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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Denounces Latvian Citizenship Law

President Boris Yeltsin on Thursday admonished Latvia for discriminating against ethnic Russian residents under a newly adopted citizenship law and put in doubt the planned pullout of Russian troops from the Baltic state.

In a harshly worded statement, Yeltsin said the final text of the law showed that Latvian legislators "failed to rise above their ambitions and ignored the international community's growing concern with Latvia's dangerous drift towards militant nationalism.

"By its actions the Latvian Republic crosses out the positive achievements in regulating all aspects of the withdrawal of Russian troops, which cost both sides great effort," Yeltsin said in the statement, issued by his press service.

Russia and Latvia signed an agreement in May, according to which the 12,000 troops would be withdrawn by Aug. 31. It was not clear Thursday whether the pull-out would be halted.

"I cannot undertake to interpret this statement one way or the other," said presidential spokesman Dmitry Arzamadsky. "Time will tell."

The citizenship law, passed on July 22, provides for the naturalization over the next six years only of non-citizens born in Latvia. Those born outside the country, including about 80 percent of Latvia's 500,000 Russian-speaking residents, can become full citizens starting from the year 2000.

The Latvian parliament had previously adopted a tougher version of the law, according to which only 2,000 non-Latvians a year could receive citizenship. But President Guntis Ulmanis returned the law to the parliament under pressure from the Council of Europe, which Latvia wants to join.

Although the law was amended in line with European recommendations and drew cautious praise from international monitors, Yeltsin said it violated international human-rights conventions.

"Instead of taking the path of aligning its policy with the high world and European human-rights standards, Latvia chose to divide its residents into first-rate and second-rate people," Yeltsin's statement said. "It legalized the discrimination of people on the basis of their ethnicity."

The Russian president said his country would not tolerate what he termed "the humiliating position of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians." He argued that they had the right to remain in the Baltics, where they had lived most of their lives.

"These states bear responsibility for the protection of civil, political, economic and cultural rights of our compatriots," the statement said.

But Yeltsin's statement was unclear on practical aspects of Russia's policy toward Latvia following the adoption of the citizenship law.

It said the Russian government had been ordered to "define practical approaches to cooperation with Latvia in the economic field, including trade," but it was not clear whether that meant that economic sanctions would be imposed.