Russia, Latvia bury hatchet on decades of disputes

20th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia and Latvia vowed Monday to move past decades of mistrust and restore neighbourly relations during a historic visit to Moscow by Latvian President Valdis Zatlers.

The visit was "the result of our political will to overcome the difficulties and find new opportunities for cooperation," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Zatlers, who became the first Baltic president to come to Moscow in 16 years.

The two sides signed agreements to cooperate more closely in the fight against organised crime, eliminate double taxation, and ensure closer protection of the Baltic environment, among others.

The three Baltic countries strongly resented being swallowed by the Soviet Union under a secret pact with Nazi Germany in 1940, and relations between Moscow and Riga remained rocky throughout the post-Soviet era.

Among a raft of disputes between the two nations is Moscow's claim that Latvia discriminates against its Russian-speaking minority, for example by making Latvian the only official language.

Latvia in turn wants Moscow to recognise that it occupied Latvia in 1940 and has strongly condemned Russia's recent record on human rights, joining a bloc of former Warsaw Pact nations that still mistrust their former political master.

But Riga has hailed recent moves by Russia to label as criminal the policies of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and Zalters said it was time for the two neighbours to move past their old disputes.

"We must try to listen to each other ... and not turn historical disagreements into a pretext for political fights," said the Latvian president.

Zatlers, whose country is a member of both NATO and the European Union despite Russian protests, said he supported the idea of establishing a visa-free regime between Russia and Europe, an idea long championed by Moscow.

He also invited his Russian counterpart to visit Riga, although no specific time has yet been set.

© 2010 AFP

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