Russia’s flagrant airspace violations annoy Estonian defense command

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Russia’s flagrant airspace violations annoy Estonian defense command

By Aleksei Gunter, TALLINN
The fourth violation of Estonia’s airspace by a Russian plane during the last 11 months took place at the beginning of August, though as with all previous incidents registered by the Estonian defense forces, the incident was refuted by Russia.

The latest violation was registered on Aug. 2 when an AN-30 military plane entered Estonian airspace near the Vaindloo Island in the northeastern section of the country’s maritime border.

According to the defense force headquarters, the Russian plane had penetrated 1.7 nautical miles of airspace and spent two minutes there on its way from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad at an altitude of 6,100 meters.

In accordance with the Treaty on Open Skies, Russia had informed Estonia about the flight, but the latter had not yet issued a permit to enter its airspace.

A member of the Estonian defense forces explained that information from the Russian side came on July 29 while the flight took place on Aug. 2. According to international regulations, information about a planned flight through foreign airspace must come at least seven days prior to the flight.

The AN-30 model is primarily used for observation and taking photos.

International treaties also oblige international observers to be present on such flights in order to ensure no pictures are taken while over foreign territory.

Furthermore, the Estonian radar team that spotted the plane also noticed that its transponder, the device that transfers information about the plane, was turned on.

Lieutenant Colonel Serkki Niitsoo, the acting commander of the Estonian air force, said in a press conference on Aug. 9 that although all the airspace violations were documented, the Russian side still denies that there were any.

He also said that information regarding the flight sent by the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, other than being tardy, could not be considered a properly formed diplomatic request to enter foreign airspace.

Estonia’s airspace is monitored by a radar installation system near Lake Peipus and is secured by NATO fighter jets based in Lithuania. As Estonia’s airspace is now NATO airspace, information about violations is passed to a NATO command center in Germany.

Because the plane was identified and the violation period was short, there was no need for the Lithuania-based fighters to take off, according to Niitsoo. He added that since international observers, who had to secure the non-reconnaissance character of the flight, were reportedly on board, the violation must have been the pilot’s mistake.

Other experts believe that instead of making turns where the Estonian airspace curves, Russian pilots sometimes take a shortcut.

Although the Foreign Affairs Ministry passed an inquiry to the Russian Embassy after the incident, the Russian Air Force declared earlier this week that the An-30 plane did not violate Estonian air space.

The ministry’s press office said it hasn’t planned further actions in connection with the incident.

All four incidents registered during the last 11 months by the Estonian radar surveillance unit were refuted by Russia, including the Russian fighter jet Su-24 when it cut through Estonian airspace in the Lake Peipus region in October 2003.

The longest violation lasted for about 20 minutes on Oct. 18 last year when two Su-27 fighters flew through Estonian air.

So far this year only Russian transport planes have illegally entered Estonian airspace. One case was registered in March and the last one on Aug. 2.

Meanwhile, General Burwell B. Bell, commander of NATO’s land forces who was in Estonia on Aug. 10, gave a high opinion of the country’s defense forces commanders.

“During the visit I met with professional leaders, all of them devoted to strengthening the Estonian defense forces, leaders who know the strong and weak sides of their units and with a clear idea of the development trends,” the defense forces headquarters’ information service reported the four-star general as saying during his visit at the Peace Operations Center in Paldiski. “

It is good to see dedicated leaders who take their work seriously,” Bell said.
Emsis unafraid of getting hands dirty

By TBT staff, RIGA
Five months after coming to power in what many considered a doomed, near-impotent coalition, Indulis Emsis not only continues to balance the precarious government but even bends Cabinet policy according to his will.

When the Green Party member ascended to the azimuth of power in Latvia in the beginning of March, analysts openly wondered who he was, what he stood for and what interests he represented. Some pointed to environmentalists, others to Ventspils business oligarchs. And while that question largely remains unanswered, one thing is certain: the prime minister has not been shy about taking unpopular decisions.

He took tremendous flak for ditching the popular young chief of Latvia’s anti-corruption bureau, Juta Strike, in favor of an ethnic Russian. Yet he survived.

