltic Countries
As of September 30, the U.S. Air Force took over the duties of NATO air patrols from the German air force to patrol the airspace of the three Baltic nations (Lit MOD (9/28/05). The mission will be carried out by F-16 fighter jets from the 52nd Fighter Wing. The 52 Fighter Wing is the largest fighter operation in Germany and the most versatile wing of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. The patrol operations are carried out from Lithuania’s Zokniai military air base in northern Lithuania. NATO member countries have been taking turns at sending their fighters to the Baltic countries for patrol duty ever since the three countries joined NATO in March 2004. Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands and Norway have undertaken the mission in past years. Some 100 U.S. troops will be stationed at Zokniai for a three month tour. Last year, Russia’s Defense Minister criticized the stationing of NATO warplanes in Lithuania.


Russian Fighter Jet Crashes in Lithuania
Russian Fighter Jet Crashes in Lithuania On September 15, flying in good weather, a Russian air force SU-27 fighter jet crashed into a field some 100 miles inside Lithuania. The plane was participating in a simulation of air defenses against a NATO attack on Kaliningrad [Koenigsberg], reports The Week (9/30/05). The plane was carrying four armed air-to-air missiles. The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the plane veered off course due to faulty equipment and crash landed when it ran out of fuel. Lithuanian authorities and NATO are investigating the incident. Moscow sharply criticized Lithuania’s decision to carry out an independent investigation, accusing it of failing to adopt a “good-neighbor approach” and is conseqently stonewalling the investigation. The U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, Stephen Mull, commended the Lithuanian officials “for their professional and calm response” and for their determination to cooperate with the Russian side, reports BNS (9/23/05). According to The Moscow Times (9/27/05), Russian Air Force Commander, Vladimir Mikhailov mocked NATO over its air defenses. “We had not planned to probe NATO defenses, but they turned out to be good for nothing. The much praised German pilots were on duty there, drinking beer or doing I don’t know what, but when they were scrambled the plane had already hit the ground,” he said. Russian military planes have frequently been accused of violating airspace of neighboring countries including Estonia, Latvia, Georgia and Finland. Russia has always insisted that no violation occurred.