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Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 20:57 GMT 21:57 UK
Latvia fears Russian attack

By the BBC's William Horsley

The President of Latvia, one of the Baltic states which won their independence at the end of the Cold War, has warned of the danger that Russia might again use military force against its neighbours.

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told the BBC in an interview, any Russian attack on Latvia would be an indirect attack on Nato.

This is the strongest warning from any European leader about what Russia's more assertive foreign policy will mean.

Attack on Nato

President Vike-Freiberga, said recent aggressive declarations from Russia hark back to Cold War confrontation.

Latvian President Vike-Freiberga
Latvian President Vike-Freiberga warns of Russian force
She spoke openly about a new danger that Russia might again use force to take over the three Baltic states which won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"Any attack on Latvia will be an attack on the European Community," she said.

"It will be by implication an attack on the Nato Alliance which, after all, supports so far, on principle, the enlargement of Nato in this region of the world."

But the Latvian President also said she hoped the more moderate voices in Russia would prevail and a dialogue was now underway to encourage them.

Deep divisions

However, these disputes are deep seated.

Recently the Russian Defence Ministry said if Latvia succeeds in joining Nato, it would react to that as a threat to Russia's own security.

Russia has also stepped up its pressure over a second area of dispute.

The Russian ambassador to Riga, Alexander Udaltsov, important trade links with Latvia may be cut off unless the Latvian courts end a series of war crimes trials.

The trials, now underway, are against former Soviet officials, accused of atrocities during the Stalinist 'red terror' in the Baltics during and after World War Two.

The ambassador said those who fought or worked for the allies, including the Soviet Union, should be protected from such prosecution or, in effect, the results of the war could be reversed.

President Vike-Freiberga said the attempt to stop the trials was totally improper.

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12 Apr 00 | Europe
Latvian PM resigns
16 Mar 00 | Europe
Latvian Nazi-era veterans march
15 Feb 00 | Europe
EU enlargement: Second wave
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