Latvian-Russian treaty puts legal stamp on EU external border
Mar 27, 2007, 10:31 GMT
Riga/Moscow - Latvia and Russia signed Tuesday a groundbreaking treaty between Latvia and Russia that gives new legal clarity to a stretch of the external frontier of the European Union.
Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Fradkov signed the treaty to establish their countries' border along the line it has followed for half a century at a ceremony in Moscow.
The issue of the border has been controversial ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although clearly marked on the ground, the border had not been subject to a treaty - despite it having formed the eastern frontier of the EU and NATO since 2004.
The original border was defined in a 1920 peace treaty. However, after Soviet forces occupied Latvia in 1940, they transferred the eastern Latvian town of Abrene to Russia.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Latvian politicians declared the occupation illegal and proclaimed the restoration of the republic of 1918 - a principle known as 'legal continuity.'
According to that principle, the border with Russia was still governed by the 1920 treaty - under which Abrene was Latvian.
Latvia has never demanded Abrene back, but an attempt to sign a new border treaty two years ago foundered when the Baltic state appended an explanatory preface to the document, in which it referred to the 1920 treaty.
Latvian officials said that this was necessary to ensure that the state's legal continuity could not be challenged.
But Russia responded with outrage, refusing to sign and accusing Latvia of harbouring territorial pretensions.
This January, the Latvian parliament approved a new approach to the treaty issue, ensuring legal continuity by reference to other documents. The proposal was criticized by nationalists, but broadly welcomed both in Russia and the EU.
'Yes, we lost territory, but let's be realistic: we can't get it back... It would be ridiculous to say 'we're not ready to sign the treaty, because we want to ask for compensation',' Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
'It's better for our future relations with Russia to do what we're doing,' he added.
Experts, however, question whether the signature of the treaty will bring a marked improvement in the relationship.
Latvia has clashed with Russia on a number of issues in recent years. These include Russia's allegedly discriminatory transit tariffs, the status of ethnic Russians in Latvia, Russia's use of its energy resources and differing interpretations of recent history.
The treaty 'will not change Russia's attacks on Latvia in international organizations, nor Russia's energy policies,' Nils Muiznieks, head of political science at the University of Latvia, told leading daily newspaper Diena.
And the treaty - which must still be ratified in both countries - will not end the legal questions over the EU's frontier. Estonia's border with Russia is also caught in a legal vacuum stemming from a Soviet annexation of territory defined in a 1920 peace treaty.
Estonia and Russia signed a treaty covering the border in 2005, but Russia withdrew its signature after the Estonian parliament appended a preamble referring to the treaty of 1920.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur