Russia's president urges more progress in ties with Latvia

( RIA Novosti ) - Russia's president urged Wednesday further steps to improve relations with Latvia as he met with the visiting prime minister following the two former Soviet allies signed a long-delayed border treaty.

Aigar Kalvitis and the Russian premier, Mikhail Fradkov, signed the treaty Tuesday ending 10-year talks when EU member Latvia backtracked on its earlier territorial claims and demand that Russia acknowledge the Soviet Union's WWII-time aggression against the Baltic republic.

Vladimir Putin said the signing was an important step, but Russia and Latvia had a host of other problems to tackle in an apparent reference to Moscow's concerns about the discrimination of Russian-speaking non-citizens in the Baltic state.

"The signing was an important step in the development of state relations, but it does not offer a solution to all issues and problems existing in relations between the two countries, a lot of problems," Putin said.

Moscow said about 400,000 mainly Russian-speakers had been denied Latvian citizenship automatically after the Baltic state's broke up from the Soviet Union, which hampers their access to jobs, education and other democratic rights.

The Kremlin has also criticized the reform of secondary education in Latvia, which affects about 100,000 Russian-speaking students, requiring 60% of subjects be taught in Latvian.

Moscow condemns criminal prosecution of former WWII veterans and security officers, who are dubbed "Soviet occupiers" in the Baltic states, which have simultaneously authorized marches of former Nazi fighters.

The European Court of Human Rights is examining an appeal from Vasily Kononov, 84, a Russian WWII partisan convicted in Latvia of war crimes for ordering the killing of several Nazi collaborators in 1944, while Latvia was occupied by German troops.

Two other Russian WWII veterans, Nikolai Tess and Nikolai Larionov, who also lodged appeals with the court after being accused by Latvian authorities of genocide, died in 2006 and 2005, respectively, before the court could begin hearings.

The Kremlin said earlier it would pressure the European court to have their conviction overturned.

But Putin said bilateral relations had also shown a positive trend as mutual trade grew 34% to $2 billion last year.

"Russian investment in the Latvian economy is growing, and we hope Latvia as a EU member could play a positive role in attracting European investment in Russia," Putin said.

Kalvitis said the signing was crucial for Lativa, also a NATO member since 2004, and he hoped the two nations would soon resolve other problems overshadowing their relations.

"The signing of the [border] treaty, which was a very sensitive issue to us, is an extremely important event for Russia and Latvia, as well as our neighbors," Kalvitis said. "I hope we will also find solutions on other treaties."

The Russian premier said Tuesday an agreement on the status of Soviet-era memorials could be signed with Latvia soon. The issue has worried Moscow in relations with the former Soviet Baltic states, with preparations being made in Estonia to remove the WWII-time burials of Soviet troops.

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