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Mood swings in Russia and the Baltic states

Last month a noted Czech politician was in town bemoaning an Obama foreign policy that he said was “enemy-centric,” geared more to rivals such as Russia than smaller allies such as the Czech Republic.

So it was interesting Wednesday to hear a contrasting view from the leader of an even smaller ally -- Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia, a Baltic republic of 2.3 million people that, having been occupied for decades by the Soviet Union, has reasons to pay attention to these things.

Asked about the “enemy-centric” comments of Czech senator Alexandr Vondra, Dombrovskis said there had been similar concerns in the Baltic republics. But, he told me during a visit to The Post, “we really are less concerned now than we were a year ago. There have been quite a few positive developments.”

Those cheery developments have come in two categories: from Russia, and from the West, he said. The Obama administration’s “reset” of relations with Russia “has positive implications also for the Baltic states and Europe in general,” Dombrovskis said. Latvia is seeing a “much more constructive approach” from Russia, including more high-level contacts and progress on a number of bilateral treaties, such as one on double-taxation.

Meanwhile, NATO has upgraded its contingency planning for the Baltic states and conducted exercises there, with U.S. participation. The prime minister stressed that “reset” with Russia can’t come at the expense of U.S. relations with Russia’s neighbors -- and so he said he was pleased to hear, in his Tuesday meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that she plans to visit Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine early next month. Dombrovkis also stressed that the improvement in his nation’s relations with Russia are preliminary. “Whether it lasts for a long period remains to be seen,” he said. “But we see a change of mood in Russia, a change of rhetoric.”

By Fred Hiatt  | June 16, 2010; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  Hiatt  | Tags:  Fred Hiatt  
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It'smoderately gracious of Hiatt to blog this antidote to the smear campaign of a few weeks ago that told us Obama was ready to abandon our allies, on the basis of the comments of one or two Eastern European allies of our recidivist cold warriors.

Russia remains a rival, not an ally. But we don't have to make Russia into an enemy by treating it like one. It will take another decade of productive engagement across both Republican and Democratic administrations before Russia develops some level of confidence in this policy direction. The direction has a history starting in the Reagan administration, which veered of course when GW Bush threatened to place military facilities on Russia's borders.

Russia's contest with the West has a shallower history than either of France's contests with either Britain or Germany.
we can get beyond it if we make the effort.

Posted by: j3hess | June 16, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I respect the positive tone that Prime Minister Dombrovskis and Clinton tried to convey in their brief meeting.
Unfortunately this is all lip service for the sake of diplomacy. Even with the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has not changed its stripes. For fity years it tried to russify all the countries behind the iron curtain. Even now after communism has fallen, Latvia with an estimated 30% of ethnic russians. Russia fully supports them in their belief that they are discriminated against by Latvia as a minority.
Most of them have no allegiance to become citizens of Latvia. No one says they cannot speak russian, but if you wish to become a citizen you must also have a rudimentary command of the latvian language.
I don't care what kind of relationship the USA or other countries have with Russia. Latvia has to stay vigilant against an old sly enemy that is trying to destroy their sovereignty.

Posted by: ziga | June 17, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Small complexes, envy, stupidity, and Sigmund Freud.

Posted by: LuckyBarker | June 17, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

These little neo-nazi states like Latvia should stop SS veterans parades and grant Russian-speaking minorities the same rights as Latvian Latvians. C'mon, it's 21st century and they don't give passports to non-Latvians who were born and raised in Latvia for generations.

Posted by: Hye-phenatedAmerican | June 18, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

To ziga who wrote: "Let me know when you have time to drop by to see the house."

Please check your facts. Many non-ethnic Latvians (they are a diverse group, not only Russians) speak better Latvian then Latvians themselves. The tests are designed and modified the way that people can't pass them and forced out of their jobs as teachers, doctors or municipal workers. Their places are then handed over to ethnic Latvians, who don't need to take tests but sometimes barely speak their own tongue. The purpose of these discriminatory policies is not to integrate minorities but rather push them out and create an ethnically clean Aryan nation just like their Nazi grandfathers tried to do during WWII.

Posted by: Hye-phenatedAmerican | June 20, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

It is clear the Hye-phenatedAmerican has either never been to Latvia or is simply swallowing the lies that the pro-russian press puts out, or both. There is no discrimination against russians in Latvia, actually it is quite the opposite. Many russians working in stores and restraunts refuse to address their Latvian clients in Latvian, forcing them to speak russian if they want to communicate with them, clearly 'reverse discrimination'. I have taken the latvian language exam, and it is very easy, requiring only an elementary level of the language. Russians who refuse to take it to get citizenship are doing so as a political statement, not because they cannot learn the language. And if Latvia is a neo-nazi state, why do they allow gays and neo-fascists alike to hold demonstrations? In a democracy, everybody has the right to express their opinions. Perhaps Hye-phenatedAmerican should look into the free speech rights of his beloved russia, and explain how freedon of the press works there. I suspect the he is actually living in Moscow, or hiding from the law in Latvia, wanted for hate crimes.

Posted by: AmericaninRiga | June 21, 2010 6:32 AM | Report abuse

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