U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Latvia in May before heading to Russia to take part in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, a Latvian presidential spokesman said Thursday.
Bush will arrive in Riga on May 6 for talks with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and will take part in a summit the following day that will include the two other Baltic leaders, Estonian President Arnold Ruutel and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.
The Latvian president called Bush's decision to visit the Baltics before the May 9 celebrations in Moscow highly symbolic, said her spokesman, Andrejs Pildegovic.
The visit comes a week after Latvia celebrates the 15th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. Baltic independence was formally recognized more than a year later, in September, 1991.
Bush's visit also comes one year after the three Baltic countries joined the European Union and NATO, organizations that leaders in all three countries view as the guarantors of Baltic safety and independence.
Of the three Baltic presidents, only Vike-Freiberga accepted Moscow's invitation to attend the May 9 ceremonies, saying she wanted to improve relations with Moscow, which are still strained because of the five-decade long Soviet occupation of the Baltics.
Both Adamkus and Ruutel opted not to go to Russia, saying Russia still refuses to acknowledge its role as the driving force behind the occupation.
After visiting Latvia, Bush will travel to the Netherlands, Russia, and Georgia before returning to the U.S.
TIMOTHY JACOBS (Associated Press)