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)