Earlier this summer he backed a controversial initiative by the People’s Party, a coalition partner, to strip the country’s highest-ranking officials of the right to hold two passports. While the jury is still out on the move, Emsis may very well get the amendments passed.

Last week he stuck his neck out again when he nominated party colleague Ingrida Udre to represent Latvia on the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, over Sandra Kalniete, the popular dignitary also popular among the population.

And once again, he survived.

Emsis has also managed to fight another of his pet battles – this one with Lattelekom – while incurring minimal damage. This week he said that the entire council of the company, in which the state holds a 51 percent stake, needed to be replaced so the government control in the near-monopoly telephone operator could be strengthened.

The words are another slap in the face of TeliaSonera, the foreign investor holding a 49 percent stake in Lattelekom, which had been hoping a deal struck with the previous government of Einars Repse would allow it to gain majority control in both Lattelekom and LMT, a mobile operator.

Concerning TeliaSonera’s request that Lattelekom pay out 4 million lats (6 million euros) in dividends, he said this week the Scandinavian company could all but forget it. Emsis wants half that sum to be spent on modernizing rural telephone networks.

And when it comes to attacks against him, the criticism seems not to bother the prime minister. When asked why opposition parties did so well and his so poorly in the Europarliament elections, he just brushed off the poll results, claiming voters tend to dispatch undesirable politicians to far-away lands so that they can’t meddle in vital domestic affairs.

“I think that the active criticism targeted at me is connected with economic projects,” he was quoted as saying this week. “I am absolutely against the privatization of Lattelekom and will even try to strengthen the role of the government in this company, and someone must not like my negative position on the pulp mill project.”

Indeed, the prime minister is not shy about defending a strong role for the state in business interests. This week Emsis said that despite a powerful lobby, including on the party of Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers, the government would not privatize any of the country’s lucrative road repair companies that employ some 3,000 people.

“Just the opposite,” Emsis said, “we’re trying to strengthen state-owned enterprises – raise their value and use the profit wisely for filling the state budget.”

Even speculation that the People’s Party could leave the coalition and pair up with New Era doesn’t faze the prime minister.

“I have seen such rather dynamic changes in political rhetoric, such unbelievable alliances, but in this case it is really very hard to imagine a model of cooperation for New Era and the People's Party,” he said an interview to SWH radio.

Admitting that the two parties’ programs and goals were similar, Emsis said, “The methods, experience and people are so different that it is hard to imagine how such a system could operate. But I wish them to at least find out if they are indeed looking in the same direction or not.”

Looking ahead, the budget could help Emsis survive the upcoming weeks. The main reason: a 54.4 million lat budget surplus that can be divvied up among coalition partners and its leftist allies in Parliament.

Indeed, there were reports this week that Emsis was paying particular attention to requests from the left-of-center National Harmony Party, which was instrumental in helping the prime minister pass the confirmation vote back in March. Party leader Janis Jurkans wants to see more social support for the Latgale region, and Emsis is reportedly prepared to consider the idea.

With municipal elections around the corner, spreading the federal wealth could be just the ticket to brining Emsis beleaguered Greens and Farmers Union above the 5 percent threshold in opinion polls.

The real test, however, could be Sept. 1, when schoolchildren, parents and teachers, many of whom will be led by radical organizations, hit the streets in protest.

Speaking last week to reporters, Emsis said cryptically, “The state is the state and not a soft teddy-bear everyone can pull around as he pleases.”

While cognizant that problems could arise, the prime minister tended to see the upcoming series of demonstrations as a political and not a social problem.

“You see, this is not a fight for the reform as such any more, about teaching the Latvian language in tenth grade classes and about two more subjects in Latvian, which, in my view, has long since been forgotten. All this is about a much more serious issue, and these ideas are being pushed in a way so as to constantly maintain tension and for those to whom it is a political advantage,” said Emsis.
Diplomatic expulsions highlight uneasy relations

By Steven Paulikas, VILNIUS
Relations between Lithuania and Russia were shaken once again when the two countries engaged in a round of diplomatic expulsions in late July and early August, the second such incident this year.

