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)