Putin in Finland slams Baltic states over discrimination of Russians

During the visit to Finland, Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the Baltic countries for discrimination against Russian residents.

Speaking to reporters after a second round of talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Putin criticized Latvia and Estonia for discriminating against their large Russian-speaking minorities, many of whom have declined to apply for citizenship since the Baltic countries regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin said that Baltic governments ranked Russian-speakers in new categories of citizenship that do not adhere to international law.

"Our partners in the Baltic countries have invented a term 'non-citizen,' which doesn't exist in modern judicial systems and in some documents they have used the term 'alien.' We think that it doesn't fulfill the requirements of the European Union, among others," Putin said.

Halonen, whose country takes over the rotating presidency of the EU in July 2006, said she believes Latvia and Estonia have settled the citizenship question in line with EU law.

"In both Estonia and Latvia this has been sorted out. What I am particularly pleased about is that people have been encouraged to apply for citizenship and there are clear signs that the number of citizens has increased," Halonen said at the joint news conference on the lawn of her summer residence.

"I don't think this question will be on the agenda during our presidency," she said, adding that EU-Russian relations would hold a priority during the six-month term.

After the news conference, Halonen drove the two presidents to the nearby harbor in a golf cart before visiting the nearby city of Turku. There the presidents were to lunch and visit the biotechnology department at the university in Finland's former capital, the AP reports.

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