News of Lithuania’s decision to deport three employees of the Russian Embassy in Vilnius was kept quiet by the foreign ministries of both countries until the first week of August, when Russia took retaliatory measures.

The diplomatic tit-for-tat began when Lithuanian officials revoked the diplomatic accreditations of Russian defense attache Colonel Viktor Teleshev, deputy attache Colonel Valery Volkov and one other unnamed diplomat.

Within one week, reports were leaked that Russia had dismissed Colonel Sigitas Butkus, Lithuania’s defense attache in Moscow who had filled the post for almost three years.

Butkus was given 24 hours to remove himself from Russian territory.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the Russian diplomats were expelled from Lithuania due to activities “incompatible with their diplomatic status,” a phrase often used to imply espionage.

In late February, Lithuania became the first post-Soviet state to revoke the diplomatic status of Russian envoys when it threw out three embassy employees.

The Foreign Ministry took the action after the State Security Department reportedly concluded that the diplomats had been employing spying techniques to gather information on Lithuanian political and economic secrets.

The Russian diplomats were also accused of attempting to bribe a number of officials from a number of social organizations in return for sensitive data related to the Lithuanian government and the European Union.

Two weeks after the February expulsions, Russia withdrew its accreditation for three Lithuanian diplomats serving in similar posts at the Moscow Embassy.

Several officials, including Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and presidential diplomatic adviser Edminas Bagdonas, expressed official regret over Russia’s decision to oust Butkus, yet all three emphasized the government’s intention to rout attempts by Russian diplomats to engage in actions “incompatible with their status.”

In an interview with the Baltic News Service, Linkevicius hinted that Teleshev and Volkov could have been gathering secret information for GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

In spite of the apparent exchange of ill will between Lithuania and its neighbor, both countries insist that diplomatic relations have remained stable throughout the ordeal.

“I wouldn’t say that this is a symbol or sign of worsening relations,” said Arunas Vinciunas, head of the Russia division at Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry.“It’s unfortunate that these unpleasant events have happened, but our relations are still good.”

In its official press release that addressed Butkus’ expulsion, the Russian Foreign Ministry likewise expressed regret.

Nonetheless, there are signs that negative feelings between the two sides have yet to fade away.

On Aug. 10 the daily Lietuvos rytas reported that Foreign Ministry Secretary Albinas Januska and Raimondas Lopata, director of Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science, were denied on-the-spot visas to the Kaliningrad exclave. The two had been planning to examine Lithuania’s method of issuing transit visas to Russian citizens traveling across Lithuanian territory.

While Lithuanian citizens are normally eligible to receive visas to Kaliningrad the day their application is submitted and Januska’s application was supported by a diplomatic letter, the consular section of the Russian Embassy claimed it did not receive the applications in time to issue the visas.

“The visas were not given out on the same day. Our consular officers have explained the situation,” said Mikhail Kalugin, the embassy’s press attache.

Januska and Lopata were forced to cancel their trip when they did not receive their documents as expected.

Green light given to controversial dump

From wire reports, VILNIUS
Despite the protests and warnings, the decision to build a garbage dump near the Kernave cultural reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage List site, will not be changed, officials said on Aug. 10.

President Valdas Adamkus, speaking after a discussion on the controversial waste site, said the plans for the Kazokiskes dump were unavoidable.

“There are no doubts. We all agree that the dump is needed, but the problem must be solved without delay, before the dump poses a threat to the environment,” the president said.

The discussion was attended by Parliamentary Speaker Arturas Paulauskas, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, culture and environment ministers, Parliament representatives, the directorate of the Kernave museum-reserve and the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission.

Adamkus, who worked as an environmentalist in the United States for decades, said that although he trusted the dump’s technical issues, he believes that the biggest problem remaining is “the human factor.”

The president did express regret that the public’s opinion was not taken into consideration when the site was in the blueprint stage. He even said that he had not yet heard an explanation as to why it was necessary to arrange the dump in Kazokiskes particularly.

For his part, Brazauskas said that the location of the dump had been considered for a long time, and that initial work started several years ago.

“Not in the vicinity, not near, but nine kilometers away,” the prime minister stressed.
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