C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIGA 000002
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/28/2017
TAGS: PREL PBTS ENRG ETRD EUN RS IR LG
SUBJECT: LAVROV'S VISIT TO RIGA
Classified By: Charge d'affaires a.i. Stuart M. Seldowitz. Reasons: 1.
4 (b and d)
Â¶1. (C) Summary: Russian FM Lavrov's December 18 visit to Riga
was most notable in that it occurred at all. After months of
work, his visit marked the first ever visit by a Russian or
Soviet FM to an independent Latvia. The highlight was the
exchange of instruments of ratification on the Latvia-Russia
border treaty, but agreements were also signed on pension
issues and protection of grave sights. The visit with
without vitriol and the Latvians were pleased as the
business-like nature of the visit. Lavrov also brought an
invitation for President Zatlers to visit Moscow, but the
Latvians want some substance behind it before they will agree
to the visit. Notably missing from the dialogue was any
significant discussion of energy issues. End summary.
Â¶2. (C) Russian FM Lavrov visited Riga December 18, the first
FM visit from Moscow to an independent Latvia (either before
or after the Soviet occupation). We received readouts from
Peteris Ustibs, foeign policy advisor to then PM Kalvitis,
Edgars Skuja, MFA U/S for bilateral issues, Ilgvars Klava,
MFA political director, and Valentin Ovsyannikov, DCM of the
Russian Embassy in Riga. All described the tone of the visit
as positive and Ustubs noted that Lavrov and Latvian FM
Riekstins seemed to develop a good personal rapport,
including during an extended one on one meeting.
Â¶3. (C) The highlight of the visit was the exchange of
instruments of ratification of the Latvia-Russia border
treaty. The treaty provides for establishment of a final
border between the two countries that recognizes changes made
during the Soviet occupation of Latvia. Skuja said that next
step would be to create a commission to formally demarcate
the border and he hoped this would happen in early 2008.
Skuja and Ustubs expressed appreciation for the Department's
statement in support of the treaty.
Â¶4. (C) A major topic of discussion during the visit was the
opening of an additional border crossing point and how to
ease the back log of trucks at the existing crossing points.
The two sides agreed to open a new crossing point at
Opuli/Mogili in 2008, with the Intergovernmental Commission
working on modalities. According to the Latvians, Lavrov
assailed the European Commission for various delays to
instituting an electronic "pre-declaration" system at
Russian's EU borders and said that commission bureaucracy was
to blame for the long truck lines.
Â¶5. (C) The two sides also signed agreements on pension issues
and protection of burial sites. Both had been under
discussion for some time. According to Ovsyannikov, the
pension agreement provides credit for work done in one
country for people who receive their pension from the other.
The burial site agreement will obligate both sides to locate,
mark and ensure protection of grave sites. Ovsyannikov
implied that this is actually more work for Russia, as many
sites in Latvia are already known and marked but Latvian
graves in Russia, especially from WWI and the Russian
Revolution, are not as well identified and maintained. Skuja
said that the Latvian side expressed hope that a number of
other pending agreements, including on investment protection
and double taxation, could be signed in the near future.
Â¶6. (C) Lavrov brought an invitation from Putin for President
Zatlers to visit Moscow in 2008, but Skuja termed it
"unofficial." Both Skuja and Ovsyannikov said that there
would need to be substance for the trip to proceed, with both
suggesting signing of some of the outstanding agreements as
an example. Lavrov also confirmed that the Russian PM would
attend the summit meeting of the Council of Baltic Sea states
in Riga in June 2008 and joked that the Latvians could begin
putting Putin's name on the official documents for the event.
Both Ustubs and Skuja said that Latvia would attempt to get
a bilateral portion to that visit as well, should it indeed
Â¶7. (C) The Latvians were pleased that Lavrov's tone on
historical issues and the status of the ethnic Russian
community in Latvia was "forward leaning and constructive."
