Books on Latvia
Update No: 312 - (20/12/06)
Riga plays host to Nato's summit
Latvians twenty years ago would not have believed that they could have been
hosting a NATO summit today. But that is what they did in December. An historic
Moscow was not pleased, but so what?
It is less than three years since this former Soviet satellite was admitted both
to the EU and to NATO. As if in celebration, it was playing host to a gathering
of the Western alliance at which issues affecting global defence and the war on
terror were played out.
It is the first former communist country to hold such a summit for the EU or
NATO. In recognition, the entire capital appeared to have been emptied - save
for thousands upon thousands of police and troops, who were leaving nothing to
chance. It was not all smooth running. So earnest and serious were the security
guards that, at times, more people were queuing outside than attending the
The queen of the event
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the Latvian President, was the queen of this occasion a
month after Queen Elizabeth II had paid a historic visit in October.
She milked the moment, however, welcoming everyone by announcing the summit was
"fitting recognition of the immense progress that Latvia and other former
captive nations have made in the past 15 years." Never mind that Latvia has
just 30 troops in the 31,000-strong Nato force in Afghanistan, compared with
11,800 from America and more than 6,000 from Britain: Latvia has got its club
membership and is enjoying it.
It was chosen for this NATO meeting for obvious reasons; to symbolise a united
post-Cold War Europe and show how far NATO had already spread its influence east
as it seeks a truly a global reach.
Could Riga come to regret it all?
The danger for Latvia, however, is that Riga 2006 could go down as a critical
moment of failure for the NATO alliance it has just entered. Rather than
highlighting transatlantic togetherness and European unity on defence, it
threatens to do exactly the reverse.
Afghanistan heads the agenda. NATO's mission there to some, was supposed to show
how the alliance had graduated from its traditional role in European and North
Atlantic defence to one of a global player, able to intervene anywhere across
the world. To others Afghanistan was a one-off and no more.
The conflict has exposed, sharply, the fundamental differences in national
attitudes to the war on terror, and the role of the alliance itself. The French,
Germans, Italians, Spanish and others are reluctant to increase their forces or
commit more of those already there under their flags to Afghanistan's danger
zones, despite appeals to do more from George W. Bush and Tony Blair.
The British and American death tolls have soared since they redeployed large
numbers of troops to the Taliban-infested south and east of the country, while
reticent allies have stood firm in safer havens in the north and west.
Despite pleas on the last night from Mr Bush and Mr Blair for their allies to do
more, there is unlikely to be much progress, leaving Britain and America having
to consider pouring more troops in themselves.
The Germans, opposed from the start to the war on terror and still nervous - 61
years after the end of the Second World War - of getting involved in the thick
of combat, have insisted that they will keep their troops in the north, engaged
primarily in reconstruction.
There is also a tactical divide over how to deal with the Taliban. Romano Prodi,
the Italian Prime Minister, went directly against Mr Blair and Mr Bush on the
eve of the summit by suggesting that, rather than fighting the Taliban enemy,
world leaders should negotiate with its leadership. "The military solution
in Afghanistan will not bring a result; the problem must have a political
solution," said Mr Prodi who is by no means alone in this view. Several
responsible leaders have said as much.
While Blair has stressed recently that more emphasis needs to be placed on
reconstruction, alongside security, he would never go that far.
Another source of tension is the American plan for a "global" Nato as
the instrument to forge a closer relationship with Australia, Japan and South
Korea in the Pacific, (and Sweden and Finland in Europe). France is warning that
Nato must not spread its influence geographically too far and fears that the
idea will mean the alliance becoming more of an instrument of American foreign
policy and a means of bypassing the UN, which the US clearly cannot control,
whereas they already enjoy a leadership position in Nato.
Other ghosts will haunt the summit, notably Russia. NATO leaders are pressing
for Georgia to join the alliance soon - a move that would take the alliance
right up to Russia's southern border and part of its western flank - and
When President Bush told the Latvians that he was "proud to call you allies
in the cause of peace and freedom," their pride at being with the West must
have been mixed with at least a little trepidation.
Energy security tops Polish-Latvian talks
Energy security and EU-Russia relations topped the agenda of talks between the
Polish and Latvian prime ministers in the Polish capital Warsaw recently, New
Sworn into office, Latvian Prime Minister, Aigars Kalvitis, made his first trip
to EU partner Poland and termed the meeting with Poland's Prime Minister,
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as one "between friendly states." Kalvitis said he
saw many "opportunities for good co-operation in the bilateral, regional
and EU dimensions." "This was a brief talk, but I leave it with a deep
conviction that we have very many common matters that we can accomplish
together," Kaczynski said, quoted by the Polish PAP news agency.
Poland, Latvia and partner Baltic states Lithuania and Estonia have mounted a
common front of opposition to the German-Russian project of building a natural
gas pipeline across the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The four EU newcomers have
particularly slammed EU partner Germany for having failed to agree the project
with them. With plans calling for the pipeline to bypass all four states Riga,
Tallinn and Vilnius and Warsaw have criticised it as a threat to their energy
security. Poland's Kaczynski also praised Latvia's explosive economic growth
rate which the 2.5 million-strong Baltic republic has enjoyed since joining the
EU in 2004.
GDP growth in the first half of 2006 hit 12 per cent, one of the highest rates
ever recorded in the EU. However, inflation over the same period averaged over
six percent, the EU's highest rate. With a population of nearly 40 million, EU
newcomer Poland expects to see strong GDP growth over five per cent this year.
The Latvian capital Riga will host a NATO summit on November 28-29th. It will be
the first such high-level meeting the Western defence alliance will hold on the
territory of a former Soviet republic.
Hipoteku Banka raises 166.5 mln Euro loan
Latvijas Hipoteku un zemes banka (Hipoteku banka) has raised a 166.5 million
Euro syndicated loan, Signe Eisaka, the bank's PR specialist said, Interfax News
Agency reported on December 4th.
The three-year loan was provided at Euribor +0.2 per cent. Hipoteku banka signed
a syndicated loan agreement with 19 foreign banks. Hipoteku banka was Latvia's
eighth biggest bank out of 25 banks in the country. The government is its sole