Latvian president lauds Obama Russia 'reset'

26th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Barack Obama's drive to repair relations with Moscow have been a boon for Russia's ex-Soviet neighbours, Latvia's President Valdis Zatlers said Thursday on the eve of talks with the US leader.

"We have to acknowledge that the 'reset' policy has worked very well, and that's a compliment to Mr. Obama, but it was a very smart and brave move," Zatlers told AFP in an interview in Warsaw.

Zatlers is one of 20 leaders of ex-communist states due in the Polish capital Friday for a summit focusing on two decades of democratic and free market reforms behind the former Iron Curtain, and their potential lessons for the Arab Spring.

On the final leg of his European tour, Obama is due to join the summit participants Friday for a working dinner.

After taking office in January 2009, Obama moved swiftly to put US-Russia ties back on track, raising concerns among ex-communist countries that their interests could be sidelined.

Zatlers said the story had turned out different.

"We have benefited from this process, being on the eastern edge of the European Union, with a direct border with Russia. So our relationship with Russia has improved significantly during these years and is the best ever we've had," Zatlers said.

Under Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, Washington's relations with Moscow became strained, in an echo of the Cold War.

Russian hackles were raised by the expansion of western influence and institutions such as NATO into countries close to its borders and once under Soviet rule.

Washington and nations such as Latvia reject that criticism, arguing that joining the Western camp was a matter of freedom of choice, which they lacked when Moscow was in charge.

Latvia, a nation of 2.2 million, won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 after five decades of Kremlin rule, and joined NATO and the EU in 2004.

Since independence, its relations with its former master have been rocky.

Last December, however, Zatlers become the first Latvian head of state in 16 years to visit Moscow, where he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

© 2011 AFP

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