It is possible that Latvia’s representatives at the informal lunch with Russian Vice-Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich looked rather naïve, as concluded by De Facto programme of LTV. They asked Dovrkovich – do decisions made by Russia’s railway and gas industry have a political or business context?
Latvian Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs, who was the organizer of the informal lunch from Latvia, will have to explain himself at the upcoming coalition parties meeting on Monday. He will also have to tell coalition partners about the results of those talks. Currently, there is no clarity about the outcome. The Russian embassy only provided general answers to the programme’s questions, saying that the two sides had discussed «perspectives for economic cooperation».
Transport Minister Uldis Augulis says that «the first and foremost matter is the volume of cargoes sent by railway, the potential indexes, is it a political or business decision?» The claim is that there was no political influence and that everything is done in the context of business development. Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola was asked a similar question: «There were certain concerns that Gazprom had given some signal that our gas storage facility may not receive gas this winter. I did use the opportunity to ask as to whether or not that was a political position or not. The reply I was given stated that there was no political statement or statement of any kind. I was told Gazprom makes its own business decisions.»
The secret meeting between UGF’s minister and Russian Vice-Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich in August did not take place at a fish processing plant. It took place in a restaurant in the centre of Riga. Aside from the three politicians, the lunch was also attended by the Russian ambassador in Latvia Aleksandr Veshnyakov and fish processing businessmen. The main curator of this meeting – Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs – had not told Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkevics that the government at this meeting was also being represented by Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola and Transport Minister Uldis Augulis. Officials of the two countries have had their chat. We can only guess as what kind of after taste this lunch has left.
Dvorkovich can be considered an associate of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Dvorkovich was his deputy when Medvedev was President of Russia. Even now he is Vice-Prime Minister of Russia. In addition, Dvorkovich has been the chairman of the council of directors of Russian Railway since 2015. It is nothing unusual that Dvorkovich spends his vacation in Jurmala. According to information from Russian media, Dvorkovich’s office manager Viktor Dmitriyev owns multiple real estate objects in Latvia. Nevertheless, a meeting with officials of another country at the same table in the same restaurant can hardly be called a coincidence.
Relations between Russia and Latvia remain tense. Sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia have been extended until next year. At the same time, more and more often officials discuss the possibility of restoring exports of goods previously banned for import in Russia.
Some time before Dvorkovich’s vacation, Russian ambassador to Latvia Aleksandr Veshnyakov had offered to meet with Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs. Apparently Duklavs decided to use the opportunity and offer Dvirkovich a taste of Latvian sprats – the same kind banned for imports in Russia. «The Agriculture Minister called by on the phone and said we had two hours, that we could not go anywhere far. We had a chance to show one or two production plants, show how we work and what technologies we use,» – Didzis Smits, head of Union of Latvian Fish Processing Industry, recalls the events of that day. He says «it was a classic viewing of production plants Karavela and Gamma A in Vecmilgravis and Mangalsala. Neither finance nor transport minister had taken part in excursions of the production plants. We had the agriculture minister, Russia’s Vice-Prime Minister and the Russian ambassador with us.»
After having a look at the machinery used by production plants, the good sirs departed for Old Riga. They were joined by Transport Minister Uldis Augulis and Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola. The biggest uncertainties surround this hour-long meal. «I had known about Duklavs’ meeting and that he’d invited someone else with him,» – says Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis. He also says Duklavs had informed the Foreign Affairs Ministry about the meeting. «It was no secret meeting,» – he said. Nevertheless, Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkevics was not told everything. Rinkevics is currently on vacation. «The foreign minister was informed of Duklavs’ plans to speak with Russia’s representative about matters related to agriculture and industrial fishing. The minister was not informed of a more large-scale meeting, however. If this meeting was attended by the Russian ambassador, which is the highest rank of this country’s representative in our country, this meeting cannot be considered completely informal,» – says Foreign Affairs Ministry’s state secretary Andrejs Pildegovics.