President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen,
Today is an important day in Russian-Latvian relations. The President of Latvia is making an official visit to our country for the first time in our modern statehood. This is the result of our political will to overcome difficulties and open up new opportunities for developing our ties and bilateral relations, rebuild an atmosphere of trust between us, and develop friendly contacts between two close neighbours.
We have succeeded in making a lot of progress of late in strengthening our relations. President Zatlers and I exchanged views and had narrow format talks just now. The numerous contacts at other levels ultimately prepared the way for signing here at this table just now a big package of important agreements that will protect the interests of people in both countries.
These agreements concern a broad range of different areas, including social issues, responding to emergency situations, sports ties, and a double taxation avoidance agreement, which is particularly important for developing our economic cooperation. This is always a difficult matter to settle, but we managed to do this. All of these agreements will give new impetus to our bilateral cooperation.
Sometimes this cooperation develops independently of politicians’ will or the difficulties that can arise. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Latvian leadership for the help they gave us in fighting the wild fires in Russia this past summer. The Latvian fire service came to our aid in this work, and this was a friendly contribution to helping us resolve this problem. I think this is a worthy example of how relations should develop between people, and perhaps between politicians too.
The President and I discussed all the different aspects of our bilateral relations. We discussed the economy, and we will continue discussing these matters. We discussed our humanitarian ties and the cultural ties between our two countries. Of course, we also discussed history too, which is a complex subject and has often created obstacles towards bringing our countries closer together. We discussed the future of our relations.
We agree that the future of our relations depends directly on our peoples’ desire to develop good ties with each other, and on the political maturity of the people in power. They need to realise that it is better to talk than not to talk, better to meet than avoid each other, and better to reach agreements on the things we can agree on than to reject the chance for such agreements.
Yes, our countries have their differences on some issues, and we have our difficult moments, and it is true that we cannot resolve all of the issues between us in the course of a single visit, even an official visit. But I do think that we have accomplished much nonetheless. The agreements just signed alone are a big accomplishment.
Most important of all is that the President and I discussed all of these difficulties absolutely openly today. We talked about the historic problems on which our countries often differ in their assessment, including the Second World War and its events. At the same time, there are also events from that time on which we share the same assessment, and what is important here is to try to listen to each other, look the historical truth in the eyes and carry out these discussions in academic fashion, not letting these issues become pretexts for political squabbles.
Of course we also discussed the complicated issues regarding domestic matters, including the fate of our compatriots. We talked about what we can do to overcome big problems of the past.
The President and I agreed to establish a special commission of historians that will carefully analyse past events and gain access to archives that have not been opened yet and that are essential for shedding light on various events in our common past. I think this will be very useful for laying a solid foundation for our future relations.
We also discussed the international situation. We have met on quite a few occasions this year, in Lisbon at the NATO summit, at the OSCE summit, and on May 9 at the celebrations marking the end of World War II and victory in the Great Patriotic War. The fact that President Zatlers came to these celebrations was unquestionably a big step.
We have had an unprecedented number of meetings this year in fact, and sooner or later this had to culminate in today’s event – the official visit by the Latvian President to the Russian Federation. Once again, I welcome President Zatlers to Moscow.
President of Latvia Valdis Zatlers: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank President Medvedev for the invitation to make this official visit to Russia, and for the friendly spirit of goodwill that my delegation and I have felt throughout this visit to Moscow.
I also consider this a historic visit. It has been 16–20 years since a visit of this level took place. I think there are three main aspects to this event’s importance.
First, over the last 2–3 years, Latvia and Russia have worked at every level to improve our cooperation. The practical result of this work today is that we have signed these agreements, and you saw that the signing ceremony was quite lengthy. It comes as something of a full stop at the end of a sentence and creates a good base for our peoples and business to continue developing their cooperation.
Second of course is the economy, and I am very pleased that the biggest business delegation in Latvia’s history has joined me on this trip. This reflects not only our interest in Russia, but also our business people’s confidence in Russia as a partner.
I am sure that our contacts will continue and produce new results. Today we already have a result before us in our bilateral trade, which has increased by 27 percent over the first 10 months of 2010, despite the crisis. This is a good beginning and we must now continue this work.
Third is the future of course. President Medvedev rightly said that we meet regularly, but it is important to have talks like those today, when we discuss all issues without exception, everything that interests and concerns us, and look for solutions to the often far from straightforward problems and circumstances that we inherited.
I greatly welcome the agreement we reached today to establish a commission of historians and give them greater access to the archives. These kinds of symbolic acts of goodwill will have a positive effect on our relations.
Of course, good bilateral relations will also have a good effect on the ties between the EU and Russia and between NATO and Russia. Latvia is a member of both of these organisations and we are ready to help encourage the positive trends in relations between these organisations and Russia.
I expressed my support for working towards visa-free travel between Russia and the EU. This is a process that requires plenty of hard work at home. Latvia travelled this road from complete isolation to visas, to visa-free travel, and finally entered the Schengen zone.
We know all the practical steps involved, and I think it is important that Latvia, which shares a border with Russia, is ready to support this process. This will have a good impact on the whole region and on the whole of Europe in the near future.
I could tell you a lot more about everything that we achieved over what was an hour of very constructive talks, and I am optimistic about the future of Russian-Latvian relations. This is just the beginning.
Question: Mr Medvedev, you said that you discussed the situation of our Russian compatriots in Latvia. What was said exactly?
