Letter: Russian response raises concerns in Latvia

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Sir: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia has officially apologised to the government of the Russian Federation for the unfortunate incident of 10 January (in which Latvian officials detained two Russian generals who tried to intervene in a dispute over property).

In addition, the President of Latvia, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have apologised in interviews with the press ('Moscow asserts authority over former empire', 13 January). The Latvian official responsible for the serious incident has been relieved of his duties, pending an investigation by the state prosecutor.

This incident occurred at a time when several important events were in progress or on the horizon: Latvian-Russian negotiations on the removal of Russian troops from Latvia, the first session of the Russian Parliament, meeting of heads of Nato in Brussels, and President Clinton's visit to Moscow. The timing and effect of this incident arouses suspicions that this event was not fortuitous, but in fact pre-planned. There can be no misunderstanding that it served the interests of chauvinistic groups in both Latvia and Russia.

While the illegality of actions by a Latvian official cannot be condoned, the incident raises concern over Russia's response. As the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margaretha af Ugglas, said:

Incidents such as this can, and should, be resolved by rapid political and diplomatic contacts. This is also what took place . . . But when Russian units in the immediate vicinity of Latvia are demonstrably alerted to action, an essential element has been overstepped. Direct or indirect threats of the use of military force to solve outstanding questions between states is contrary to the CSCE's most fundamental principles and must never pass unquestioned or be accepted.

The members of Nato will perhaps better understand the security concerns of Eastern Europe in the aftermath of this potentially explosive incident. Not only have there been veiled threats against Latvia in the past, but this incident also raises concern over Russia's willingness to use armed intervention.

Yours faithfully,

JANIS LUSIS

Ambassador

Embassy of Latvia

London, W2

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