Latvia wants landmark visit by Russia's Medvedev

27th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Newly-installed Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Friday he hopes for a landmark visit by Russian President Dmitry Medevedev, as the Baltic state seeks to ease ties with its Soviet-era master.

"I hope it will be possible to continue our political dialogue at the highest level," Rinkevics said in a statement after talks with Russia's ambassador to Latvia.

"We remain ready for the Russian president's answer," he said, referring to an invitation by Latvia's then president Valdis Zatlers during his own watershed state visit to Moscow in December 2010.

No Russian president has visited Latvia since it regained independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, along with neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, after half a century of Kremlin rule.

Rinkevics was sworn in on Tuesday along the rest of Latvia's new coalition government, stitched together by incumbent centre-right Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis after a September 17 snap election.

Russian-speakers make up over a quarter of Latvia's 2.2 million people, largely due to Soviet-era settlement as Moscow tried to tip the ethnic balance.

Russia regularly accuses Latvia of discrimination against approximately 300,000 "non-citizens" -- mainly Soviet-era migrants and their descendants -- who do not hold any passport and must clear hurdles such as language tests to win Latvian citizenship.

In turn nationalists such as the National Alliance -- now part of Latvia's three-party coalition -- have accused Russia of attempting to undermine the statehood of Latvia, which joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.

The ethnic issue returned to the fore after the general election.

The Harmony Centre bloc -- which draws support mainly among Russian-speaking Latvian citizens, but whose left-wing message bridged divides in the wake of a deep economic crisis -- emerged from the polls as the largest single party.

Parties rooted in the Russian community have not been in government since independence, and Harmony Centre blasted the fact that it was frozen out of coalition-formation talks.

© 2011 AFP

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