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Europe

Report on Soviet damages to Latvia overshadows visit to Moscow

Latvia's president will make his first official visit to the Russian capital. But talks will be tense after a secret report demanding compensation for the Soviet occupation of the country was mistakenly made public.

Latvian President Valdis Zatlers

Zatlers's visit is to cover current affairs, not history

Latvian President Valdis Zatlers begins a four-day official visit to Moscow on Sunday, as relations between the two countries remain cordial but tense.

The trip, which includes talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, is the first for any Latvian president to the Russian capital since both countries signed an agreement in 1994 to withdraw Russian troops from the Baltic nation. Though relations between the two countries have become more pragmatic over the past two decades, the Soviet occupation of Latvia is still a very sensitive topic that both sides avoid discussing.

Adding to the awkwardness, a secret report briefly appeared on the Latvian government's website claiming more than 300 billion euros ($395 billion) in compensation from Russia for losses incurred under Soviet occupation.

Document not finalized

Men hold Latvian flags

Latvia regained independence in 1991

The report gives a detailed calculation of the damages caused to Latvia over the five decades of the occupation that spanned from 1940 to 1991. The report looks at the impact on the economy, population growth, the environment and other areas.

Government spokeswoman Ieva Aile said the report expresses the opinions of a special commission of researchers, which was created by the government but has since been disbanded.

"We verified the report and decided to remove it from the website because it is not a finalized document with all the required signatures," she said. "It is just a draft project which has been circulating in e-mails and was posted on the government's website only by mistake."

Fact-based research

Economist Ruta Pazdere was one of the members of the commission. She said the report gives detailed information about the harm the Soviet Union caused Latvia, despite the fact the research is not yet entirely finished.

"It is not an opinion, but research carried out by many academics," she said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Medvedev and Russia are unlikely to ever agree to any reparation payments

Pazdere said she had sympathy for the politicians who want to avoid the subject matter ahead of the president's visit to Russia. But she added that it is also necessary to continue the research because people should know the direct consequences of the occupation.

Ritvars Jansons, a historian at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, said many in Latvia - especially the younger generation - have an idealistic view of the USSR.

"They admit that there was an occupation, but they believe that life under Soviet rule was actually good," he said. "But if we have research that calculates all the damage to the country, its people, culture, science, then it removes any illusions about the past."

Little chance of compensation

Jansons said he doubts Russia would ever pay any compensation to Latvia, even if the country were billed for the damage.

But political scientist Ivars Ijabs said it is unlikely Moscow would ever face that situation because Latvian politicians lack a clear stance when discussing the country's history with Russia.

"On the one hand they use that issue constantly for some kind of populist reasons just to show their position that we are strongly against Russia's imperial ambitions," Ijabs said. "But no legally binding steps have been taken in that direction to really demand this compensation for the occupation."

The issue is not on the agenda of the president's visit to Moscow. Rather he and Medvedev plan to discuss current political and economic questions.

Author: Gederts Gelzis, Riga (acb)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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