Latvian-Russian border agreement signed

MOSCOW, March 27 (LETA) – Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis (People’s Party) and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov signed the Latvian-Russian border agreement, initialed in 1997, in the Russian government building today.

The agreement, which now will have to be ratified by both countries’ parliaments, recognizes that the former Abrene territory of Latvia (now Pytalovo Oblast) is now officially part of the Russian Federation’s territory.

Kalvitis said before the agreement-signing ceremony that he hoped that Saeima could ratify the border agreement by May, and that the Russian State Duma would be as active in ratification of the agreement.

Kalvitis does not expect any problems with ratification of the border agreement in Saeima because political debate in Latvia so far showed overwhelming support for ratification.

Fradkov said that the signing of the border agreement would not resolve all problems between Latvia and Russia, but one of the problematic issues would be closed.

As reported, Saeima on February 8 authorized in the final reading the Cabinet of Ministers to sign the border agreement. 69 Saeima members voted for the bill, 26 voted against it.

The bill was then promulgated by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, it came into force on March 5. Already the next day, the government authorized Kalvitis to sign the agreement.

The government declared void the unilateral explanatory declaration that was previously attached to the border agreement. The Russian side had refused to sign the agreement with the attached declaration.

The United States, Sweden, Germany and other allies of Latvia earlier expressed their support for signing of the border agreement. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said, during a visit to Latvia, that signing of the border agreement was important to not only Latvia but the entire European Union. U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Catherine Todd Bailey said that the border agreement would make it possible to improve the Latvian-Russian relations.

Vike-Freiberga earlier said she would feel uncomfortable if the border agreement with Russia was not signed because of Latvia.

Several political forces in Latvia, though, have said they will contest the border agreement to the Constitutional Court. Former Constitutional Court chairman Aivars Endzins said there was a 99 percent chance that the case of the border agreement will end up at the Constitutional Court.

New Era has said it will turn to the Constitutional Court, believing that the border agreement goes against the Constitution, which says that any changes to Latvia’s territory may only be decided through a national referendum.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that signing the border agreement with Latvia is in Russia’s interest.

“The agreement is fully in our interest regarding the territorial question; politically, it is an end to any speculation about possible territorial claims,” Lavrov said.

According to Kalvitis, the legal continuity of the state of Latvia will be ensured, based on the Constitutional Law on the Statehood of the Republic of Latvia, passed on August 21, 1991, where Russia is referred to as recognizing the independence of Latvia on August 28, 1991.

Latvia’s politicians emphasize that it is extremely important that the law refers to the May 4 Declaration, which, in turn, refers to the 1920 Latvia-Russia Peace Treaty, that is seen as a guarantee of Latvia’s legal continuity.