Question (Q.): A rather dynamic political dialogue is maintained between Latvia and Belarus. What do you think about the prospects of the development of this dialogue? What can be done to foster trade and economic relations between Latvia and Belarus?
Answer (A.): Belarus is Latvia's neighbour. This determines the significance of its role in Latvian foreign policy.
Each of our two nations has its own perception of the world and its place in the world. We can often see that viewpoints on the topical international problems and state building issues do not coincide. Yet this does not have a negative impact on our cooperation, which rests not just on realities of today, but also on long-term historic ties between our peoples.
The intensive dialogue is proved not only by numerous meetings of Latvian and Belarusian representatives, but also by intensification of economic relations that made it possible for Latvia to become the third largest country in terms of Belarusian exports.
Raising of the status of the inter-governmental commission is an important step in the cooperation expansion. Currently this commission is headed by ministers of economy of our nations. Hopefully, its work will contribute to the increase in Latvian export in Belarus, which today regrettably runs into great obstacles in the way of its customer.
However, now we have every right to say that Latvia and Belarus are serious economic partners. This partnership needs to be enhanced and developed in the next millennium.
Latvia highly evaluates the work of the Advisory and Monitoring Group of the OSCE and is hoping that the ongoing dialogue between the opposition and the government will result in the pattern fully corresponding to the requirements, traditions and the current pace of development of the Belarusian statehood, onto which the standards of both the OSCE and the Council of Europe will be fully projected.
Q.: It is known for a fact that one of the priorities of Latvia's foreign policy is its admittance to NATO. How do you assess the prospects of Latvia to get into the next round of the Alliance's expansion, provided it takes place in the near future? What would Latvia gain in terms of security reinforcement?
A.: Serious changes occurred in the Euro-Atlantic region after the end of the Cold War. Confrontation between military blocs became a thing of the past. The world has changed. NATO also has changed. This is confirmed first and foremost by the NATO Partnership for Peace Programme and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, composed of not just NATO member states, but also of the countries of the former Warsaw pact, including the republics of the ex-USSR. The ongoing joint political consultations and military manoeuvres are aimed at better understanding and trust between the adversaries of the Cold War times.
In our view, the mission of today's NATO lies in safeguarding the democratic values, stability, security, and freedom in Europe.
It is to this end that NATO enlargement is taking place and everyone can be interested in it: those aspiring for NATO membership and those not having such plans, since each nation is longing not for an "uncertain grey zone" where all kinds of unplanned intrigues are possible, but rather for safety outside its borders.
I will be blunt. We often hear a question: "Would you like to become a NATO member to defend yourself from Russia?" This is not true. We view Russia as a neighbour and partner, with which we - irrespective of some problems - are developing active cooperation and we are doing our best to intensify it.
Our goal - NATO membership - is of a more political, rather than military nature.
It is a desire to be part of the family having common values and willingness to protect them.
Q.: Do you find Latvian policy aimed at the integration into the European Union efficient enough?
A.: Latvia is part of Europe not just geographically, but also in economic, political and cultural terms. Therefore, since Latvia restored its independence, the integration into the Euro-Atlantic and other international organisations has become one of its foreign political priorities. It is noteworthy that not just parties of the governmental coalition support this, but also the opposition parties, as well as most people living in Latvia.
One of the most important steps was made this February, when Latvia joined the WTO. This accession revealed new possibilities for the intensification of foreign economic activity, new opportunities for Latvian and foreign businessmen and investors.
Aspiring for the EU membership is a further serious move aimed at economic and political integration with the developed European nations. At present Latvia is an associate member.
For Latvia, it is not end in itself. The preparatory process itself, economic reform in compliance with the EU standards are required first of all for the development of our state. The unsurpassed school is based on the long-term practice of the developed European countries.
It is hard to describe in a few words the extensive work conducted in Latvia in the context of the integration into the EU.
The Latvian government puts a lot of effort into maintaining the economic growth and speeding up the economic reforms in compliance with the requirements of the European Commission. The fact that all events are conducted under the guidance of the governmental council on the European integration proves the significance of these efforts. This council is headed by the Prime Minister.
Latvia's strategy for the integration into the EU has also been adopted on the governmental level. Our country's achievements are in focus at regular negotiations with the representatives of the European Committee.
I will briefly characterise some of the macroeconomic indices. Starting from 1996 there has been an increase in the GDP. In 1998 it made up 3.6%. Last year the investment increased by 11% with the inflation amounting to 2.8%. 69% of active population work in the private sector. The privatisation process has been almost completed. Latvian budget has been balanced. The Bank of Latvia pursues stringent monetary policy.
The economic achievements and ongoing reforms have been highly evaluated by the European Commission.
I have every right to say that Latvia views the prospects for admittance to the EU optimistically.
Q.: What can you say about the status of Latvian-Russian relations that seem to be still burdened with serious unsolved problems?
A.: The development of good neighbourliness with Russia is one of the most important foreign economic priorities of our country. These relations should rest on mutual trust and benefit, as well as equality of the two independent states.
Latvia, in its turn, is ready to do everything possible to expedite the inter-state dialogue on the whole spectre of bilateral relations. We believe that the most serious problems can be solved only through an open-ended dialogue.
Regrettably, it is a long time since bilateral border agreement and others have been on the waiting list.
Latvia views broadening of the Latvia-Russia inter-state legal framework as one of the most important directions of cooperation.
Other areas include border and regional interaction.
On the threshold of the next millennium, it is the regional cooperation that we regard as a guarantor of not just economic development, but also of stability and security.
It is the common projects of the Baltic states, Scandinavian countries, Russia and Belarus that will build up the basis of trust in the future.
There have been problems in the relations between Latvia and Russia, ordinarily stemming from the simplified perception of history and the current political realities in our countries. For her part, Latvia has been doing its best to minimise the number of such problems. This position of my country rests on a clear understanding of long-term prospects.