RUSSIA'S AUDITING CHAMBER DEMANDS SOVIET PROPERTY REIMBURSED. LITHUANIA, LATVIA OFFER HARSH RESPONSE

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VILNIUS, October 1 (RIA Novosti's Vladimir Vodo) - The three post-Soviet Baltic countries-Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia-are to pay to Russia stale debts for former Soviet property, insists Russia's Auditing Chamber.

Antanas Valionis, Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs, harshly responded to the demand. "Russia is making financial claims on the Baltics for former Soviet property in their lands. That is an absurd attempt to deny [Soviet] annexation of those countries," he said while commenting on the Auditing Chamber statement.

As yesterday's statement has it, Russia and the post-Soviet Baltic countries have not to this day settled between themselves financial and property issues related to Russia, as legal successor to the USSR, being entitled to compensations for Soviet property in the three countries.

"The Central Bank of Russia and the Vnesheconombank evaluate at US$3.06 billion the lump debt of those countries in currency obligations of the former USSR, which the Russian Federation has assumed (foreign debt)," says the statement.

Lithuania and Russia concluded a treaty, "On the Fundamentals of Interstate Relations", July 1991. In that treaty, Russia acknowledged the 1940 annexation of Lithuania, and pledged to remove its dire consequences, points out Antanas Valionis.

A law, "On the Reimbursement of Damage Caused by the Soviet Occupation", passed by the Lithuanian parliament, 2000, evaluated Lithuanian claims on Russia at $20 billion. Meanwhile, Russia's Ministry of Economic Development and Trade estimates past Soviet investment in the Lithuanian economy at more than $72 billion.

Artis Pabriks, Latvia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, was no less critical of the Auditing Chamber move. "I don't see whatever moral, legal or economic grounds for the claims," he said, as quoted by the ministerial press service.

Mr. Pabriks rules out Latvia paying whatever compensations. "The USSR has only one heir. That is Russia," he stressed.

The Foreign Minister does not think his country will be "able to pragmatically develop its contacts with Russia" now that such claims have been made.

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