Estonia, Latvia take differing approaches to Russia talks

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Estonia's new Foreign Minister, Sven Mikser, made his first foreign visit in the role to Latvia December 16, with relations with mutual neighbor Russia among topics on the agenda.

Speaking to journalists after talks with his Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics, the two ministers showed that despite very similar positions on most issues, they take differing approaches to how talks with Russia should be conducted.

Responding to a question from LSM, Rinkevics confirmed that recent talks between the Russian and Latvian Defense Ministries in Riga had been coordinated with the foreign ministry and that NATO ambassadors in Latvia had been briefed on the result of the talks.

"I think such kinds of dialogues are useful for two reasons. We need to have an exchange of views and find ways to reduce risks near our immediate border even if we all understand the positions on many issues are very far apart. That was one of the lessons learned from that dialogue," said Rinkevics.

"This has not been some kind of unilateral or uncoordinated action apart from the general stance. It is fully in line with what we have discussed within NATO.

"We were asking particularly for additional inspections under the Vienna arrangement. There is no answer yet. We do our best to reduce some risks. It in no way undermines the decisions taken so far.

"I don't exclude some further consultations next year if there is an interest," Rinkevics said.

"It's better to exchange views rather than to sit in a battle position and not exchange views. I think our Defense Ministry colleagues had an interesting experience."

In contrast, Mikser said such talks had been discussed as a possibility but rejected.

"When the Russians earlier this year extended an invitation to the countries in our region to participate in talks regarding aviation safety in the Baltics, we discussed that invitation and considered whether we should engage in bilateral talks with the Russian side regarding confidence and security building measures.

"After discussing it we decided that we would continue to pursue these measures in multilateral formats: in the NATO Russia Council, OSCE - we believe transparency is important regarding the increased activity and construction of military infrastructure and all sorts of exercises that sometimes are divided into smaller constituent parts so as to avoid having to invite observers under the Vienna document," Mikser said.

"Greater transparency is absolutely necessary and we fully respect the sovereign Latvian decision to pursue these bilateral talks but we, so far, have not made a decision to enter any such bilateral talks... Right now we are pursuing other means of trying to increase transparency and avoid any unnecessary incidents."   

The ministers also expressed hopes that those guilty of war crimes in Syria would be brought to justice and stressed the need for the European Union to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict there and plan for reconstruction afterwards.

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