Ovsyannikov said Lavrov suggested that the sides put
historical differences aside and concentrate on practical
steps to improve relations. In his meetings, Lavrov was
factual and specifically suggested steps to ease
naturalization requirements for children of non-citizens born
in Latvia and those over 55, and allowing non-citizens to
vote in local elections. According to Ustubs, Lavrov took
careful notes when Kalvitis explained that there was a
simplified procedure for the children of non-citizens born in
Latvia to acquire Latvian citizenship. The one difference
between the sides we heard was on research into historical
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issues. The Latvians say that they asked for greater access
for Latvian researchers to Russian archives for scholarly
work on the inter-war period and the Soviet occupation. They
claim that the Russians countered by proposing a join
historical commission to write a definitive history of those
periods, but the Latvians refused, saying they could not cede
an issue of national identity to such a commission.
Ovsyannikov, in contrast, told us that the commission was
agreed and said he viewed it as a positive step.
Â¶8. (C) Discussion on international issues followed expected
patterns. The Latvians were a bit surprised by the strident
tone Lavrov took on EU issues, though. After raising
concerns on the commission and border crossings, he expressed
frustration that many member states take their bilateral
issues with Russia and import them to the EU. He cited the
PCA and Polish meat and British demands for the extraction of
Lugovoi as examples. He said that the PCA should not become
a "Christmas tree" of bilateral issues and added that Russia
saw "no need to rush" on getting a new partnership agreement
with the EU. On the WTO, all Latvian sources said that
Lavrov said that Russia was not interested in membership "at
any cost" and that they would negotiate for one more year.
If agreement was not reached in that time, Russia would
"dismantle" the agreements made to date to facilitate its WTO
Â¶9. (C) On Kosovo, according to Ustubs, Lavrov said that
Russia was not worried about the precedent for places like
South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but rather for internal locations
in Russia. He also asked why there should be a hurry to
resolve its status and asserted that 1244 would lapse if
Kosovo declared independence. The Latvians say they pushed
back on that point.
Â¶10. (C) On Iran, Lavrov said that the shipment of nuclear
fuel from Russia gave it some leverage over the program.
Ovsyannikov claimed that Russian law mandated that the fuel
shipments stop if the program is discovered to be military
rather than civilian in nature or if the IAEA is denied
access to Iranian nuclear facilities. Skuja reported that
Lavrov argued that Iranian support for terrorism and
development of a nuclear program should be examined and
addressed separately, which the surprised the Latvians.
Â¶11. (C) Regarding CFE, the Latvians said that Lavrov, as he
had done in a July meeting with then-FM Pabriks, assured them
that while Baltic accession to the CFE regime was an issue,
Russia did not view it as a bilateral issue and it would
remain in multilateral fora for discussion. The Latvians
raised the OSCE and the need for Russia to invite a full
ODIHR team for Presidential elections. According to
Ovsyannikov, Lavrov responded that Russia was being held to a
higher standard and that the US, for example, had no plan for
full observation of elections in its country. He also
explained that Russia would not except observers from
organizations of which it is not a member (i.e., the EU).
Â¶12. (C) Comment: That the visit happened at all was its most
important feature and allowed the Kalvitis government, which
placed a particular emphasis on normalizing relations with
Moscow, to leave office on a high note. That the discussions
were substantive, productive and largely free of the
contentious rhetoric that has marked previous discussions is
an important signal that the two countries can use their
improved relations to address substantive issues
constructively. The difference in understanding on the
historical commission could cause some friction, but if that
is the most contentious issue from the visit it is, in fact,
another positive sign. The Latvians are happy with the
invitation for Zatlers but will want to make sure the visit
makes sense. We assess that their likely calculus is that it
is better to have a substantive visit later, even after 2008,
than rush to have a milquetoast visit by the end of January.
The lack of any discussion of energy, though, is concerning.
Combined with Latvia's rejection of the "gazprom clause" in
recent EU energy debates, it is evidence that even with
improved relations, the economic dependence on Russian energy
will have a significant impact on Latvian policy.