December 18, 2007 / 12:50 PM / 12 years ago

Russia, Latvia finally seal border treaty

RIGA (Reuters) - Russia and its small neighbor Latvia finalized a border agreement on Tuesday, 16 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The agreement, sealed when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov exchanged ratification documents with Latvian counterpart Maris Riekstins, had been delayed for years due to a territorial dispute and generally acrimonious relations.

The border deal was finalized after Riga dropped its claim to a small slice of Russian territory, which was part of the pre-World War Two Latvia.

“I am quite sure that ratification of the border treaty ... will bring a positive impetus to our relations,” Lavrov told a news conference, adding that he had also made the symbolic gesture of inviting Latvian President Valdis Zatlers to Moscow.

Russia has been angered by what it sees as Latvian discrimination against its large Russian-speaking minority, many of whom were denied Latvian citizenship after the small Baltic state regained its independence in 1991.

About a fifth of the population of 2.3 million have the status of “non-citizens”, of which most are Russian-speaking people of Russian, Belarussian or Ukrainian descent. Lavrov said much work still had to be done to help minorities.

Latvia has in turn remained suspicious of Moscow, which has historically dominated the Baltic region, both under the Tsars and in the Soviet era, though its confidence has grown after becoming a member of NATO and the European Union in 2004.

Latvia and Russia see history differently, with Riga saying the Soviet era was an occupation, while Moscow says Latvia voted to join the Union. Official policy in Latvia has been to take the bitterness out of these problems and Riekstins said both sides continued to talk about areas where they disagreed.

The better ties between Russia and Latvia are in stark contrast to poor relations between Russia and Estonia.

These have hit an all time low after Estonia in April moved a monument to World War Two Red Army soldiers from the centre of its capital, Tallinn, to a military cemetery, seen in Moscow as a great insult to the memory of those who fought Nazism.

Lavrov said the better ties with Latvia would bring economic and trade benefits, important for the Baltic state as it competes in the intensively competitive market as a cargo transit state between Russia and markets in the West.

Editing by Diana Abdallah

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