Dmitry Medvedev: Is this a question for me or for President Zatlers? For me? I think it would be more fitting for our colleagues to answer this question, given that it concerns the situation in Latvia, not Russia.
But we did indeed discuss this subject. It is a complex and sensitive subject that concerns a large number of people living in Latvia. We realise the complexity of the situation that arose as a result of the geopolitical circumstances that we know. At the same time, we think that with regard to the people who do not have citizenship yet a decision should be taken sooner or later that will help them to adapt and take a normal part in social, economic and political life.
The President gave me a completely frank analysis of the situation and the different possibilities. This was useful because it has been a long time since we discussed this subject face to face in this way. I think this is all normal, for this is a complicated issue, but we had a very open discussion. Of course, I think Latvia itself has the utmost interest in resolving this issue, after all, it concerns people who live in Latvia and who, as I understand it, wish to continue living there.
But we cannot be indifferent to this subject, and this is why I have signed an order making it possible to travel to Russia without having to get a visa. This will offer some new opportunities to those who live in Latvia and want to have full-fledged contacts with their relatives and quite simply with people living in Russia. Our position is therefore that our colleagues should take the legal decisions that would make it possible to strengthen the civic foundations of the state itself.
I think this would be in Latvia’s development interests, and in the interests of the people living there. This would also fit completely with the international approaches that we see within the European Union. But we realise that this is a complex situation and depends on the decisions of various political forces that have various views on the issue.
This was essentially the focus of our discussion on this issue today. I told President Zatlers that we will follow developments closely of course, because this is not an idle matter of interest in our eyes, but at the same time, we realise that this is a matter for the Latvian authorities themselves to decide.
Valdis Zatlers: I was asked this question just before beginning this visit. The question was very simple: what is life like for Russians living in Latvia? My answer was also very simple: good.
Every country wants to have a bigger number of citizens, and Latvia is no exception. We received the inheritance we did, the inheritance we have today in terms of Latvia’s ethnic makeup and citizenship.
We have given everyone without restriction the right to obtain Latvian citizenship, everyone who specifically wants it. We have followed this principle for 20 years now and it has worked well. I say again that in Latvia, whether in our schools, in social welfare offices, in the streets, or in our stadiums, no one knows who is who. We are all the same.
Question: I have a question for Mr Medvedev. You mentioned the several meetings that have taken place this year, and your meetings do indeed take place regularly. Have you been invited to Riga? What would need to change for you to accept such an invitation, if it has been made, and when could we expect to see you in Riga, next year?
Valdis Zatlers: I’ll tell you a secret: we did invite Mr Medvedev to Riga.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, yes, the invitation has been made. What can I add here? The President has just said everything. The invitation has indeed been made, an open and very welcoming invitation, and it was a pleasure to receive it. As it happens, I have never been to Riga, or to Latvia, for that matter, and of course I would be interested to have the chance to go there.
What needs to change? I think that if we keep talking in the spirit that we did today this will be more than enough to make this visit possible, all the more so as there is plenty to discuss and plenty to see.
Once again, I thank President Zatlers for this invitation.
Valdis Zatlers: And I welcome you to come to Latvia.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Question: I have a question for both presidents. It does not directly concern Russian-Latvian relations, but it does concern a neighbour of both countries – Belarus. Could you comment on and share your assessment of the election that just took place there?
Dmitry Medvedev: I think there are several aspects to note here.
First, the election in Belarus is Belarus’s internal affair, and ultimately, what happens there is our neighbour’s internal affair.
Second, as I understand the situation, although almost all of the votes have been counted now, the official result has not been announced yet. This is up to the Belarusian electoral commission to do. This is its responsibility to announce the official result.
Third, I hope that the result of this election will produce a modern Belarus that continues to develop as a modern country based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours.
Regardless of who heads Belarus, it will remain one of our closest neighbours, a country closely bound to us by history and culture, language, and the tens of thousands of invisible economic threads and vast number of human contacts that we share. Belarus’ development and democracy are therefore very important to us.
But I want to stress that we must wait for the official result to come out, and we take the position that this result should reflect the Belarusian people’s sovereign will.
Valdis Zatlers: I can only add that I agree – this is Belarus’ internal affair. The main thing is that elections should be democratic and the Belarusian people should consider them honest. Efforts should be made to avoid reactions such as riots to elections’ results. This is always an indicator of a country’s democratic maturity, and I appeal to the Belarusians to remember this.
Question: Mr Medvedev, you mentioned the subject of our common past and history. Do you think that we should continue to discuss controversial issues at interstate level, Latvia’s incorporation into the Soviet Union, or the occupation, as the Latvian authorities see it, or should we leave these discussions to the historians and close the matter in interstate talks?
Dmitry Medvedev: Remember what the ancients said: give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. Of course it is impossible to completely separate politics and history in our relations, but this is something we need to work towards. This is why the President and I agreed to set up this commission.
There are some historic subjects that will always be very complicated, and so if we let them become overly politicized this would probably hamper our normal and friendly dialogue and lead to mutual offence and hostility. This concerns not just our relations with Latvia, but also our ties with a number of other countries.
What we need to do is quite simply discuss these things in open and trusting spirit, not hiding complicated issues somewhere out of sight, but getting competent specialists to talk about them, and not just parliamentary deputies and politicians. It is important to reach closer positions or positions that we agree on in our assessments of particular complicated historic events.
I therefore hope that this dialogue on history will take place, but in a spirit that will help our politicians to talk to each other and ultimately bring our peoples closer together. If we establish this kind of dialogue it will be useful for both peoples.